Combating the Illicit Trade in Small Arms
UN Conference takes first steps and plans follow up action
First proposed in 1997 by a UN panel of governmental experts on small arms and reiterated in 1999 by a follow-up group of experts, the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Lights Weapons in All Its Aspects took place from 9 to 20 July 2001 in New York, adopting a consensus programme of action. (See opposite article.) The President of the Conference, Camilo Reyes Rodriguez of Colombia, believed that the international community had taken a significant step forward in addressing one of the most urgent problems facing world peace and security tDDAy - the tragedy of the uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons.
The eighty-six paragraph programme of action is a comprehensive document, containing unprecedented political commitments and concrete measures at the national, regional and global levels to tackle the illegal trade in small arms. It also contains provisions on enhancing cooperationg among States and providing assistance to affected States, as well as follow-up mechanism to oversee its implementation and further development.
The Secretary-General, for his part, praised the participants for the adoption of the programme. It encompassed “many important first steps” towards alleviating the grave threat to international peace and security and to human security that small arms represent. Those steps, he said, were “essential for building norms and in implementing collective measures against this global scourge.”
Last minute negotiations prolonged the Conference a day over two issues, which in the end were not included in the programme of action. Agreement could not be reached on a provision that would have encouraged States to establish or maintain, subject to respective constitutional or legal systems, regulations on the ownership of small arms and light weapons. Furthermore, no agreement was reached that would have expressed a collective belief that States should only transfer small arms and light weapons to other Governments, that is, not to non-State actors.
With a view to maintaining the international momentum marshalled by the holding of the international conference, it was agreed to recommend to the General Assembly that a conference be convened no later than 2006 to review progress in implementing the programme of action and that a meeting of States take place on a biennial basis to consider national, regional and global implementation of the programme of action.
It also recommended that the United Nations undertake a study to examine “the feasibility of developing an international instrument to enable States to identify and trace in a timely and reliable manner illicit small arms and light weapons”.
The United Nations, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and civil society were also encouraged to undertake initiatives and to be active and engaged in the process of putting the programme of action into effect.