US Spoils Arms Trade Talks for Now, But Fight Goes On

August 2, 2012

times square bananas action
Amnesty activists descended on Times Square the week before Arms Trade Treaty talks began in New York. (c) Bob Scott

After years of campaigning and weeks of negotiations, the Obama Administration stunned civil society and the human rights community when it did a last minute about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty that was to have come to closure last Friday.

On the final day of the July 2012 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Conference, at a moment when the 190 assembled delegations thought an agreement was at hand, the US, joined by Russia and China, announced they did not have enough time to resolve problems they saw in the text.

This announcement, followed by intensified lobbying by the National Rifle Association, has delayed progress towards regulating the flow of arms around the world. The National Rifle Association is now crowing about their victory in heading off the treaty.

As the world’s largest arms exporter, the US had a crucial role to play advocating for a strong Arms Trade Treaty that would help protect the lives of the more than 500,000 people killed each year as a result of the conventional weapons that will be addressed by this treaty. On Friday, the US Government showed the world a staggering abdication of leadership when it helped pull the plug on the talks just as they were nearing a historic breakthrough. At a time in world history where it is needed more than ever, the Arms Trade Treaty would require nations to deny arms export licenses where there was an overriding risk that the weapons would be used to facilitate serious crimes against humanity.

Raising eleventh-hour issues with the treaty language and wanting more time to consult with itself, the Administration slowed momentum that was about to lead to a vital treaty being finalized at the United Nations to curb the global flow of arms and help save some of the 500,000 civilian lives lost each year in armed conflict. When the talks began a month ago, many feared that China or Russia might sabotage the talks. Few imagined the United States would be the spoiler. The Administration bears heavy responsibility to support moving the talks forward in the coming months and ensuring they reach a successful conclusion.

This is definitely not the end. Amnesty International will continue to push for the strongest possible agreement that helps saves lives and protects human rights. It is the hard work and support of Amnesty members, supporters and allies that enables us to collect thousands of petition signatures, rally in the streets, and show the world why we need to regulate the global transfer of weapons. Your voices have been heard, and we will together fight for and win the world’s first Arms Trade Treaty.