The International Red Cross has joined opponents of a draft arms trade treaty out Tuesday that critics said contains only "ambiguities and loopholes."
Following the release of the first draft, the 193 UN members must now race to agree on a text to regulate the $70 billion a year arms trade by Friday, the deadline set by the UN General Assembly.
Civil society groups condemned the draft text for not including ammunition and allowing too much scope for arms transfers that would escape the treaty.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) rarely speaks out on controversial diplomatic topics as it seeks to preserve its neutrality.
But Peter Herby, head of the ICRC's arms unit, said: "All the core provisions of this draft treaty still have major loopholes which will simply ratify the status quo, instead of setting a high international standard that will change state practices and save lives on the ground."
The Red Cross joined Amnesty International, Oxfam and other groups which have launched major campaigns to persuade the major powers to agree a tough, binding treaty.
It is a text of "ambiguities and loopholes," commented Roy Isbister of the Saferworld lobby group. Anna Macdonald, arms control expert for Oxfam, likened the text to a "leaky bucket."
Isbister said the proposed treaty would have little impact on most of the conflicts claiming civilian lives in the world now.
The main arms producers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France -- have haggled through three weeks of talks on the scope of the treaty and the criteria for how to judge an arms transfer.
The United States has opposed the inclusion of ammunition, China does not want small arms included, and both Russia and China have sought restrictions on references to humanitarian law.
Syria, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Algeria and other countries have sought from the start to thwart the treaty, diplomats and activists say.
The draft treaty does mention ammunition, but Isbister said it was incomprehensible.
"This means if you want to control ammunition, you can control ammunition, if you don't want to control ammunition there is nothing here to force you. And that is a glaring problem."
Brian Wood, an expert for Amnesty International, highlighted the vague definition for arms transfers in the draft. It would not cover the substantial amount of arms given as aid or as donations, he said.
"These loopholes could easily be exploited to allow arms to be supplied to those that intend to use them to commit serious human rights violations, as the world is seeing in Syria," Wood said.
Britain has been one of the most outspoken of the major arms producers calling for a binding, all-encompassing treaty.
A British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "The chair has produced a text that we should all be able to work with to get the high ambition result that we need. The next 24 hours will be crucial in narrowing the gaps."
The treaty must be agreed by consensus so any of the 193 countries involved could object on Friday. And even if a treaty is concluded, the conference has not yet decided how many countries must ratify it to bring it into force.