REDUCING the availability of guns and other arms to maniacal leaders and bloodthirsty warring parties is the aim of an arms-trade treaty being promoted by Costa Rica’s Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.“We aren’t going to eliminate the illegal transfer of arms, but we are going to reduce the Rwandas,” explained the foundation’s Chris Stevenson, referring to the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in that African nation.While the killers in Rwanda used machetes and farm implements, they also used rifles, pistols and machine guns that came from weapons manufacturers and governments from around the globe. The idea of the treaty is that those who provide the guns used in such atrocities should be held responsible, Stevenson said at a meeting of Democrats Abroad held Saturday at the Holiday Inn in downtown San José.Supporters hope to get the treaty passed in the United Nations, she added. To date, there are no international guidelines in place for the transfer of arms.ESSENTIALLY, the treaty seeks to prohibit the transfer of small arms to people or governments that will use them, or are likely to use them, to: violate human rights as defined by the U.N. Charter and other doctrines; commit genocide or crimes against humanity; or supply people or governments that would use the arms to commit any of these acts. It would also outlaw the transfer of arms that are indiscriminate (such as landmines) or cause unnecessary suffering.Stevenson acknowledges that the question of a weapon’s “likely” use creates some gray areas. Acountry’s history would certainly come into play, she said.The treaty goes even further in prohibiting states from authorizing arms transfers that will endanger the security of a region or endanger sustainable development.The document was originally drafted by former President Oscar Arias (1986-1990) – who started the Arias Foundation with the money he was awarded when he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his help in resolving the civil wars raging in Central America during his presidency – and other Nobel laureates. That treaty was then incorporated into the current legal text, which draws on United Nations legislation such as its definition of human rights.ARIAS, now a presidential candidate, has not been involved in the organization since he began his campaign for the February 2006 election.So far the treaty has the support of only 35 countries, Stevenson said, a far cry from a majority in the United Nations. The United Kingdom became the first G-8 country to support the treaty, followed by Gemany and France. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Canada and various African countries also support it. However, the United States, Russia and India are mounting a strong lobby against the treaty, she said.The United States, Russia, France, Germany, Brazil and the United Kingdom are among the top gun-producing and exporting countries in the world. Small arms are produced by more than 1,000 companies in at least 98 countries, according to the Arias Foundation. Four of the five largest arms producers are U.S.-based. Ironically, Sweden, which along with Canada is one of the Arias Foundation’s leading sources of funding, is another major gun-producing country, Stevenson said.Around the globe, 550 million small arms – defined as rifles, shotguns and pistols and some grenades up to 50 caliber, Stevenson said – are in circulation, and 1,300 people are shot and killed every day. NEXT year will be a defining one for the treaty. The first step will be getting it placed on the U.N. agenda. The Arias Foundation and other treaty supporters are working to build support on a national and regional level, such as in the Organization of American States (OAS).“Getting support from the OAS may be difficult because the United States is part of it,” Stevenson said.With the U.S. fight against terrorism increasing the arms trade, and the lobby of the National Rifle Association (NRA), few U.S. leaders are willing to even discuss an arms trade treaty, she said.“We have to show that the treaty is compatible with the fight against terrorism and the NRA; we are not saying governments can’t trade guns, but that they must do it responsibly,” she said.BEFORE the Cold War, most trading of arms was done through government contracts. Now, the private sector is behind the trade, which exacerbates the problem, Stevenson explained.Further complicating the situation are gun brokers – intermediaries who transfer guns from one gun-producing country to a gun-consuming country. These brokers may be based in third countries, and can complicate a nation’s already existing standards on arms trade.The arms treaty would eliminate this problem by creating international standards as well as prohibiting the transfer of arms to people or governments that then transfer them for prohibited uses.“What we are asking is, who is responsible for the end use?” Stevenson said.
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