Representatives from more than 150 countries gathered on Monday at the United Nations in New York to begin arms trade negotiations. On the table is a global arms trade treaty that would be the first international agreement to regulate the world’s $70 billion arms trade.
Among those pushing for a strong agreement are 18 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including former Costa Rican President Óscar Arias (1986-1990, 2006-2010). In a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama last week, the group emphasized the importance of a treaty in a movement toward global peace.
“The absence of effective, legally binding international rules regulating the arms trade represents a colossal failure of the international community,” they wrote to their fellow Peace Prize laureate. “Now is the moment to right this profound injustice.”
Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his work towards a Central American peace agreement that ended regional civil wars, has been an outspoken advocate for global arms restrictions, speaking out last February about negotiations and again with the signing of the letter.
“The challenge before us is not just to get a document signed,” he said. “The challenge before us is to do justice to victims of violence. The challenge before us is to ensure that our goal becomes reality. These men and women and children deserve nothing less than swift and effective action.”
Current Costa Rican policy has followed Arias’ sentiments. Costa Rica, along with six other nations, supported U.N. Resolution 61/89 in 2006, which began the process of negotiations for a global arms treaty. The country also supported a strong agreement at last year’s conference, which failed to pass.
Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo reiterated Costa Rica’s stance in statements at the conference in New York.
“As we begin this conference, Costa Rica is taking the floor to reaffirm their commitment to a treaty on trade and transfer that is robust, universally exhaustive, verifiable and binding, and to express our deep commitment to the work that this conference will be able to achieve,” he said.
Castillo said Costa Rica supports further restrictions not yet included in last year’s proposed treaty. In addition to banning the transfer of certain arms, Costa Rica has called for the inclusion of ammunition and weapons parts in the list of regulated arms.
All eyes will be on Obama and the U.S. during the nine-day negotiations. As the world’s largest arms producer, the nation will have a significant say in the treaty’s stipulations, but the concept of arms restrictions has met considerable resistance at home, primarily from the National Rifle Association.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has repeatedly vocalized his disapproval of any sort of global arms agreement. He reiterated this stance last July in an address to the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Conference.
“The NRA wants no part of any treaty that infringes on the precious right of lawful Americans to keep and bear arms,” LaPierre said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has sought to ease the NRA’s concerns that the inclusion of small arms in the treaty could lead to additional domestic gun control.
“We will not support any treaty that would be inconsistent with U.S. law and the rights of American citizens under our Constitution,” he said in a statement on March 15.