Wednesday, April 3, 2013

UN Passes First Global Arms Trade Treaty, ALBA Abstains

On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to pass the world’s first treaty regulating global arms sales, with 154 votes in favor, three against and 23 abstentions. Remarkably, the United States -- the planet’s leading arms exporter -- joined most of the world in supporting the treaty, although the influential National Rifle Association has vowed to prevent the U.S. Congress from ratifying the deal.

Latin America has played a key role in pressing this issue internationally. The campaign began in 1997, when former Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Oscar Arias led a group of seven Nobel Peace Prize laureates in drafting the International Code of Conduct on the Transfer of Arms, which provided the framework for the current treaty. In 2006 this document was endorsed by a General Assembly resolution co-sponsored by eight countries, including Costa Rica and Argentina. Even Brazil, the largest arms exporter in Latin America, supported the measure.

As BBC Mundo reports, however, not every country in the hemisphere backed the treaty yesterday. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) nations of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua were among the 23 countries which abstained from voting. They were joined by China, Russia and India, a factor which is sure to limit the treaty’s effectiveness.

Cuba’s ambassador to the UN, Rodolfo Reyes, told Telesur that the treaty was “unbalanced.” Reyes said his country rejected the treaty because the document “gives arms exporting countries the power to evaluate the behavior of importers on the basis of subjective and imprecise criteria that is subject to abuse and manipulation for political reasons.” This is likely a reference to the fact that, as the New York Times points out, the treaty includes language which links arms sales to a country’s human rights record.

Unfortunately, despite yesterday’s vote, implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty is still years away, as it will not go into effect until 90 days after it is ratified by the 50th member state.

News Briefs
  • Uruguay’s Senate yesterday approved a marriage equality bill in a 23-8 vote. The bill cleared the country’s lower house in December and will likely be signed by President Jose Mujica, putting Uruguay on track to be the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. As El Pais reports, the bill also authorizes same-sex couples to adopt children. A major sticking point in Uruguay's marriage equality debate was determining the family name for children adopted by same-sex couples. The bill resolves this by permitting same-sex couples to determine this on their own, and allowing couples who can't agree to have it chosen for them at random by the civil registry office.
  • On Monday the tribunal overseeing the case against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt rejected a request by the prosecution to allow victims who were sexually assaulted by soldiers during Rios Montt’s time in office to testify in private. The judges said they would preserve the anonymity of the witnesses by allowing them to testify with their faces concealed, which led several victims to testify while covering their heads with a blanket. The AP has a powerful photo of this treatment, which drives home a point made in a recent New York Times op-ed by Anita Isaacs: that the trial is ultimately “ill-suited to dignifying Guatemala’s victims.”
  • The United Nations mission in Haiti announced yesterday that heavy storms have taken a toll on crops in the Caribbean nation, causing malnutrition to spike. According to the UN body, 1.5 million Haitians are at risk of malnutrition due to crop damage.
  • The latest round of peace talks between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, which was scheduled to begin yesterday, has been postponed to the third week in April. Both negotiating teams accepted the delay, and said the extra time was necessary to consult with their respective leadership. The talks have been stuck on the issue of land reform, which the rebels insist must be part of any peace accord. Ivan Marquez, head of the FARC’s negotiating team, yesterday rejected calls for the negotiators to skip the issue and proceed to other points of disagreement. In a statement published on the FARC’s peace process blog, he said that a “poorly constructed peace” would be worse than war.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that he would direct security forces to crack down on illegal mining, which is becoming an increasingly important source of funding for armed groups and criminal organizations in the country. Last weekend, Semana magazine published a special series on the issue, featuring maps of the affected areas as well as an analysis of the state’s failure to protect artisanal miners.  
  • After drawing criticism for likening the Venezuelan opposition to the “heirs of Hitler,” Venezuelan interim president Nicolas Maduro is raising eyebrows for making yet another odd remark on the campaign trail ahead of the April 14 elections. In kicking off his campaign yesterday he told supporters that he was blessed by Chavez’s spirit in the form of a little bird which appeared before him while he prayed in a chapel, circled him three times and began to whistle at him. “I felt him there as though he were giving us a blessing, saying to us: ‘Today the battle begins. Onwards to victory. You have our blessing,’” said Maduro. “I stayed watching him and whistled back. I told him ‘If you whistle then I’ll whistle,’” he added.
  • Milenio reports that nearly a month after police arrested the head of Mexico’s powerful teachers’ union on charges of money laundering, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with her replacement, Juan Diaz de la Torre.
  • The Mexican government has sued the telecommunications giant Telmex, claiming that the company is charging customers illegal fees. The L.A. Times notes that this looks like part of Peña Nieto’s ongoing strategy of putting pressure on political powerbrokers to pursue reforms, in this case targeting Telmex owner and billionaire Carlos Slim.
  • The New York Times reports on the phenomenon of abandoned rural villages in Mexico’s central plains. The article claims this is due to a wave of migration northward, though organized crime and violence are factors as well.  
  • The Brazilian government has declassified millions of documents dating back from its 1964-1985 military dictatorship, and has made them available online via the public archive of Sao Paulo State. According to the BBC, the documents show that the Brazilian government kept a close eye on high profile Brazilians like soccer star Pele.

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