Israel voices support for UN Arms regulation treaty

Sixty nations signed the treaty, but diplomatic sources in Jerusalem say Israel has yet to sign, still looking into details.

June 4, 2013 22:42
4 minute read.
The European Parliament building in Strasbourg

EU building 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)

NEW YORK – At the UN on Monday, over 60 nations signed a blockbuster international treaty for regulating the massive $70 billion global arms trade.

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem on Tuesday said that Israel supports the measure, but has not yet signed because an inter-ministerial committee is still looking into the details.

With Russia holding out from signing on, questions loomed over whether the treaty would impact the over-two-year-long conflict in Syria, where the former Soviet Union has been accused of largely tilting the conflict in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty was approved on April 2 on a 154-4 vote by the UN General Assembly. It aims to keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers and criminals. After a decades-long struggle, for the first time arms sales will be linked to the human rights records of the buyers.

The treaty says sales will be reviewed to scrutinize if those buying the weapons will use them to break international humanitarian law, facilitate genocide or war crimes, or aid in terrorism or organized crime. It also indicates that nations will need to file public reports expounding on their arms deals in detail.

Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman was the first to put pen to paper when the signing ceremony opened at UN headquarters on Monday. There was a large round of applause after he affixed his signature to the document.

The UN said 62 countries from Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa signed the treaty in the morning, and that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was due to sign shortly, making Germany the 63rd nation to join the pact.

UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane told reporters that several more states would likely be signing in the coming days, raising the initial tally to roughly 66.

The US, the world’s No. 1 arms exporter, will sign the treaty as soon as all the official UN translations of the document are completed, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

“Declarations of support for the [UN] ATT would ring hollow if decisions to send arms to Syria and elsewhere are inconsistent with the principles of the treaty. This is a critical test for governments to demonstrate they are serious about implementing a treaty that puts human beings and their security first,” said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.

“Under the treaty, it’s clear that the Syrian government cannot receive arms, given its record of deliberately targeting civilians,” an Amnesty statement said.

It added that, “There is currently a substantial risk that arms supplied to Syrian opposition groups would be used to commit or facilitate more human rights abuses. Whilst this substantial risk remains, no arms should be supplied.”

Anna Macdonald of the humanitarian group Oxfam said that, “The signing of the Arms Trade Treaty gives hope to the millions affected by armed violence every day.”

She said that the devastating humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Syria underlined just how urgently regulation of the arms trade was needed.

“Gunrunners and dictators have been sent a clear message that their time of easy access to weapons is up. For generations the arms trade has been shrouded in secrecy, but from now on it will be open to scrutiny,” said Macdonald.

Arms control activists and rights groups say one person dies every minute as a result of armed violence and the treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition that they say fuels wars, atrocities and rights abuses.

Amnesty International reported that at least 500,000 people die annually, and millions more are displaced and abused, as the result of armed violence and conflict.

The ATT aims to set standards for all crossborder transfers of conventional weapons, ranging from small firearms to tanks and attack helicopters. It will create binding requirements for states to review cross-border contracts to ensure weapons will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism, violations of humanitarian law or organized crime.

Iran, Syria and North Korea cast the only votes against the treaty in April. The same three states had prevented a treaty-drafting conference at the UN headquarters in March from reaching the required consensus to adopt the pact.

The ATT will enter into force 90 days after 50 nations have ratified it. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said the treaty could come into force in “slightly more than a year” depending on how quickly national ratifications arrive.

The National Rifle Association, a powerful American pro-gun lobbying group that opposed the treaty from the start, criticized the US delegation in April for being among the 154 UN member states that voted in favor of the pact. The NRA has vowed to fight to prevent the treaty’s ratification by the US Senate when it reaches Washington. The group says the treaty will erode citizens’ “right to bear arms,” an interpretation of the US government disputes.

The treaty “will not undermine the legitimate international trade in conventional weapons, interfere with national sovereignty, or infringe on the rights of American citizens,” Kerry said in his statement.

British Foreign Office Undersecretary of State Alistair Burt urged countries to move swiftly with the ratification of the treaty.

“The world has already waited too long and we should not and will not lose the momentum gained,” he said after signing on behalf of the UK. “Our goal is early entry into force and universal application.”

UN diplomats say the treaty’s effectiveness could be limited if major arms exporters and importers refuse to sign it.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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