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Letter to President Obama on the Arms Trade Treaty

Toward A Robust and Effective Arms Trade Treaty

May 22, 2012

President Barack Obama
The White House
Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C.

Dear President Obama:

We are writing to encourage you and your administration to spare no effort to seize the historic opportunity to negotiate a robust, bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) this July at the United Nations in New York.

Thousands of civilians around the globe are slaughtered each year by weapons that are sold, transferred by governments or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups. The lack of high common international standards in the global arms trade also raises the risks faced by United States military and civilian personnel working around the globe. It is in U.S. security interests to help reduce the human suffering and instability caused by the lack of an effective international legal regulatory framework on conventional arms transfers.

By helping to stem the flow of weapons to irresponsible end users, a robust and comprehensive ATT can help save innocent lives, help protect women and children, contribute to economic and social development, promote regional stability, and protect human rights. We encourage you and your team to pursue a treaty with the highest possible standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.

To be effective, we believe the ATT must incorporate the following elements:

1. Strong Criteria Explicitly Linked to Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law. The ATT must prevent states from transferring conventional arms in contravention of UN arms embargoes and when it is determined there is a substantial risk the items will be used for serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.

A key question in the negotiations will be whether the treaty will require states, after determining there is a substantial risk of a potential transfer of arms violating international human rights or humanitarian law, to withhold the transfer or whether the ATT will simply require states “take into account” the potential risks associated with the transfer and still allow a transfer authorization to proceed based on larger economic or security concerns.

A “take into account” approach is simply not acceptable because it will allow many states to ignore their existing obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. We encourage you to be bold and work with like-minded states to achieve the strongest possible standard. 

2. Comprehensive Scope. For the ATT to be effective, the ATT must apply to the broadest range of conventional arms possible—from military aircraft to small arms—as well as all types of international trade, transfers, and transactions in conventional weaponry. The ATT should also specifically require that national laws regulate the activities of international arms brokers and other intermediaries.

3. Addressing the Ammunition Problem. An ATT that does not regulate ammunition would be like a gun without bullets. The world is already full of guns. It is the constant flows of ammunition that feeds and prolongs conflicts and armed violence. 

We understand that the United States has been reluctant to include ammunition within the scope of the ATT, mainly because of concerns about monitoring the use and re-transfers of such exports. We recognize that the global trade in ammunition is a complex issue. However, the exclusion of ammunition from the scope of the treaty would greatly reduce its ability to achieve many of its most important goals. The United States already licenses its import and export of ammunition. We strongly encourage your administration to develop and support creative, pragmatic approaches and to utilize the ATT to help monitor and regulate ammunition.

4. A Common Sense Entry Into Force Formula. We urge the United States to play an active role in reaching agreement on a pragmatic entry into force formula. The ATT’s entry into force mechanism should seek to include enough states to create an effective global norm. However, it should avoid a formula that is so stringent as to allow some states to hold entry into force hostage and/or take so long to achieve as to delay the implementation of key provisions for many years.

5. Correcting Misperceptions of the International Scope of the ATT. No one, except maybe illicit arms dealers and human rights abusers, should oppose common-sense international law regulating the arms trade. We are disturbed by erroneous claims by some that the ATT will infringe on the right of U.S. citizens to legally possess firearms. We strongly encourage your administration to correct the record on this score and actively remind the American public of the value of the treaty in reducing the carnage created by illicit and irresponsible international arms transfers. 

We urge you and your administration to play a strong leadership role. For example, we recommend that Secretary of State Clinton be tapped to deliver the United States’ opening statement. This would give the process a boost and demonstrate your administration’s commitment to a successful outcome.

Thank you for your consideration. We stand ready to assist you in this important endeavor.

Sincerely, 

Arlene Kelly, Chair of the Board of Directors
American Friends Service Committee

George Cody, PhD, Executive Director
American Task Force for Lebanon

Eric Sapp, Executive Director
American Values Network

Frank Jannuzi, Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy Policy and Research
Amnesty International USA

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
Arms Control Association

Tibi Galis, Executive Director
Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation

Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director
Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC)

Sarah Margon, Associate Director, Sustainable Security & Peacebuilding
Center for American Progress Action Fund

William C. Goodfellow, Executive Director
Center for International Policy

Stanley J. Noffsinger, General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Don Kraus, CEO
Citizens for Global Solutions

John Converset, MCCJ,  Office of Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation,
North American Province, Comboni Missionaries

Very Rev. Thomas Smolich, SJ, President
Conference of Major Superiors of Men 

Kathi Lynn Austin, Executive Director
Conflict Awareness Project

Jeff Abramson, Director (Secretariat)
Control Arms

John Isaacs, Executive Director
Council for a Livable World

Rory Anderson 
Director, External Relations 

ChildFund International

John Bradshaw, Executive Director
Enough Project

Emira Woods, Co-Director
Foreign Policy In Focus 

Diane Randall, Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Krista Hendry, Executive Director
The Fund for Peace

Katherine Prizeman, International Coordinator, Disarmament Program
Global Action to Prevent War

Kelsey Alford-Jones, Director
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

Ken Roth, Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Arvind Vora, Chairman
Interfaith Committee of JAINA (Jain Associations In North America) 

Michael Christ, Executive Director
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

Cathey Falvo, MD, MPH, President
International Society of Doctors for the Environment

Robert Naiman, Policy Director
Just Foreign Policy

Kathleen McNeely, Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

J. Ron Byler,
 Executive Director

Mennonite Central Committee, United States

Hilary O. Shelton, Director, Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy
NAACP

Galen Carey, Vice President for Government Relations
National Association of Evangelicals

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Hiro Sakurai, President
NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security 

Raymond C. Offenheiser, President
Oxfam America

Ross Robertson MP, President
Parliamentarians for Global Action, and
Assistant Speaker of New Zealand Parliament

Kevin Martin, Executive Director
Peace Action

Jon Rainwater, Executive Director
Peace Education Fund

Catherine Thomasson, MD, Executive Director
Physicians for Social Responsibility

Michel Gabaudan, President
Refugees International  

Rev. Bud Heckman, Executive Director
Religions for Peace USA

Michael Poffenberger, Executive Director
Resolve

Lisa Schirch, Director
3P Human Security

Bruce Knotts, Director
Unitarian Universalist Association United Nations Office

Patrick Madden, Executive Director
UN Association of the USA 

Sandy Sorensen, Director
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Thomas H. Andrews, President and CEO
United to End Genocide 

James E. Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church 

Dr. Ehtisham Abidi, President
Universal Muslim Association of America 

Joy Olson, Executive Director,
Washington Office on Latin America

Susan Shaer, Executive Director
Women’s Action for New Directions

cc:       Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
            Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice
            Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and Intl. Security Rose Gottemoeller
            National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon

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