Gun control debate about to go international

In this Nov. 16, 2010 file photo, Russian arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout, arrives in New York, escorted by DEA agents, after his extradition from Thailand to face terrorism charges. AP

(AP) UNITED NATIONS - The first draft of a new U.N. treaty to regulate the multibillion dollar global arms trade sparked criticism Tuesday from campaigners seeking to keep illegal weapons from fighters, criminals and terrorists - and demands for changes before Friday's deadline for action.

Peter Herby of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said that every element in the draft has "major loopholes," and he warned that if it's adopted there's "a very high risk" the treaty would continue the status quo and allow countries to just continue doing what they're doing now or even do less.

But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association and Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that with a few key fixes the treaty could reduce the impact of the illicit arms trade and save lives and should be supported by the Obama administration.

The U.N. General Assembly voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing arms trade, now valued at about $60 billion, with the U.S. casting a "no" vote. In October 2009, the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration's position and supported an assembly resolution to hold four preparatory meetings and a four-week U.N. conference in 2012 to draft an arms trade treaty.

Adoption of a treaty requires consensus among the 193 U.N. member states - a requirement the United States insisted on in 2009 - and diplomats said reaching agreement will be difficult.

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With the conference scheduled to end on Friday, negotiators have been trying to come up with a text that satisfies advocates of a strong treaty with tough regulations and countries that appear to have little interest in a treaty including Syria, North Korea, Iran, Egypt and Algeria.

The draft circulated Tuesday says the treaty's goals are to establish the highest possible standards to regulate the international trade in conventional arms and "to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and their diversion to illegal and unauthorized end use."

It would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons that violate arms embargoes or facilitate acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

In considering whether to authorize the export of arms, the draft says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws or be used by terrorists or organized crime - and if there is "a substantial risk" the treaty would prohibit the transfer.

Campaigners for a strong treaty say the list of conventional weapons in the draft is too narrow and needs to be broadened. They also say the treaty has to make clear that it doesn't pertain only to arms exports but to all types of arms transfers.

Ambassador Jorg Ranau, head of the German delegation, called on delegates to support adding munitions - including ammunition - to the list of items to be regulated by the treaty. The draft only calls for each state ratifying the treaty to establish a national control system to regulate the export of munitions.

Brian Wood, Amnesty International's head of arms control and human rights, said "it's not a secret that the United States government has been the one that resisted the inclusion of ammunition."

"We know that President Obama is sitting on the key to the door ... and the question of the ammunition is a decision that President Obama will make," he said.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, wouldn't comment on the draft because negotiations are continuing. He said the U.S. wants export controls to prevent illicit transfers of arms and has been making clear its "red lines, including that we will not accept any treaty that infringes on Americans' Second Amendment rights." The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.

Germany's Ranau said his delegation "remains confident that we will be able to agree on a strong and robust" treaty.

Anna Macdonald, head of arms control at the British-based aid agency Oxfam, was more cautious.

"We're looking for this treaty to slow down and prevent the flood of weapons into the hands of warlords and human rights abusers around the world, and at the moment we have a leaky bucket," she said. "It doesn't do that. It has the potential to do that but those loopholes need to close."

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