UNITED NATIONS, The United States signed a U.N. Arms Trade Treaty to regulate the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms on Wednesday; and the Obama administration sought to allay the fears of the powerful U.S. gun lobby afraid that the pact will violate the constitutional rights of the Americans.
The treaty, which relates only to cross-border trade and aims to keep weapons out of the hands of human rights violators and criminals, still has to be ratified by the U.S. Senate and was attacked by the influential gun rights group the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Among the NRA arguments against the treaty are that it undermines the American sovereignty and that it disregards the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to bear arms.
The United States, the world’s No. 1 arms exporter, became the 91st country to sign the treaty when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put pen to paper on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.
“It’s significant that the United States, which amounts for about 80 percent of the world’s export of arms, has signed,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told in a news conference.
Other 16 nations signed on Wednesday, raising the total number to 107, and two more countries ratified the treaty, raising that number to six, Bishop said. Fifty countries need to ratify the treaty for it to be enforced.
“This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom, in fact the treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess and use arms for legitimate purposes,” Kerry said after signing the treaty.
“Don’t get it wrong. We would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of the American citizens to exercise their freedomsguaranteed under our constitution,” he said.
Arms control activists and rights groups say there is one person dying every minute as a result of armed violence and the treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition that fuel wars, atrocities and rights abuses.
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) aims to set standards for all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons ranging from small firearms to tanks and attack helicopters. It would create binding requirements for states to review cross-border contracts to ensure that weapons will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism, violations of humanitarian law or organized crime.
The NRA vowed to oppose ratification in the U.S. Senate, calling the treaty a threat to individual firearm ownership.
“These are blatant attacks on the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American. The NRA will continue to fight this assault on our fundamental freedom,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, in a statement.
The U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs says the treaty does not “interfere with the domestic arms trade and the way a country regulates civilian possession.”
The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly approved the treaty on Apr. 2 by a vote of 154 to 3. Russia, China, India and 20 other countries abstained.
Rights group Amnesty International USA said it hoped the decision by the United States to sign the treaty would send a signal to Moscow, Beijing and the NRA on the commitment of President Barack Obama’s administration regarding this issue.
“The Obama administration is politically committed to end the unscrupulous trade of deadly weapons used by dictators, war lords and criminal gangs to carry out atrocities,” said Amnesty International USA Deputy Executive Director Frank Jannuzi.
Aid group Oxfam welcomed the U.S. signing and called on Washington to live up to the spirit of the treaty by not transferring weapons to countries where there is a risk of rights abuses, such Syria.
The White House pledged in June to provide military aid to the rebels in Syria. The Syrian coalition of opposition groups said this month that lethalmilitary assistance had been received by the United States. Although Kerry confirmedthat “many items” have been reaching the rebels, declined to specify what specific arms were sent.