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U.S. Citizens’ Rights Will Not Be Affected Despite Arms Trade Treaty, Says Kerry

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2013 (IPS) - At a treaty-signing ceremony Wednesday, 17 member states were the latest signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), bringing the total to 107.

But despite the large number of signatories, the ATT needs ratification by over 50 countries before it is enforceable. So far, only seven countries have ratified the ATT.

The U.S. signed the treaty Wednesday, alongside South Africa, Peru, Barbados, Honduras, Samoa and others. Speaking to reporters, Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister of Australia, described as “significant” the presence of United States, the world’s leading arms exporter, in the list of signatories.

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, emphasised that the United States was signing the treaty to make the “world a safer place” but this wouldn’t affect the rights of Americans to possess legitimately obtained arms.

There has been a raging controversy in the United States over the widespread sale of firearms, with some 16 mass killings in recent years, including shootings in an elementary school in the state of Connecticut. However, the right to buy and possess guns is a politically polarising issue in the U.S. which makes gun control laws extremely difficult.

While gun control might be a conflicting issue in the U.S., both the Australian Foreign Minister and Alistair Burt, Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom, stressed that regulating arms was a bipartisan issue in their respective countries, which makes ratification in these countries a possibility.

The proliferation of small arms through illicit trade wreaks havoc on lives in the Global South.

Warlords, gangs, state-armed members and non-state armed actors are responsible for many violent crimes and deaths committed with these weapons in countries across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific.

In 2001, the U.N. adopted a Program of Action (PoA) on tackling the spread of arms through illegal means, which included getting manufacturers to make tracking of weapons easier.

Over a decade later, in April this year, the General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which aims to regulate the global trade of weapons, including but not limited to small arms.

The ATT is co-sponsored by several countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, Costa Rica and Finland, and the Foreign Ministers of these four countries spoke to the press on Wednesday.

In response to a related question by the press, Burt said, that as a member of a Conservative-led government, “I was one of the first persons to sign the ATT” and added that “there are some things that are bipartisan…”.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the new signatories and called upon other countries to follow suit and help take ATT forward. As the British Foreign Minister said during the conference,  underscoring the importance of the Treaty, every minute a life is lost due to the illicit arms trade.

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