US Joins Russia and China in Trying to Weaken Arms Trade Treaty

Right now, weapons have weaker trade regulations than bananas.

Many governments and most U.S. allies agree with human rights groups that the Arms Trade Treaty should not permit weapons exports where there is a substantial risk of serious human rights violations or war crimes, like those being committed in Syria.  However some influential states, including the United States, Russia and China, are trying to promote weaker treaty rules.

The United States should seek better company.

On Thursday, July 12, U.S. negotiators asserted that even a substantial risk of mass atrocities should not necessarily prevent states from proceeding with arms exports. Just hours later, the news broke about yet another atrocity in Syria—reports describe the Syrian army’s attack on the village of Tremseh with helicopter gunships and tanks.

The unfortunate timing of the Syrian tragedy and the U.S. delegation’s back tracking at the United Nations highlight the deadly consequences of the absence of any clear international constraints on the flow of conventional weapons.

U.S. negotiators asserted that even a substantial risk of mass atrocities should not necessarily prevent states from proceeding with arms exports.

The Arms Trade Treaty presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to stop arms from getting into the hands of dictators like Syria’s Bashar Assad.  The negotiations now underway are the culmination of a decade-long effort to get nations to assume responsibility for preventing the flow of arms used to perpetrate human rights abuses.

A strong treaty with human rights at its core — which has the support of most NATO countries, Canada, Japan, Australia and other close U.S. allies – would also curb exports of weapons that escalate drug wars, sex trafficking, and sexual violence.

One person dies every minute in armed conflict; 1,500 people every single day.  In more than 60 percent of the human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International, weapons were involved, from mass rapes and executions to disappearances and the recruitment of child soldiers.

These are the real weapons of mass destruction, killing person by person and village by village.

Amnesty was shocked to learn that there are more stringent rules governing  the global trade on bananas and bottled water than there are on the export of AK-47s.

A strong Arms Trade Treaty has the potential to begin to bring some control over a world awash in weapons that fuel armed conflicts and human rights abuses.

As these negotiations reach their conclusion this month, the United States should stand with its allies, not align itself with Russia, China, and other unscrupulous arms suppliers.  Without U.S. leadership to promote a strong Arms Trade Treaty, irresponsible countries will continue to send weapons to Syria, Sudan, and other crisis spots, exploiting loopholes carved out by the United States against its own long-term interests.

President Obama must not weaken this vital global effort.

The Administration has acknowledged that the Arms Trade Treaty would implement global standards that are similar to those that the United States has already adopted in its own approach to arms transfers.  The State Department, according to its website,

“vets its assistance to foreign security forces, as well as certain Department of Defense training programs, to ensure that recipients have not committed gross human rights abuses.  When the vetting process uncovers credible evidence … [of] a gross violation of human rights, U.S. assistance is withheld.”

So why is the U.S delegation at the arms talks advancing a global standard weaker than existing U.S. practice?

According to its statement on Thursday, the U.S. government now prefers a treaty that only requires countries to take “into account” a range of considerations – including human rights concerns, national security, and regional stability – before deciding to ship weapons to countries where the risk they will be used to commit serious violations of human rights is high. Especially troubling is the United States’ assertion that “we want to ensure that states are asking the right questions and striving to strike the right balance when making decisions about the export of conventional arms.”

This fence-straddling approach won’t stop the flow of guns and bullets, tanks and gunships into the hands of dictators, armed militias and others.

After more than ten years of work to place the treaty on the U.N. agenda, we need a clear international standard against arms transfers that fuel abuses.  The absence of such constraints has allowed weapons to pour into Syria, making possible 16 months of government-sponsored bloodshed that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.  Those who have exported weapons to Syria are willing accomplices to the conflict.

It’s time for the United States to help end this onslaught and come out in favor of an Arms Trade Treaty that is strong on human rights.

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9 thoughts on “US Joins Russia and China in Trying to Weaken Arms Trade Treaty

  1. Great post on the UN discussions – thanks for keeping us in the loop on what's going on – especially how the U.S. has been weighing in! We need U.S. leadership for a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty!!!

  2. I read this and cant believe how much I dont know and glad to have read this makes me quite uncomfortable with the U.S. so calledviews and actual doings concerning arms and Human Rights I would like to know as much as possible [email protected]

  3. first usa must solve this problem inside the united states.. all states must have the same law regarding the use of guns & other arms AND SIMULTANEOUSLY impose the same strong atitude at the uno and all international treaties.. NO MORE killing, NO MORE weapons.. Peace !! the same mesage for rusia, china, india and all countries.. !!

    • As much as I believe in the cause of human rights, gun ownership in this country is not the problem. I'm not a gun owner but I do believe in our second amendment rights because most legal gun owners are extremely responsible with their firearms. Should weapon exports be more closely regulated? Yes. But it should be done in a way that doesn't infringe on responsible Americans rights. No other country or international organization should ever have any regulatory powers over the citizens of the united states.

      • Additionally, I may not agree with the extreme ideals completely but thank you for caring about others the way that you do. The world does need it.


    Why are you putting out misleading information, amnesty usa?

    It's widely known that Obama and Hillary Clinton support the Arms Trade Treaty.

    If the Arms Trade Treaty were in effect prior the fighting in Syria, how would the rebels have defended themselves at all against their government?

    All this treaty does is put weapons into the hands of the UN. It makes the UN this large force who controls the weapons of the world. If the UN doesn't like a country, it could label them as a "terrorist" organization and then go in to confiscate all military supplies.

    This is not right. The UN does NOT get to dictate who can arm themselves or how they can.

    Dozens of countries around the world struggle from gun-violence. The Arms Trade Treaty is not going to prevent this at all! It's not going to stop the violence in Africa, the Middle East or the US. It's merely going to allow the UN to be able to take away weapons from countries that they do not want possessing them.

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