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Obama must support global Arms Trade Treaty

The unregulated global arms trade fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide. The Obama administration must work with other countries at the UN to close the deal on a robust, effective Arms Trade Treaty to reduce the illicit flow of weapons to conflict zones.

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Amnesty International human rights activists hang a banner on a US embassy fence during a protest in favor of a global arms trade treaty, in Mexico City, March 19. Op-ed contributors Daryl G. Kimball and Raymond C. Offenheiser write: 'The Arms Trade Treaty will not, by itself, prevent all illicit and irresponsible arms trafficking, but it will help reduce the enormous toll of armed conflict around the globe.'

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

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The global arms trade is out of control. In armed conflicts from Syria to Sudan, Mali to Myanmar, and Congo to Colombia, thousands of people are slaughtered by weapons of war that are transferred by governments into the hands of unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups. 

The unregulated global arms trade, which increases the availability of small arms and ammunition in conflict zones, is fueling wars and human rights abuses against civilians. More than 740,000 men, women and children die each year as a result of armed violence. 

The deaths caused each year are at the center of a larger tragedy. The poorly regulated arms trade makes development in war-torn countries more difficult. For example, the prevalence of AK-47’s and ammunition in the rural areas of South Sudan, a country plagued by five decades of war, is having devastating effects on peace-building and poverty-eradication efforts.

The time for action to reduce the illicit, unregulated flow of weapons and ammunition is now. 

Rather than watching this destruction from afar, the international community has an opportunity to offer a solution. Diplomats from the United States and more than 150 other countries are at the United Nations in New York for the “final” round of negotiations (set to conclude tomorrow) for a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty. The treaty would restrict the flow of weapons across borders and close the loopholes unscrupulous traders now navigate with impunity.

Last July, the US was among a handful of states that failed to join a consensus on the treaty during the last hour of negotiations, saying "more time was needed" to complete the process. Now, the Obama administration has had that time.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must now work with other countries at the United Nations to close the deal on a robust, effective Arms Trade Treaty with the highest possible standards. The Arms Trade Treaty will not, by itself, prevent all illicit and irresponsible arms trafficking, but it will help reduce the enormous toll of armed conflict around the globe. 

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