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UN committee backs arms trade treaty

UN committee backs arms trade treaty

A key General Assembly committee voted Friday to allow the U.N. to start negotiations on a new treaty regulating the global arms trade to help prevent the illegal transfer of guns that kill and maim thousands every day.
John Duncan, Britain's ambassador for multilateral arms control and disarmament, hailed the 153-1 vote with 19 abstentions in the General Assembly's disarmament committee, saying the international community is now a major step closer to achieving a global and effective Arms Trade Treaty.
"The U.N. has today agreed that the time for talk is over," Duncan said. "The time for action has arrived. Even those who have questioned today's vote recognize the need to move forward."
The resolution adopted by the committee at the end of a four-week meeting calls for a four-week U.N. conference on an Arms Trade Treaty in 2012 to draft a treaty "on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms." It calls for preparatory meetings in 2010 and 2011.
Many major arms traders _ including the United States, Britain, France and Germany _ supported the resolution. Zimbabwe was the only country to vote against it and 19 countries abstained including China, India, Pakistan, Russia and Venezuela.
The resolution must still be approved by the entire 192-member General Assembly, but after the committee's vote its approval is virtually assured.
The United States, which under the Bush administration strongly opposed a treaty, supported the resolution but insisted on a provision saying a new treaty must be approved by consensus, which some diplomats said privately may be very difficult.
According to a report published this month by the British relief agency Oxfam and 11 other non-governmental organizations, some 2.1 million people _ overwhelmingly civilians _ have died either directly or indirectly as a result of armed violence since the General Assembly first voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing, multibillion dollar arms trade.
This is the equivalent of more than 2,000 people dying every day _ worse than one person killed each minute, the report said.
The Control Arms campaign _ a coalition of hundreds of non-governmental organizations in over 100 countries that has promoted an Arms Trade Treaty _ welcomed Friday's "historic breakthrough" and called on all States to negotiate a truly effective treaty.
"The Arms Trade Treaty needs a 'golden rule' requiring governments to stop any proposed arms transfer that poses a substantial risk of being used for serious violations of human rights or war crimes," said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's head of arms control.
"Such a golden rule could save hundreds of thousands of lives and protect the livelihoods of many millions," he said.
Anna Macdonald of Oxfam International said: "Governments must ensure that negotiations live up to the promise of setting the highest possible standards _ this is a life and death situation for thousands of poor people worldwide."
Many countries in Europe, Africa and Latin America backed the campaign to launch negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty.
Nigeria's deputy U.N. ambassador warned earlier this month that the circulation of illicit weapons in west Africa "is fast turning the region into a major transit point for illicit trafficking in arms and drugs" and facilitating the growth of criminal syndicates.
Brig. Gen. Mujahid Alam, a retired Pakistani officer with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, said "free and unabated trafficking of weapons, in particular small arms," in the Great Lakes region of central Africa is one of the major causes fueling the war in Congo, which has claimed 5 million lives since 1998.
He predicted that agreement on an Arms Trade Treaty will not happen quickly, and suggested that the U.N. and the international community consider a pilot project in the Great Lakes region to test possible treaty provisions to curb illegal weapons transfers.