UN leadership has accused the United States in the past of violating human rights, and these accusations could be used to enforce the Arms Trade Treaty against the U.S. and restrict gun ownership. The UN’s view of human rights is morally relative and not shared by the U.S.
By Rachel Alexander | April 10, 2013
On April 2, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly voted to approve a treaty supported by the Obama administration that will restrict the export of firearms to countries with poor human rights records. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is being described as a gun control measure that will keep firearms out of the hands of insurgents, terrorists and organized crime. Yet, it is clear from the way the treaty has been written, and the parts left out that the National Rifle Association (NRA) had urged it to include, that it could easily lead to the prohibition of civilian firearms ownership.
The treaty prohibits countries that ratify it from exporting conventional weapons to countries in violation of arms embargoes, or to countries that could use the arms to commit acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, undermine peace and security, or in attacks against civilians. Prohibited arms include tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers, small arms and light weapons such as handguns. The only exception is antique and replica firearms.
The nation members of the General Assembly voted 154 to 3 to approve the treaty, with 23 abstentions. Many of the nations that abstained included large arms exporters like Russia and China, and nations with poor human rights records. Iran, North Korea and Syria voted against it. Due to the three new “Axis of Evil” nations opposing the treaty, it has been easier for gun control advocates to spin the treaty as a good thing.
UN leadership has accused the U.S. in the past of violating human rights, and these accusations could be used to enforce the treaty against the U.S. and restrict gun ownership. Former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said in 2008 regarding U.S. waterboarding techniques, “I would have no problems with describing this practice as falling under the prohibition of torture,” and that violators of the UN Convention Against Torture should be prosecuted by other countries under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Navi Pillay, who replaced Arbor, said regarding Guantanamo Bay on April 5, 2013, “The continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law. It severely undermines the United States’ stance that it is an upholder of human rights…When other countries breach these standards, the US — quite rightly — strongly criticises them for it.”
The UN’s view of human rights is morally relative and not shared by the U.S. In 2001, the U.S. was voted off the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). Instead, countries like Sudan and Pakistan, with real histories of egregious human rights abuses by their governments against the people, were chosen for membership.
Why the Obama administration would trust the UNCHR to fairly decide which countries are committing human rights abuses now, considering its past record, is mind boggling. Under President Bush in March 2006 and 2007, the U.S. didn’t even bother attempting to obtain a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, the successor body to the UNCHR, declaring that it had lost credibility with its repeated attacks on Israel and a failure to confront other rights abusers.
President Obama supports the treaty
The Obama administration is expected to approve the treaty, but ratification in the U.S. Senate is unlikely. While 67 Senators are needed to approve it, more than 50 Senators have said in the past they will oppose it. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) is attempting to pass a concurrent resolution to stop President Obama from signing the treaty. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) slipped an amendment into the Senate Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2014 that would create a fund to block implementation of the treaty. All 45 Republicans and eight Democrats voted in favor of his amendment. Inhofe told The Washington Times, “Americans will not stand for internationalists limiting and infringing upon their constitutional rights.” He said the treaty would “require the United States to implement gun-control legislation as required by the treaty, which could supersede the laws our elected officials have already put into place,” Fox News reported.
Even if the treaty never passes the Senate, it can still go into effect. Political commentator and consultant Dick Morris reveals in his new book, Here Come the Black Helicopters, that under the Vienna Convention, if the President signs a treaty, as long as it is not brought up for a vote in the Senate, it quietly goes into effect.
The NRA opposes the treaty
In a February interview with The Daily Caller, NRA President David Keene said the treaty would “end-run the Congress, end-run the Constitution, end-run the state legislatures and the federal courts.” The treaty contains language that reaffirms the sovereign right of nations to regulate arms within their own territory. However, it is easy to see how this language could be rendered meaningless by looking at our own American history. The U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause and Tenth Amendment specify that the power to regulate commerce within a particular state is left to that state. That plain meaning has been reinterpreted over the years by activist judges to find an excuse for almost any kind of commerce within a particular state somehow relating to commerce with other states. This broad interpretation reached the height of ludicrousness in 1942, when the Supreme Court held in Wickard v. Filburn that the act of a person growing food in his own back yard for himself to eat, constituted interstate commerce, because without that food he would have to buy his food somewhere else. Furthermore, the treaty includes page after page of language which states that nations must apply the terms of the treaty within their boundaries.
Although the treaty ostensibly only covers arms exports, it encourages a type of universal registration for arms imports. Article 12, Recordkeeping, states that nations should keep records of arms shipped into the country, right down to the end user to whom they are delivered. Nations are then encouraged to share those reports with the UN and other member countries. The NRA was especially concerned about this language, but its concerns were ignored. Once the UN has obtained records of U.S. gun ownership, it would be very easy at that point to confiscate private firearms. Another mass shooting like that of Newtown could be used to justify taking the next step.
Some claim the treaty lacks any real teeth as it requires parties to the treaty to interpret and enforce the measure. However, who is to say they won’t? If the U.S. can get kicked off the UN Human Rights Commission by countries that don’t like us, why would we assume those countries will suddenly play nice and not enforce it against us?
Time and time again, the U.S. supports international treaties that rogue nations will not, to the detriment of our own citizens. These treaties hamstring us, while having little effect on the rogue nations at which they are supposedly directed. As the world’s top provider of major conventional weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. would take the biggest hit financially. The U.S. is not exporting arms to the Axis of Evil. Even if the U.S. exports arms to reputable counties, those countries could still turn around and export them to rogue countries. France and Russia are supposedly our allies, but high level officials in both governments had no problem accepting bribes from brutal dictator Saddam Hussein during the UN’s Oil for Food program.
We already have a law that prohibits the export of arms to rogue governments. The “Leahy Law,” named for its author Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and passed in 1997, prohibits U.S. assistance to specific military and police units deemed responsible for human rights abuses. The United States should determine to which countries it exports arms, not the United Nations. A massive, overreaching international law that subverts U.S. sovereignty to morally relative nations controlling the UN will accomplish nothing but the further erosion of our constitutional rights.