WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace urged U.S. leaders to take fast action on a United Nations treaty that will regulate arms sales across international borders.
Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, called upon Secretary of State John Kerry to “expedite a thorough review of the treaty” so that the U.S. Senate can adopt it and President Barack Obama can sign it in early June.
Noting that the Catholic Church has supported arms control as a means to limiting violence in the world, Bishop Pates told Kerry in an April 11 letter that the U.S. can set an example for the world by adopting the treaty quickly.
“As a world leader and major arms exporter, our nation should set a positive example for other nations to follow in efforts to reduce the flow of weapons into situations that violate human rights and cause terrible suffering,” Bishop Pates said.
The U.N. General Assembly adopted the treaty April 2 with 154 nations in favor of it and three against it with 23 countries abstaining. Only Iran, North Korea and Syria voted against the pact.
“The treaty is not perfect, but it is an important step,” Bishop Pates wrote.
Citing comments by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Bishop Pates said church officials viewed the treaty’s adoption as “constituting a step toward establishing in the world a culture of responsibility and accountability.”
The bishop also cited church teaching on the sale of arms as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying that “public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them.”
The United States, as the world’s largest arms dealer, pushed for the treaty’s passage and despite pressure from pro-gun ownership groups to scuttle it. The groups maintained that the treaty could be invoked to control arms sales within the U.S. However, Kerry said the treaty covered only international deals.
The legal arms trade accounts for about $70 billion in sales annually. The treaty covers attack helicopters, tanks and other larger arms as well as small arms and ammunition for such weapons.
Under the agreement, nations are required to determine whether an arms shipment to another country would be used to commit atrocities or violate human rights or if they could be diverted for such purposes and report back to the U.N. on their efforts.
The full text of Bishop Pates letter is online at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/war-and-peace/arms-trade/upload/04-11-2013-letter-to-john-kerry-arms-trade-treaty.pdf.