Civil Society - A Vital Presence At the Conference
In all, 119 non-governmental organizations registered and 380 representatives attended the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (New York, 9-20 July 2001). The majority was comprised of NGOs with strong humanitarian agendas. Their focus was on the impact of small arms proliferation and the trafficking of such weapons on human security, on children and women, on human rights and development. These included such major organizations as the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), Amnesty International, the Quakers, Human Rights Watch, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). They also included national and grass root NGOs with first-hand experience of the consequences of illicit gun trafficking.
Also represented were research institutes that perform essential groundwork studies that are the basis for work at the international level. The Small Arms Survey, based in Geneva, launched its first yearly report during the Conference. The Fund for Peace, based in Washington, D.C., is developing a framework convention on arms brokering. The Government of Canada, UNICEF and British American Security Information Centre (BASIC) linked arms to sponsor a study on the impact of small arms on children, which was launched during the Conference. The Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC) sponsored a workshop on weapons destruction focused on weapons collection and destruction schemes that are not in exchange for development, but rather complement development initiatives.
A group of 15 NGOs, representing the firearms community, were also active participants in the Conference. While condemning illicit gun trading, they tended to support development by the arms industry of their own means of marking and tracing weapons sold. They strongly stressed the need to preserve the rights of citizens of the world to keep and use firearms for sport or self-defence.
The NGO Committee on Disarmament, Inc., with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, sponsored eight journalists from the developing world or conflict regions to spend two weeks in New York during the Conference. A mixture of writers and photo journalists came from Bosnia-Herzegovina, El Salvador, Georgia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zambia. Their jobs were be to report to their national media on the Conference and its outcome. They also participated in the production of Disarmament Times which appeared daily during the Conference.
On Monday, 16 July, forty-two representatives of non-governmental organizations made presentations to a plenary meeting of the Conference. These ranged from strong and heartfelt appeals for further efforts to stem gun proliferation in order to save and preserve lives to appeals that the programme of action not interfere with the national regulations governing weapons possession. Those presentations are contained on the DDA website devoted to the Conference.
On average for the first eight days, NGOs conducted three parallel activities a day, arranged thematically. Certain topics were addressed on particular days. For instance, Wednesday 11 July was Children’s Day, while Friday 13 July was Women’s Day. Other themes included Africa, Asia, and Latin American Day.
Representatives of NGOs devoted the last two days to keeping closely informed of changes in the programme of action under negotiation in closed sessions of the Conference, and on direct lobbying of delegations on specific wording to be adopted in the programme of action.