Despite Iran, North Korea, and Iran blocking adoption of a global Arms Trade Treaty on the last day of negotiations, adoption may be in sight with a vote in the United Nations General Assembly expected as early as next week. The United States, which played a key role in negotiating the final text, has joined the vast majority of countries in support of the Treaty and is calling for its quick adoption in the General Assembly.

(REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

Adoption of a global Arms Trade Treaty would be a monumental victory for efforts to prevent genocide, mass atrocities, and other severe human rights abuses. No longer would we live in a world where the trade in items like bananas and iPods are aggressively regulated while AK-47s and grenade launchers flow all too freely into the hands of warlords and child soldiers.

The global Arms Trade Treaty text that has been negotiated over the last two weeks includes important provisions that would raise the standards of foreign governments and shine a light on the grey areas that currently dominate international arms sales. Put simply, it would make it more difficult for human rights abusers to gain weapons to carry out their crimes and would make it easier to hold those countries and other international actors who allow arms to flow to warlords, terrorists, and other criminals to be held accountable.

Perhaps most significant from the side of preventing genocide and mass atrocities, the treaty would prohibit the transfer of conventional arms by any state:

…if it has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party.

States would also be required to carry out assessments and not authorize exports if they find there is an overriding risk of weapons being used “to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law” and “international human rights law,” terrorism and organized crime.

The Treaty would not stop all abuses and indeed could be stronger, but it would make it more difficult for would-be human rights abusers to carry out their crimes. It would be an important first step in setting a new global standard that puts countries on notice that it is no longer acceptable to simply pass on weapons to known criminals with no sense of accountability for the evils for which they are likely to be used.

The Treaty would fill a tremendous vacuum in international efforts to prevent genocide and mass atrocities, one that victims, former child soldiers, generals, and missionaries alike could rejoice in finally having filled.

The United States has been a strong supporter of an Arms Trade Treaty and is joining several countries in pushing for its quick adoption through the UN General Assembly. The next step would be for the United States to sign on to the treaty. For a country that has made the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities a priority, and with opposition like Iran, North Korea, and China, further supporting and signing this treaty is a no brainer.


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