Tico diplomats call U.N. arms treaty OK a triumph

The foreign minister Tuesday called U.N. approval of an international arms treaty a triumph of Costa Rican diplomacy and an example of how a small country can have universal reach.

The minister, Enrique Castillo, issued this statement after the U.N. General Assembly approved the arms treaty with 154 favorable votes against three negative votes and with 23 abstentions.

He said that the vote was a triumphant achievement to stop the devastating impact of the irresponsible and illicit transfers of conventional arms in the lives and well being of persons.

Costa Rica has been promoting the treaty for seven years.

U.S. President Barack Obama quickly said in a statement that “the treaty is the product of a long, intensive negotiation, and I know that no nation, including my own, got everything it may have sought in the final text. The result, however, is an instrument that succeeds in raising the bar on common standards for regulating international trade in conventional arms while helping to ensure that legitimate trade in such arms will not be unduly hindered.”

The treaty sets international standards to regulate the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons from battle tanks, warships and attack helicopters to small arms and light weapons and ammunition for same.

The United States has said that its procedures for arms sales already conforms to what the treaty requires and that nothing in the document infringes on the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment establishing the citizen’s right to bear arms.

Martin Butcher, arms policy adviser with the international humanitarian organization Oxfam, said the treaty also establishes key human rights criteria.

“It’s really important that this treaty puts human rights and humanitarian law in control of the arms trade,” said Butcher. “The states will now have obligations not to transfer weapons to countries where human rights are being abused, where for example civilians are being killed by a government. That’s a strong obligation.” However, the last word on the issue has not been written.

The United States, the world’s largest producer of conventional weapons, voted for the measure, but most observers believe that there is little chance for the U.S. Senate confirming it by the needed two-thirds votes. In addition, the National Rifle Association, which considers the treaty an end run around Congress and the states, plans to continue an aggressive campaign against ratification.

Other observers point out that the treaty has no enforcement except moral pressure.

The treaty does not cover weapons sold or transferred by a national government or transactions involving private organizations like terrorists.

The treaty does not cover nuclear or biological weapons.

And the treaty is open to amendments in the future.

However, the document does create a U.N. bureaucracy to oversee the treaty and Article 5(4) requires annual reports by nations to the United Nations of arms deals, and these reports will be available for other U.N. members.

The countries that voted no are North Korea, Iran and Syria. They derided the treaty for its blatant political hypocrisy, said the U.N. in a summary of debate.  Iran’s delegate said he had voted no mainly because the treaty failed to ban the transfer of conventional arms to foreign occupiers.  The representative of North Korea took issue with the idea of exporters judging the human rights record of importing countries.  Syria’s delegate said the text did not prohibit arms supply to unauthorized, non-State terrorist elements.

Some countries, like Venezuela, could not vote because the nations were behind in the U.N. dues.

In a February interview David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, described the treaty as a ploy by President Obama to circumnavigate Congress, federal courts and state legislatures in an effort to enforce his firearm agenda, potentially violating the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. State Department officials have denied this and said that the treaty would not affect the Second Amendment.

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