14 July 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON 2008 SMALL ARMS SURVEY

 


As delegates gathered in New York to consider the implementation of the Programme of Action on the illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons, the Small Arms Survey 2008: Risks and Resilience, was launched at a Headquarters press conference this morning.


The book is the eighth annual review of global small arms issues, which is produced by a team of researchers based in Geneva, Switzerland, and a worldwide network of local researchers.  The publication was presented by the head of the Swiss delegation to the Conference on Disarmament, Jürg Streuli; Keith Krause, Programme Director of the Small Arms Survey; and Jennifer Hazen, Senior Researcher for the Survey.


As explained by the speakers, the Survey includes two main thematic sections.  The first one addresses the problem of diversion as related to stockpiles, international transfers and end-user documentation, and includes a case study of South Africa.  The second thematic section analyses the public health approach to armed violence, scrutinizing risk and resilience factors and considering related interventions.  It includes case studies of armed violence in El Salvador and the United States.  The volume also contains a chapter on light weapons production.


Opening the press conference, Mr. Streuli said that the publication explored a number of topics that would be the focus of attention at the biennial small arms and light weapons review meeting this week, including the need for better stockpile management and stockpile destruction to keep weapons from the illicit market.  Another issue addressed by the Survey was end-user certification, which examined whether States were meeting their obligations under the Programme of Action.  Unfortunately, preliminary findings indicated that States rarely engaged in some of the most basic verification procedures.  Also of great interest to the participants of the meeting would be the section on public health and armed violence.


Highlighting the key findings of the Survey, Mr. Krause said that unauthorized transfer of small arms and light weapons to the illicit market represented a serious problem, fuelling crime, insurgency and violence.  According to the Survey researchers, annually, some 650,000 civilian firearms leaked out of lawful holdings into illicit circuits.  There was also a leakage from formal military stocks and diversion at various stages of the weapons trade and transfers.  Research had shown, for example, that some 40 per cent of illicit ammunition circulating in the hands of various armed groups in northern Kenya came from State sources.  The book also showed various pathways for diversion and how weapons and ammunition could move to illicit markets.


Diversion that resulted from negligence and weak systems of stockpile control was a preventable phenomenon, he continued.  Installation of perimeter fences, putting weapon stocks under lock and key, and increasing the responsibility of individuals were low-cost improvements that could be effective.  Another obvious solution was the destruction of surplus stocks, which were often least well secured.  At least 76 million of the 200 million military small arms were surplus to requirements.  Of the total State military arsenals in South America, 3.4 million weapons, about 1.25 million were surplus.  A large percentage of small arms and light weapons ammunition was also obsolete.


Under the United Nations Programme of Action, States had committed to responsibly disposing of their surpluses, and the Survey had estimated that an average of 430,000 military small arms were destroyed each year, he said.  However, that figure was smaller than the amount of annual production, and the global stocks of weapons were still increasing.


On the issue of diversion, Ms. Hazen pointed to another chapter of the book, which reviewed the end-user certificate systems of the world’s 10 leading exporters of weapons.  The results showed that all those countries had export mechanisms in place, but, in practice, there were some gaps.  It was not clear that States took diversion risks into account when approving small arms exports.  They also did not systematically verify that the weapons were delivered to their intended destination or recipient.  That raised serious questions about States’ efforts to fulfil their commitment to ensure effective control of small arms.


Turning to the public health approach to armed violence, she said that in focusing on the consequences of violence and law enforcement measures, the authors of the Survey had taken a preventive approach to that phenomenon.  The core of that approach was to study the incidence of violence and identify the common factors that increased its risk, design measures to reduce those factors and measure the effectiveness of such programmes.  Risk factors included the presence of gangs, lack of parental control, lack of economic opportunities and cultural norms that supported the use of arms to resolve disputes.


The book included a map of the distribution of violence across El Salvador and the United States, she continued.  It also looked at some existing violence reduction programmes in those countries.  Successful projects included measures to improve child-parent relationships through parenting classes, providing incentives to youths to finish school and reducing the availability of alcohol during highly volatile events, such as elections.  The results were less positive for other initiatives, such as gang safety training courses, gun buy-back programmes, peer-based counselling and “scared straight” programmes.


Mr. Krause added that the Survey underlined that light weapons were becoming more lethal, less expensive and more readily available.  Such “serious military equipment” included man-portable air defence systems, heavy machine guns, anti-tank guided weapons, rocket launchers, mortars and grenade launchers.  Research showed that some 59 countries had produced at least one type of those weapons in the past 50 years, and over 50 States were currently producing them.  Many non-State armed groups also had the capacity to produce some light weapons, in particular improvised explosive devices, which were widely used in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example.


An important factor that needed to be taken into consideration was that many armed groups had possession of sophisticated guided weapons, he said.  Over the past 10 years, some 40 armed groups had been reported to possess man-portable air defence systems.  The Survey had also documented more than a dozen armed groups that were reported to possess anti-tank guided weapons.


Responding to a question, Ms. Hazen said that the focus of the chapter on El Salvador was to look at what was being done within the country to manage the weapons that were already there.  Some of the programmes undertaken in El Salvador aimed at restricting carrying weapons in public places and creating arms-free zones within communities with high rates of violence.


To a question regarding the regional perspective of the Arabian Gulf area, Mr. Krause replied that the book did not include a comprehensive survey on that region, which was one of the least transparent ones of the world in terms of official statistics on weapons holdings, national stockpiles and civilian possession or transfer of weapons.  However, some work had been done on Yemen, where the Government had taken the issue of gun violence seriously.  Other countries of the region had relatively low levels of armed violence, compared to some other parts of the world.


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For information media • not an official record