‘A State Party shall not authorize any transfer of conventional arms …, 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.’
So mandates Article 2(3) of the draft Arms Trade Treaty that delegates almost approved this week. The treaty would target trafficking in “conventional arms,” described to include a host of heavy weaponry (battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers) and ammunition, as well as small arms and light weapons. That last category’s a primary cause of the attacks on civilians described in the quoted provision. (credit for photo of small arms being destroyed) This provision, which was inserted in the course of this month’s negotiating conference in New York, thus would place, on countries consenting to it, a significant new limitation on global weapons sales.
Whether such a limitation ever will take effect remains to be seen.
In accordance with a request of the United States made back in 2009, approval of the text could come only by consensus. By Thursday of last week, the United States, which had balked at prior texts in the past, got on board – but then Iran, Syria, and North Korea jumped off. As did many others (online statements included laments from Britain, France, Kenya, Pakistan, and Switzerland), the top U.S. delegate expressed regret at this turn of events:
‘Such a treaty would promote global security, it would advance important humanitarian objectives, and it would affirm the legitimacy of the international trade in conventional arms. Over two weeks of hard negotiations we reached a text that was meaningful, that was implementable, a text that did not touch in any way upon the Constitutional rights of American citizens, a text that the United States could support. We look forward to this text being adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the very near future.’
A General Assembly vote on the question reportedly could come as early as next week. Should that happen, pursuant to Article 22(1), entry into force would await joinder by 50 states.