Dems press Obama to endorse 'strong' UN arms treaty

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The U.N. panel had sought to reach consensus on the treaty last summer but adjourned without a deal, in part because the Obama administration pulled out of the talks ahead of the November election.

The NRA and Republican lawmakers argue the treaty as written would infringe on Americans' Second Amendment rights and are working hard to defeat it.

The American Bar Association and other groups have certified that the treaty would merely require other countries to emulate America's arms export regime, but 51 senators have declared their opposition, making ratification a near impossibility in the near future.

Treaty advocates say that leaves the ball squarely in Obama's court. They want the administration to signal to the rest of the world its intention to get a strong treaty out of next week's deliberations, which would require arms exporters — and the countries through which arms transit — to publicly justify why they believe the weapons won't be used to kill civilians.

“First we need a treaty, but we also need a strong treaty that actually saves lives,” Paul O'Brien, the vice president of policy and campaigns for Oxfam America, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday morning. “We need the Obama administration to invest its political capital in getting that strong treaty.”

“We want a treaty that is based on the principle that there should be no arms transfers if there's a substantial risk the weapons will be used for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity.”

Specifically, treaty advocates want the treaty to: 

    •    Ban arms transfers if exporting countries “know or should have known of a substantial risk” that the weapons would be used to violate humanitarian law;
    •    Establish clear standards that countries will have to use when assessing the risk that the weapons they export could be misused; and
    •    Create a comprehensive export-import control regime for guns and ammunition.

The Obama administration has balked at having ammunition included within the scope of the treaty instead of as an addendum, which would require reporting on ammunition imports. A 1986 U.S. law prohibits detailed reporting on such imports, but advocates say the treaty could be written in a way that doesn't run afoul of the law while allowing for the creation of a baseline to know what countries are importing.

Here's Grijalva's letter: 

Dear Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Rice,

“We write to urge you to support a strong, effective Arms Trade Treaty at the Final UN ATT Conference. We were deeply disappointed that the prior negotiations ended in failure last July. The poorly regulated global trade in arms and ammunition continues to threaten the security and rights of millions of people around the world, exposing them to death, rape, assault, and displacement. We encourage you to finalize a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty to prevent the sale or transfer of conventional weapons used to perpetuate conflict, armed violence and human rights abuses worldwide.

To reduce the impact of the illicit global arms trade and to save lives, the United States should support a global arms trade treaty that establishes strong criteria to:

·         Prohibit all arms transfers where the exporting state has knowledge that the weapons will be used for genocide, crimes against humanity or serious war crimes

·         Prohibit an arms transfer if the state determines there is substantial risk that the arms would be used to violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law, or commit an act of terrorism

·         Requires controls on a comprehensive list of weaponry, including small arms and light weapons and their ammunition.

In remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on the importance of preventing mass violence by developing a framework through which leaders will “directly pressure those who organize atrocities and cut off the resources they need to continue their violence.”  For the first time in world history, the Arms Trade Treaty provides the international community with these strong and necessary tools to regulate the weapons too often used against civilians around the world.

The world has waited far too long for a global treaty on the international trade on conventional weapons and ammunition. As Members of Congress, we strongly urge the United Sates to take a leadership role in finalizing a strong, verifiable Arms Trade Treaty to sustain greater human security and peaceful development.