(Corrects spelling of ambassador's name in third paragraph)
* Scope of arms covered by draft treaty has narrowed
* NRA welcomes U.S. Senate call to repudiate arms treaty
* U.N. arms treaty drafting conference ends on Thursday
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, March 25 Human rights groups on
Monday sharply criticized the latest draft of what could become
the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion
global conventional arms trade, accusing the United States and
others of pushing to dilute it.
Several Western delegations, however, played down the
complaints of groups like Oxfam, Amnesty International, the
World Council of Churches and Control Arms, saying the latest
draft showed progress, though improvements were clearly needed.
United Nations member states began meeting last week in a
final push to hammer out a binding international treaty to end
the lack of regulation over conventional arms sales.
On Friday, Peter Woolcott of Australia,
president of the drafting conference, distributed a revised
One of changes was in the list of arms the treaty covers.
The previous draft treaty said that the following weapon
types would be covered by the pact "at a minimum" - tanks,
armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat
aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile
launchers and small arms and light arms.
But in the new draft, the words "at a minimum" have been
removed, which rights groups said has dramatically narrowed the
scope of the weapons to be covered by the treaty.
"This treaty is not good enough," said Anna Macdonald of
Oxfam. "This is not the treaty that is going to save lives and
Jonathan Frerichs of the World Council of Churches told
reporters predator drones and hand grenades are examples of
deadly arms that should be explicitly covered but are not.
Arms control campaigners and human rights advocates say one
person dies every minute worldwide as a result of armed
violence, and that a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled
flow of weapons and ammunition that they argue helps fuel wars,
atrocities and rights abuses.
They say conflicts in Syria, Mali, Democratic Republic of
the Congo, Ivory Coast and elsewhere highlight the need to keep
arms from going to governments that use them for atrocities.
NRA APPLAUDS SENATE MEASURE
Several Western diplomats said that the rights groups were
ignoring improvements and exaggerating shortcomings of the new
draft, noting a new draft comes out on Wednesday ahead of the
final day of negotiations on Thursday.
If the pact does not get the required unanimous approval of
member states, it would go to a vote in the 193-nation General
Assembly, where diplomats say it is very likely to pass.
The point of an arms trade treaty is to set standards for
all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons. It would
also create binding requirements for states to review all
cross-border arms contracts to ensure arms will not be used in
human rights abuses, terrorism or violations of humanitarian
In addition to the narrowing of the scope of weapons
covered, rights groups and supporters of a tough treaty said
ammunition is not properly covered, and loopholes that exclude
defense cooperation agreements, loans and leases remain in the
Oxfam's Macdonald suggested it was the United States, the
world's top arms producer, that had pushed for a narrowing of
the scope of the weapons covered in the treaty. The U.S. mission
did not have an immediate reaction, but several diplomats also
blamed it on the United States and other major arms exporting
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced conditional
support for the treaty last week, saying Washington was
"steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective
Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the
international arms trade on global peace and stability."
But he did not promise U.S. support. He repeated that the
United States would not accept a treaty that imposed new limits
on U.S. citizens' right to bear arms, a sensitive political
issue in the United States.
Over the weekend, the National Rifle Association, a powerful
U.S. pro-gun lobby, welcomed a measure adopted by the U.S.
Senate on Saturday that called on the United States not to join
the U.N. arms trade treaty. The NRA has vowed to fight hard to
prevent ratification of the treaty if it reaches Washington.
The measure, which was put forward by Senator James Inhofe,
an Oklahoma Republican, passed on a 53-46 vote. Several U.N.
diplomats in New York said this was a sign of the difficulties
the United States would have securing Senate approval of a pact.
"Thanks to the efforts of Senator Inhofe, we are one step
closer to ensuring the U.N. will not trample on the freedoms our
Founding Fathers guaranteed to us," said Chris Cox, executive
director of NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.
The American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobbying group,
last month disputed the NRA position on the treaty, saying in a
paper that "ratification of the treaty would not infringe upon
rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment."
The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all
is that the United States - the world's biggest arms trader -
reversed U.S. policy on the issue after President Barack Obama
was first elected and decided in 2009 to support an arms treaty.
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)