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