CHURCH AT PRISON: PART 1 – Prison pastors following inmates after their release | The Saint Albans Messenger
CHURCH AT PRISON: PART 1 – Prison pastors following inmates after their release
This is part one in a three-part series. Parts two and three will introduce former inmates – a man and a woman – whose lives have been touched by Church at Prison.
ST. ALBANS — In 1992, Pastor Pete Fiske accepted a speaking assignment at Northwest State Correctional Facility (NWSCF), in St. Albans Town. It was during a Kairos weekend. Kairos is an international Christian prison ministry. At that point, a prison ministry was the farthest thing from his mind.
“It was all just scary looking stuff,” Pastor Pete said of his first impression of life inside a prison. “I personally didn’t feel an inkling to do that.”
In September of ’92, he visited a church service in the prison, led by Franklin County native Denis Chevalier. Within that timeframe, Chevalier had to temporarily step back. Pastor Pete and his wife, Agnes, took over the service for Chevalier as a means to help him out in a bind.
Two months later, Chevalier informed Pastor Pete he was not returning. That is how Pastor Pete and his wife, Agnes, adopted a new calling
“In July of 1993, God called me to leave IBM (after 28 years), and go to full-time in prison ministry,” Pastor Pete said. “God broke open my heart, and poured His love in,” he said.
The Fiskes moved to St. Albans and in 1993 established a non-denominational church at NWSCF: The Church at Northwest. Four years later, it became a non-profit church: The Church At Prison, Inc. (CAP).
Agnes faithfully accompanied her husband to the prison while he facilitated the services. Sadly, she passed away in 2004.
Pastor Pete became instrumental in starting a college course of study, Patmos Christian Academy. “Patmos” is derived from the prison island, on which the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.
There are also Bible studies for inmates and statewide prison ministry conferences; the eighteenth was held last May.
The Vermont Treatment Program for Sexual Abusers then was housed at the St. Albans prison. And Pastor Pete soon became involved. He has been working with sexual offenders, after they’ve been released, for about 18 years.
Half of CAP’s work is with inmates in aftercare. “That’s when the rubber meets the road,” Pastor Pete said. “Few people want to be involved in aftercare.”
Bridge Builders of Vermont helps newly released inmates make the transition into the community. Safe Sanctuary Seminars, another CAP offering, works with the Department of Corrections (DOC). The seminars offer help to churches in crisis. Typical difficulties might involve a congregation that is unsure how to handle a sexual offender within their congregation, or a sexual offense that has happened within the church family.
CAP programs work with, and through, the DOC, for numerous reasons. There are times, for instance, some inmates are so notorious that they cannot be released in Vermont. Therefore, relocation to another state is necessary and, most relocation has worked, says the pastor.
A year and a half after Agnes died, the pastor met Joanne (Jo), at another prison ministry leader’s funeral. “Our first date was in prison,” Pastor Pete said, with a chuckle. Jo had been invited to attend the prison church service. “If that hadn’t worked out there wouldn’t have been a second date!”
In December 2006, they were married in Atlanta, Ga. and repeated the ceremony the following January, for their prison congregation at the Church at Northwest. They are now 68 and 64, respectively, and reside in Jericho.
Pastor Jo became immersed in the ministry. In 2007, she fully retired from her previous job, and began full-time with CAP.
At that time, the prisoners at NWSCF were men only. Their work changed a bit, when the inmate population became all women, in January. 2009.
“It was shocking when we knew that was going to happen,” Pastor Jo said, about the switch to a female population. “We didn’t know what God was going to do with the ministry.”
But they carried on.
One of the major losses when the prison became all women in January 2009 was the already established activity among the male population. Pastors Pete and Jo had to rebuild, and that meant more work.
For example, under new rules, their volunteer groups could meet only once a week. So, Bible study eventually became part of the Sunday service. Pastoral counseling, which the pastors feel is the heart of their ministry, happened on Wednesdays.
“I enjoyed working with the women,” Pastor Pete said. “I find them to be very interactive during the preaching.”
Pastor Pete, however, speaks highly of the men in prison who have joined CAP.
According to the Fiskes, most of the women they have served have had severe drug problems, and the inevitable cycle of woes that follow that.
The current state of the economy hasn’t been a help in resolving problems for the just-released inmate. More transitional housing would be helpful, say the pastors. Many of the inmates – male or female — have no approved residence for release, and must remain in prison until a place is found. For some, that adds up to months, even years.
“We try to put God in their lives, and try to bring a future and a hope back into their lives,” Pastor Pete said of the inmates and ex-cons they assist.
The pastors encourage former inmates to join a church congregation of their choosing.
During the time when women were at NWSCF, Pastor Pete was more apt to do the preaching, while Jo handled pastoral duties. She was the only female pastor in Vermont offering pastoral counseling in prison. Now that men have been moved back to the NWSCF, she has gained more experience in Bible studies and counseling and is more active in those areas.
“Having the experience with both men and women has given us more in-depth experience with victims of abuse/sexual abuse,” Pastor Jo said.
Recent additions to the Fiskes’ ministry are support groups, such as New Creations Christian Fellowship, which was initially formed, a few years ago, by area residents Chandler and Patty Ede.
Over the years, the Fiskes heard frequently from former inmates living in Burlington who wanted a support group of their own. “God’s been telling us: it’s time to gather the men in the streets of Burlington,” Pastor Jo said, and now the New Creations Christian Fellowship effort has a presence in Burlington.
The Fiskes and the New Creations Christian Fellowship group have developed a training program for use in transitional “foster” homes that serve those recently released from prison. In the past, the couple has taken in five ex-convicts into their own home. They also are drawing on others’ expertise in that area.
Earlier this year, the Fiskes formed The Vermont Alliance of Prison and Aftercare Ministries to begin developing a faith-based prison program. Pastor Pete said, “Similar programs have been in Texas, Florida and other states for several years and are reducing recidivism rates dramatically.”
In February, CAP received approval from Vermont Commissioner of Corrections Andrew Pallito to target the Faith Based program for the Newport prison. The steps include working with the commissioner’s staff on the logistics, raising funds, recruiting program staff and working with the prison superintendent and his staff to implement it. Another meeting about establishment of the Newport program is set for Aug. 22.
If it is approved, said Pastor Pete, “This will be a living unit for men who have volunteered to enter the program knowing that the material is taken from the Christian Bible, but can be applied to men of any faith.”
This program also has been used in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Prison in Kentucky, where as of August there were 453 Vermonters incarcerated. According to Pastor Pete, the chaplain there reports that of 35 graduates who have been released, only one has returned to prison for a new crime.
Those in the program can stay on as a Character Coach. Teen Challenge, another Christian program, is also working with the Fiskes’ Alliance ministry.
CAP also distributes Bibles and religious study materials within prisons. Among those are children’s Bibles, distributed with study materials to encourage reading and discussions within families. Unfortunately, however, many inmates have had their parental rights terminated. Pastor Jo helps counsel those caught in that situation.
Pastor Pete said. “Our bottom line is to increase the population of Heaven – to bring people to the Lord, disciple them, and strengthen them. We’re doing it more out of a sense of working directly for God.”
Pastor Jo says God has played a role throughout her work life. “I do all with my whole heart,” she said.
There were times while sharing stories about CAP clients that the pastors’ eyes filled with tears.
“We do this out of our love for God, because He loves us,” Pastor Pete said. “We’re able to work for the creator of the universe directly. If we can go in to the prison, and preach, teach and mentor, that’s our sense of accomplishment. Whatever they do with it after is between them and God. I’m just Pastor Pete, doing my job.”
— — —
Melissa Trombley is a former Messenger community news editor.
Problems of liberty and justice on the Plains – CNN.com
Problems of liberty and justice on the Plains
- Rosebud Sioux reservation is one of many plagued by high incarceration rates
- Rose Bear Robe: “I think every family on this reservation has (a family member) in prison”
- Tribal leaders “want to find other solutions to what is actually social dysfunction,” advocate says
Embed America is a partnership between CNN Radio and CNN iReport. This series tells the story of the 2012 U.S. presidential election through the people most critical to the campaigns: the voters. CNN Radio is traveling across the country to interview iReporters on election issues close to their hearts. These issues were named important by iReporters during Phase 1 of the iReport Debate.
Rosebud, South Dakota (CNN) — Whoever wins the 2012 U.S. presidential election faces multiple, serious problems in the U.S. prison system. One issue is the soaring prison population and its rising costs; but another is the issue over who makes up that population.
The problem in Todd County, South Dakota, is that too many of their young men end up behind bars.
“I think every family on this reservation has (a family member) in prison,” Rose Bear Robe, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, told CNN. “It’s beginning to be normal now, when people used to be ashamed of it.”
The Rosebud Sioux reservation occupies all of Todd County on the southern border of South Dakota. It spans hundreds of miles of sweeping grassland spilling into four other counties in the state, and is covered with small canyons and winding creeks. That beauty contrasts with small clusters of homes in need of repair and a community clearly in need of jobs.
Bear Robe says the rest of the country, outside the reservation, does not realize the serious problems that exist on tribal lands. Huge numbers of a critical group, men, aged 18-30, are in prison rather than trying to build the community and their families, she said.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said the 56-year-old who is raising her 4-year-old grandson because his dad is serving time, “but the kids really suffer because of their fathers being in prison.”
Much evidence of the problem is anecdotal, in part because there is little hard data about Native Americans, including basic information like population size.
The Census Bureau groups “American Indian” and “Alaska Native” in one category. The agency’s latest figures, for 2011, estimate that 8.9% of South Dakota’s population is one or the other. Thus, there are no firm numbers for the Native American population by itself, but we know it is, at most, 8.9% of the population in South Dakota.
That is significant when compared with data from the state’s Department of Corrections, which reported that Native Americans were a whopping 29% of the adult prison population and 38% of juvenile offenders in 2011. This pattern is not limited to the Mount Rushmore State.
“In states where Native Americans are a significant portion of the state population, we see generally very significant disparity in (incarceration rates),” said Mark Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization which pushes for prison reform in the U.S. “Native Americans tend to be incarcerated at high rates overall.”
This is apparent in data from other states.
In Montana, a 2011 report from the Department of Corrections noted, “Although American Indians represent about 7 percent of Montana’s total population, they account for about 19 percent of all men in prison and 33 percent of all women in prison.”
In Minnesota, the latest Census numbers show a population of 1.3 percent Native American or Alaska Native. But the state Department of Corrections in January reported that 9 percent of inmates were “American Indian.”
This is a serious concern in the tribal community, both the idea that there is a disparity in prison rates and that the prison rates, in general are too high.
“Tribal leaders have been raising this concern of the use of over-incarceration,” said John Dossett, general counsel to the National Congress of American Indians. “They really want to find other solutions to what is actually social dysfunction.”
Dossett pointed to wide efforts at finding alternatives to incarceration, saying that too often people are locked up before anyone asks if there is a better solution.
At the same time, he said, there are major concerns that Native Americans get more and harsher punishment in what they see as an overly punitive system. This is especially true when they are outside the tribal court system.
“Tribes and tribal people often feel they’re discriminated against,” Dossett told CNN. He gave an example about sentiments toward state courts:
“Someone will leave the reservation, go to town, get drunk, do something dumb and if a white kid had done it, they’d call they’re parents and take them home,” he said. “But if its some strange native kid, they’ll put them in jail.”
Dossett and his organization insist that justice systems are different on different reservations and that many people are trying to improve problem areas. But he said it hasn’t happened yet.
Looking back at the numbers, why is there this disparity? It’s not objectively clear. While their prison rates sometimes mirror similar state figures for African-Americans, Native Americans make up such a small percentage of the national population (fewer than 2%, according to the Census Bureau) that there are few or no studies that offer an explanation for, or even an estimate of, their overall imprisonment rate.
There are complex cultural, economic and societal issues at play. And the situation is complicated by the issue of who prosecutes which crimes in Indian country.
On reservations, U.S. law recognizes the authority of tribal court systems for most minor crimes, as long as one Native American is involved. But major crimes on tribal lands, including assault and most felonies, are prosecuted in the federal system.
Crimes happening off the reservation often go to state courts.
In the federal and state prison systems, Mauer said, there could be higher numbers of Native Americans because there is a higher crime rate on reservations.
But he also theorized the disparity may come from an underlying issue in the state and federal justice systems, like racial bias.
On the Rosebud Sioux reservation, Bear Robe and others whom CNN spoke with, including a former police officer, are convinced that at least one issue is an overlooked part of the police force culture itself.
“They use the word around here, ‘target,'” Bear Robe said, her head nodding to punctuate the point. “They target individuals so the cops will go after them.”
Bear Robe’s son Eric King is serving 20 years after pleading guilty to a 2007 incident on the reservation. He admitted to biting his then-pregnant girlfriend and to assaulting a tribal officer who responded to his girlfriend’s call to police.
But Bear Robe charges that a tribal police officer targeted her family and others, and once the officer was on the scene, she insists he brutally attacked her son, not the other way around.
Bear Robe visited her son hours later in jail.
“When I went to go see him, he was all black and blue,” she said slowly, her hand brushing across her forehead and temple to her arm, “The cop must have been standing on his arm the longest time because it left an imprint on his arm.”
Bear Robe said her son also had a black eye, cut lip, many bruises and possibly a broken rib but she was not allowed to take photos or have a doctor visit him. A Tribal Council member who was with Bear Robe at the time confirmed her failed attempts to document her son’s injuries.
CNN contacted that police officer by phone. He initially agreed to meet for an interview but later did not return phone calls to set up a meeting time and place.
That officer was fired from the police department several years ago and current officials would not comment on why he was fired or whether he may have had a personal issue with Eric King or anyone else he arrested.
“Personal vendettas?” asked Calvin Waln, a former police officer who was fired just a few weeks ago, “There are certain individuals who do that (in the police force). You see that.”
Waln, who goes by the nickname “Hawkeye,” insisted that he was asked to leave the Rosebud police force after he began notifying his superiors of what he viewed as cases of police brutality, flagrant civil rights violations and lack of due process.
“You’re talking violations of civil rights, excessive use of force is one,” the somber-looking ex-officer told CNN, continuing his list: “Spraying handcuffed suspects with pepper spray … physical police brutality where the officers end up injuring or breaking bones themselves from assaulting somebody.”
Waln could not show CNN proof to support his accusations nor could he confirm any details of Eric King’s case.
In the past four years, the Rosebud Tribal Council, which has semi-autonomous power on the reservation, has fired two police chiefs amid corruption charges.
CNN spent two days on the reservation and spoke with then-Acting Chief Edwin Young, who vigorously denied allegations from Waln, Bear Robe and others.
Young is from the reservation and started his career as a police officer with the Rosebud police department 16 years ago.
“I don’t see the corruption,” he told CNN Radio, “All it is, is that the public doesn’t have the information that they so desire … (it’s) just a misunderstanding or misinformation.”
When pressed on Eric King’s specific case, Young said that police files prior to two years ago are missing or destroyed.
“I have no idea what happened to those files, that was the previous administration, the previous police chief,” he said, “and all those, those are gone now… somehow they destroyed all the paperwork.”
Since that interview, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe reinstated the previous police chief, Grace Her Many Horses, who had been ousted amid corruption allegations.
CNN put in requests to speak with her but she did not grant an interview.
There are many well-documented underlying factors leading to crime and imprisonment, that minorities have higher poverty rates than whites. The broken trailer windows and cars in disrepair on the Rosebud Sioux reservation give a clue that the lack of an economy is inextricably woven into the culture and society of the area.
Consider this statistic from the Census Bureau: Nearly half of the people in Todd County live under the federal poverty line, making it the second-poorest county in the nation. The Department of Interior produces another gut-punching statistic: unemployment among the Rosebud Sioux tribe is over 80%.
Sociologists have documented a connection between race and poverty for minorities. And Mauer thinks those economic factors extend to incarceration rates.
“A lot of factors go into this,” Mauer said, “But still we see a lot of very direct racial outcomes even in the theoretically race-neutral court system.”
The United States currently leads the world in incarcerations, both in sheer number and in rate. And those numbers have been going up. The number of people in U.S. prisons nearly doubled in the 1990s, according to the Census Bureau. It has continued to go up, though by less sharp of an increase, in the past decade.
It’s gone up more than 2½ times in South Dakota in that time.
This is not an issue that has come up specifically in the presidential campaign season, though President Barack Obama is well-known in Indian country for pushing through the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act, which especially adds resources to fight domestic abuse and sexual violence on reservations.
CNN asked the campaign of Republican candidate Mitt Romney for any statements, police papers or positions on Native Americans, but press secretary Andrea Saul did not respond on the record.
At an average cost for all prisons state and federal, of $30,000 per inmate per year, according to data from the Justice Department, the inmate surge is adding pressure to already tight federal and state budgets.
But in places like Rosebud, South Dakota, the costs of incarcerations are even higher. Leaders and residents alike believe the cycle of crime,and prison time is costing them yet another generation of Native Americans.
And they believe no one has noticed, including the candidates running for president of the United States.
See all of the
CNN’s John Sepulvado and Chip Grabow contributed to this story.
roblems of liberty and justice on the Plains – CNN.com
Merle Haggard (August 2, 2012)
Merle Haggard has always been an iconoclast and a contradiction. He is a hipster and a working-class hero, a restless traveler who sings yearningly of home, a deep romantic who rues love lost. He has survived poverty and prison and cancer. He has lived in boxcars and barrooms and mansions, and mostly he has lived on a tour bus, looking out at the America that he has chronicled so woundingly in song.
He’s a down-to-earth icon not given to showy entrances. He ambled onto the Congress Theater stage on Wednesday night like he was walking into a friend’s living room. He doffed his fedora to the crowd. The audience of punks, bikers and mainstream country fans roared in unison, a tidal wave of raw emotion erupting at the mere sight of the legend.
The road warrior opened fittingly with the percolating “Ramblin’ Fever,” his classic ode to wandering ways. The gray-haired Haggard, 75, looked casually cool in a suit and shades with a Fender Telecaster slung around his shoulder. Accompanied by a seven-piece band and two backup singers, Haggard cut loose on well-considered guitar riffs and the occasional fiddle lick.
Haggard has always been a nuanced singer with a finely honed instrumental sound, but the muddy acoustics at times swamped both singer and band. No matter. The fans sang and clapped to every word. “Oh my God!” shrieked a woman when Haggard launched into the opening strains of the classic “Mama Tried.” She seemed to speak for the entire room.
The songs were mournful (“Kern River,” “Silver Wings”). They were at times raucous (“I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”). They spoke of prison (“Sing Me Back Home”) and heartbroken mothers and lonely times.
“This one’s for all the workin’ men in the house,” Haggard said with a grin, launching into one of his finest pieces of pure Americana, the snarling “Workin’ Man Blues.” His humor throughout the night was low-key and sly. “We’re gonna do one for all the drunks in the house,” he said, by way of introducing the mass sing-a-along “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.”
This consummate songwriter leaned quietly into the Townes Van Zandt-penned “Pancho and Lefty,” infusing the desperado tale with all the pathos of the man who wrote it.
Merle Haggard is an American icon, but his greatest gift to us is that he has remained one of us. He exited the stage the same way he came on, doffing his hat and waving to the crowd as if he were taking leave of a family reunion. He disappeared quietly into the wings, leaving the thundering sound of love in his wake.
<nyt_headline type=” ” version=”1.0″>Goldman to Invest in City Jail Program, Profiting if Recidivism Falls Sharply
Published: August 2, 2012
<nyt_text><nyt_correction_top>New York City, embracing an experimental mechanism for financing social services that has excited and worried government reformers around the world, will allow Goldman Sachs to invest nearly $10 million in a jail program, with the pledge that the financial services giant would profit if the program succeeded in significantly reducing recidivism.
The city will be the first in the United States to test “social impact bonds,” also called pay-for-success bonds, which are an effort to find new ways to finance initiatives that might save governments money over the long term.
First used in Britain and now being explored in Australia, the bonds are rapidly capturing the imagination of some public officials in the United States: on Wednesday, Massachusetts announced that it was completing negotiations with two nonprofit groups to finance juvenile justice and homelessness programs, with the promise of repayment only if the programs work.
The federal government, Connecticut, New York State and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, among others, are at various stages of considering using the bonds to harness newfor human-services programs.
In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce on Thursday that Goldman Sachs will provide a $9.6 million loan to pay for a new four-year program intended to reduce the rate at which adolescent men incarcerated at Rikers Island reoffend after their release.
The money is not a huge amount for Goldman, which last month reported over $900 million in second-quarter profit, and the investment promises a public-relations benefit for the Wall Street bank. For the city, the money allows the Bloomberg administration to demonstrate, and test, several of its priorities: enlisting private sector help in financing public needs, and tying program money to rigorous outcome evaluations.
The Goldman money will be used to pay MDRC, a social services provider, to design and oversee the program. If the program reduces recidivism by 10 percent, Goldman would be repaid the full $9.6 million; if recidivism drops more, Goldman could make as much as $2.1 million in profit; if recidivism does not drop by at least 10 percent, Goldman would lose as much as $2.4 million.
“This promising financing model has potential to transform the way governments around the country fund social programs, and as first in the nation to launch it, we are anxious to see how this bold road map for innovation works,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement.
“Social impact bonds have potential upside for investors,” he added, “but citizens and taxpayers stand to be the biggest beneficiaries.”
In a twist that differentiates New York’s plan from other governments’ experiments with social impact bonds, Mr. Bloomberg’s personal foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, will provide a $7.2 million loan guarantee to MDRC.
If the jail program does not succeed, MDRC can use the Bloomberg money to repay Goldman a portion of its loan; if the program does succeed, Goldman will be paid by the city’s Department of Correction, and MDRC may use the Bloomberg money for other social impact bonds, said James Anderson, director of the foundation’s government innovation program.
Jeffrey B. Liebman, a professor of public policy at Harvard University who has written about social impact bonds, said the New York contract would be widely scrutinized.
“This will get attention as perhaps the most interesting government contract written anywhere in the world this year,” Dr. Liebman said. “People will study the contract terms, and the New York City deal will become a model for other jurisdictions.”
But social impact bonds have also worried some people in the nonprofit and philanthropy field, who say monetary incentives could distort the programs or their evaluations.
“I’m not saying that the market is evil,” said Mark Rosenman, a professor emeritus at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, “but I am saying when we get into a situation where we are encouraging investment in order to generate private profit as a substitute for government responsibility, we’re making a big mistake.”
Goldman approached the city after hearing that New York officials and MDRC were interested in social impact bonds. In an interview, Alicia Glen, the head of Goldman Sachs’s Urban Investment Group, said the company was confident that the program would work.
“This is a new approach — no city has ever done something exactly like this before — and we were able to get comfortable with the risks, which other financial institutions may not have been,” Ms. Glen said. “But we are confident that the city will identify enough savings that we’ll get a reasonable return on the investment.”
The Goldman money will finance a program called Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience, or ABLE, as a part of the Bloomberg administration’s year-old Young Men’s Initiative, which seeks to improve prospects for black and Latino adolescents. The jail program, which will offer counseling and education for an estimated 3,400 incarcerated adolescent men each year, will be run by two nonprofit organizations, Osborne Association and Friends of Island Academy, and overseen by MDRC.
Currently, nearly 50 percent of young men released from Rikers reoffend within a year.
City officials said they hoped the concept of social impact bonds could also be used to finance programs on homelessness, foster care, special education or health care. By using the mechanism to pay for prevention programs that are often too expensive for government to afford, the officials say they believe that they could save taxpayers money over the long term.
“Government is paying for outcomes that the government wants to achieve,” Deputy Mayor Linda I. Gibbs, the program’s chief architect, said. “This is designed to provide a template for other initiatives so we can do more.”
New York’s program is modeled, in part, after one in Peterborough, a London suburb, that began in September 2010 and is still years from being fully evaluated.
In Massachusetts, Jay Gonzalez, the secretary of administration and finance, is a proponent of social impact. “We’ve got to change from the idea of, ‘We just pay for stuff and hopefully get the results,’ ” Mr. Gonzalez said in an interview. “The beauty of this is if they perform to get the results, then we pay. If they don’t, we don’t pay.”
Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning
UN treaty on global arms trade sparks criticism – Yahoo! News
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The first draft of a new U.N. treaty to regulate the multibillion dollar global arms trade sparked criticism Tuesday from campaigners seeking to keep illegal weapons from fighters, criminals and terrorists — and demands for changes before Friday’s deadline for action.
Peter Herby of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said that every element in the draft has “major loopholes,” and he warned that if it’s adopted there’s “a very high risk” the treaty would continue the status quo and allow countries to just continue doing what they’re doing now or even do less.
But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association and Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that with a few key fixes the treaty could reduce the impact of the illicit arms trade and save lives and should be supported by the Obama administration.
The U.N. General Assembly voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing arms trade, now valued at about $60 billion, with the U.S. casting a “no” vote. In October 2009, the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration’s position and supported an assembly resolution to hold four preparatory meetings and a four-week U.N. conference in 2012 to draft an arms trade treaty.
Adoption of a treaty requires consensus among the 193 U.N. member states — a requirement the United States insisted on in 2009 — and diplomats said reaching agreement will be difficult.
With the conference scheduled to end on Friday, negotiators have been trying to come up with a text that satisfies advocates of a strong treaty with tough regulations and countries that appear to have little interest in a treaty including Syria, North Korea, Iran, Egypt and Algeria.
The draft circulated Tuesday says the treaty’s goals are to establish the highest possible standards to regulate the international trade in conventional arms and “to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and their diversion to illegal and unauthorized end use.”
It would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons that violate arms embargoes or facilitate acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.
In considering whether to authorize the export of arms, the draft says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws or be used by terrorists or organized crime — and if there is “a substantial risk” the treaty would prohibit the transfer.
Campaigners for a strong treaty say the list of conventional weapons in the draft is too narrow and needs to be broadened. They also say the treaty has to make clear that it doesn’t pertain only to arms exports but to all types of arms transfers.
Ambassador Jorg Ranau, head of the German delegation, called on delegates to support adding munitions — including ammunition — to the list of items to be regulated by the treaty. The draft only calls for each state ratifying the treaty to establish a national control system to regulate the export of munitions.
Brian Wood, Amnesty International‘s head of arms control and human rights, said “it’s not a secret that the United States government has been the one that resisted the inclusion of ammunition.”
“We know that President Obama is sitting on the key to the door … and the question of the ammunition is a decision that President Obama will make,” he said.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, wouldn’t comment on the draft because negotiations are continuing. He said the U.S. wants export controls to prevent illicit transfers of arms and has been making clear its “red lines, including that we will not accept any treaty that infringes on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.” The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.
Germany’s Ranau said his delegation “remains confident that we will be able to agree on a strong and robust” treaty.
Anna Macdonald, head of arms control at the British-based aid agency Oxfam, was more cautious.
“We’re looking for this treaty to slow down and prevent the flood of weapons into the hands of warlords and human rights abusers around the world, and at the moment we have a leaky bucket,” she said. “It doesn’t do that. It has the potential to do that but those loopholes need to close.”
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