U.N. passes historic arms trade treaty

Doesn’t cover predator drones and grenades

April 03, 2013 12:01 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:18 pm IST - WASHINGTON:

The U.N. made history on Tuesday when it passed an unprecedented arms trade treaty (ATT) to better regulate the international sale in weapons.

It was passed in the General Assembly with 154 members voting ‘Yes’; three — Iran, Syria and North Korea — voting no; and 23, including India, abstaining.

The treaty’s passage came after negotiations failed last July when the U.S. pulled out abruptly.

Its adoption implies a major step forward in controlling the $70-billion flow of arms across borders, particularly restricting its movement to and from areas where groups are suspected of violation of human rights.

In addition to India, the nations that abstained included China, Egypt, Myanmar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. Pakistan voted in favour of the treaty though its representative expressed concerns over the imbalance in obligations between arms exporters and importers.

India’s stance

Speaking after the vote, Sujata Mehta, India’s Permanent representative to the Geneva Conference of Disarmament during the UNGA session, said “At this stage we are not in a position to endorse the text contained as annexure to document. Therefore, India has abstained on the resolution”.

In particular Ms. Mehta said that the draft treaty text “falls short of our expectations and a number of other key stakeholders in producing a text that is clear, balanced and implementable and able to attract universal adherence”.

She reiterated her earlier message, noting India’s keenness to include language on illicit trafficking and use of conventional arms by “terrorists and other unauthorised and unlawful non-State actors”.

Under the ATT, ratifying nations are expected to accept fixed international standards for conventional weapons sales, linked to the protection of human rights. The adopted treaty text covers weapons such as tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small and light arms

However it does not explicitly cover predator drones and grenades.

Ammunition exports are subject to the same criteria as the other included items, although its imports are not covered.

Ms. Mehta underscored Indian desire for the treaty to impose a fair balance of responsibilities on exporting and importing states. For the past few years, India has been the world’s largest arms importer.

“India cannot accept that the Treaty be used as an instrument in the hands of exporting states to take unilateral force majeure measures against importing states parties without consequences,” Ms. Mehta noted in this regard.

‘A welcome move’

Human rights organisations welcomed the treaty’s adoption.

“The world has been waiting a long time for this historic treaty. After long years of campaigning, most states have agreed to adopt a global treaty that can prevent the flow of arms into countries where they will be used to commit atrocities,” said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, from the conference in New York.

Earlier, the U.S. appeared ominously close to again playing a spoiler role as it did during 2012 treaty negotiations after Senate Republicans recently passed an amendment, by a 53-46 vote, against U.S. ratification of the treaty, purportedly to uphold the Second Amendment.

The influential National Rifle Association has also “vowed” to block the Senate’s ratification of the ATT.

U.S. officials have generally downplayed the possibility of any deleterious impact of the treaty on the U.S. share of the arms trade business, which is close to 30 per cent.

In comments quoted by The New York Times, Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State leading the American delegation to the talks, said that more states will impose controls on their own legal exports and the treaty demands more effective action against black market arms brokers and the diversion of weapons.

“This treaty will bring much of the rest of the world not up to the American standards but much closer to the American standards,” he said. “In that sense, I believe it levels the playing field and gives American manufacturers a better competitive position in the world.”

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