In a major step against international crime, the Clinton administration is co-sponsoring a U.N. resolution aimed at curbing illicit trafficking in firearms. It is the first time the United States has endorsed a U.N. resolution on firearms regulation, U.S. officials said.
The action came after a week of intense negotiation in Vienna among the delegates to the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.Late Thursday, the Clinton administration agreed to support the resolution, drafted by Canada and Brazil, but only after it had been rewritten to clarify that it does not call for action on possession of handguns or domestic sales of guns. The resolution urges governments to adopt measures, including an international accord, aimed at "combating illicit trafficking in firearms."
The United States also joined Canada in recruiting other sponsors, and by the end of the day 21 countries had agreed, including Russia, Germany, Britain, Japan, Australia and Argentina.
"The phenomena of transnational crime is causing a ratcheting up of international co-operation against trafficking," said Jonathan Winer, a deputy assistant secretary of state and the head of the U.S. delegation.
The resolution is expected to be approved when it is put before the 40 members of the commission Monday, delegates said.
"This is quite a dramatic change for governments," said James Hayes, coordinator for international firearms issues in the Canadian Justice Department. "They are now accepting that they must take accountability for guns going out of their countries."
"In an era of globalization and easier flow of goods, firearms are going to be treated as different than other commodities," said Hayes. He and U.S. Customs Agent James McShane have promoted U.N. action to curb firearms trafficking.
Hayes said the resolution, along with a treaty on firearms regulations adopted last November by the Organization of American States, would make it easier to combat crime. "There will be more transparency in the movement of firearms," he said. "It will be far easier to trace them."
It is largely because of the difficulty of tracing firearms once they have been sold to countries in the European Union that the Clinton administration decided Wednesday to suspend the sale of U.S. weapons to British companies.
Even though the resolution is not as tough as many gun-control advocates would have liked, they were generally pleased.
"It's the best we could expect," said Philip Alpers, a gun policy researcher from New Zealand. "It is the next stage in a long process that will eventually make it more difficult to move guns across borders."
He and representatives of other nongovernmental organizations said the U.S. decision was a defeat for their antagonists, like the National Rifle Association.
Though acknowledging that she was "not happy" with the outcome, the NRA's chief lobbyist, Tanya Metaksa, said the group had achieved some victories in the process, like defeating a Japanese proposal that dealt with possession of firearms. The organization is opposed to any U.N. involvement in firearms issues.
"The bottom line is that the U.N. should respect the sovereignty of countries, on all issues, and that for them to tread on national policy is bad international policy," said Metaksa.
Metaksa turned her criticism to the process that produced the resolution. "There were not open and fair discussions," she said. "These are not open meetings."
The NRA, however, was an accredited participant at the meetings, which were open to jour-nalists and generally more open than most U.N. deliberations. Between September and January, the United Nations held workshops on firearms regulations in Lubliana, Slovenia; Arusha, Tanzania; Sao Paolo, Brazil; and New Delhi, India.
The process alone, even before Friday, has been salutary, advocates of domestic gun-control laws said.
"It has encouraged governments to focus on gun laws and adopt tougher ones," said Rebecca Peters, an Australian who represented the International Alliance of Women. She said, for example, that after the workshop in New Delhi, in January, Mongolia banned the import of all firearms.