Obama under pressure to strengthen UN treaty regulating export of weapons

An array of groups supporting an international arms trade treaty under negotiation at the United Nations are urging President Obama to strengthen its terms.

The world body's 193 members have until Friday to agree to a treaty regulating the export of weapons. A first draft of the treaty floated Tuesday has many advocacy groups worried, however.

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Even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which rarely raises its concerns publicly, has been unusually vocal. 

“All the core provisions of this draft treaty still have major loopholes which will simply ratify the status quo, instead of setting a high international standard that will change state practices and save lives on the ground,” AFP quoted the head of the ICRC's arms unit, Peter Herby, as saying.

Key issues include the fact that the draft treaty doesn't require the regulation of ammunition, and does not appear to apply to weapons given as aid or donations.

Oxfam America, meanwhile, blasted the U.S. representative to the Arms Trade Treaty Conference for publicly stating that the United States wants exemptions for national-security interests.

“Ambassador Donald Mahley said to the United Nations on July 12, that 'it would be inconsistent with the principle of sovereign national implementation to require that [human rights and humanitarian law] criteria take precedence over criteria such as regional stability and national security,'" senior policy adviser Scott Stedjan said in a statement. “Since when was adherence to the laws of war and protecting human rights an adversary to national and global security?”

Some groups are more sanguine about the treaty. Amnesty International said closing a few “loopholes” could “deliver an important win for humanity by curbing the export of weapons and ammunition to countries where they will likely be used to slaughter civilians.” 

Specifically, Amnesty International wants the Obama administration to ensure that the final treaty covers “all types of transfers” of weapons, not just the commercial “export” of weapons. In addition, the group said in a statement, the treaty should be flexible to cover new arms technologies that could be deployed in the future. 

"The treaty is not perfect, but it deserves the administration’s support," said Amnesty International USA Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. "President Obama should step forward to protect human rights and push this treaty across the finish line.” 

Even if the U.N. approves a treaty by the end of the week and the Obama administration signs it, the treaty faces a tough slog in the U.S. Senate, where gun-rights champions are already uniting against it. To date, 58 senators have signed letters raising concerns with any treaty that covers civilian weapons; the draft treaty says it would apply to “small arms and light weapons.”

Proponents of the treaty say Second Amendment concerns are unfounded, and argue excluding civilian weapons would gut the effort to keep deadly arms out of the hands of terrorists and rogue regimes.

Advocates say the treaty would bring much of the world in line with U.S. standards without affecting the rules that govern domestic sales. And they say gun enthusiasts are wrong to worry about gun rights, since the Constitution trumps international law.