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Arias Foundation Seeking Global Arms Treaty

March 14, 2008

The Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress used the recent arrest of arms dealer extraordinaire Viktor Bout in Thailand to call attention to one of its favorite causes – arms control.

Bout, the infamous former KGB agent known as the “Merchant of Death” who inspired Nicolas Cage’s character in the 2005 film “Lord of War,” was arrested March 6 in Bangkok.

“Bout’s actions are a menace to Latin America because of his alleged links to FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and his arrest is an alert that we need to insist on the adoption of an international arms trade treaty,” Foundation Director Luis Alberto Cordero said.

It is not mere idle talk from the foundation, which was created by President Oscar Arias in 1988 with proceeds from a Nobel Peace Prize he won for helping to negotiate an end to many of the civil wars raging in Central America at the time.

The president has been pushing for an international treaty regulating arms since at least 1997 when he led a group of Nobel Laureates to publish a draft International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers.

“This code would govern all arms transfers, including conventional weapons and munitions, military and security training, and sensitive military and dual-use technologies,” the original draft states. “Any country wishing to purchase arms must meet certain criteria, including the promotion of democracy, the protection of human rights and transparency in military spending.”

On Feb. 11, a United Nations-constituted group of arms experts from 28 nations met for the first time to debate the feasibility of creating a legally binding arms treaty. It is the next step in a long political battle trumpeted by nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam.

“These arms control talks must not fail,” said Anna McDonald of Oxfam’s Control Arms campaign. “A thousand people die each day from armed violence and many thousands more see their lives destroyed.”

The group of experts, which was created after a 139-1 landslide U.N. vote in 2006, is expected to deliver their recommendations to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in August.

The only country to vote against the experts group was the United States, which leads the world in arms sales, but there were also 26 abstentions, including China, Russia, Israel, India and Pakistan.

The group is allowed to “discuss” the treaty but it is not permitted to draft one, Cordero said. He said it was a matter of logic and hope that Ki-moon would call for a draft after hearing the group’s recommendations.

“Everything is regulated under a convention through the U.N. so why should arms be the only matter that isn’t?” he said. “We hope the secretary-general will either extend our mandate or create a working group to draft a treaty. The worst case would be if he shelves the matter.”

Even though the United States opposed its creation, Donald Mahey, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, is a member of the group. He could not be reached for comment.

 

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