Human rights, human security and disarmament
"The humanitarian principles of the (Inhumane Weapons) convention are timeless ... Full implementation of the convention, and universal adherence to it, is particularly vital regarding the explosive remnants of war and mines other than anti-personnel mines. These are sleeping killers which continue to threaten men and women in fields and children at play, endanger the lives of aid workers, and hold back reconstruction and development. Progress in eradicating the threat they pose will help meet pressing humanitarian needs while advancing the security interests of states."1
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General
Efforts to address the issue of protecting civilians and their human rights in time of international conflict can be traced to the mid-nineteenth century. But it was not until after the Second World War that significant international legal instruments were concluded on the subject.2
In 1981, the use of certain inhumane weapons was prohibited or restricted through an international treaty.3
During the 1990s, due to the dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties caused by landmines, the international community made systematic efforts to address the humanitarian problems associated with landmines, anti-personnel landmines in particular.4
In the early 1990s, in response to an increase in the number of armed conflicts around the world, especially the rise in intra-State conflicts, the United Nations and other international organizations began to address questions related to SALW, the weapons of choice in those conflicts.5
These efforts underlined the importance the international community attached to addressing the issue of protecting victims from such weapons, especially children and women during and after armed conflicts. In recent years, growing attention has been given to the link between human rights and WMD, other weapons which have indiscriminate effects and can cause superfluous injuries and suffering, as well as conventional weapons, particularly SALW, focusing on the threat posed by these weapons to the fundamental right to life.6
Fifty-sixth session of Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
In 2001, the Geneva-based Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (the Sub-Commission)7
began to consider the devastating impact of WMD and SALW on human rights.8
In its 2002 and 2003 sessions, the Sub-Commission continued its examination of the issue. Furthermore, in 2003 the Sub-Commission, by its decision 2003/105, requested the Secretary-General to transmit a questionnaire to Governments, national human rights institutions and NGOs to solicit information required in connection with the study by its Special Rapporteur, Barbara Frey, on the issue of prevention of human rights violations committed with SALW.9
The above questionnaire was circulated to Governments, national human rights institutions, and NGOs. Several responses to the questionnaire were received. It was expected that more replies would be received from those concerned and that the information provided would be analyzed and incorporated in Ms. Frey's final report, due in 2006.
At its 56th session in 2004, the Sub-Commission continued to consider SALW-related human rights violations based on a progress report prepared by its Special Rapporteur, Barbara Frey10
The progress report focused on the following aspects:
- humanitarian consequences of small arms in situations of armed conflict;
- international law protections regarding the availability, misuse and transfer of small arms in armed conflict; and
- Gender implications of small arms availability.
The Special Rapportuer proposed a number of measures that could be adopted to prevent, reduce and put an end to SALW-related human rights violations, emphasizing responsibilities by States to take actions. They included training armed forces in the basic principles of international human rights/humanitarian law, especially with regard to the use of SALW; investigating and prosecuting individuals and groups within their jurisdictions that knowingly supply SALW used to commit genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, or refer such individuals for prosecution in an international tribunal; engaging in security sector reform and encouraging economic development in conjunction with civil society; and implementing appropriate legislation.
She also recommended that States adopt national laws containing export criteria prohibiting SALW transfers in circumstances where such arms are likely to be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. She further recommended that States strictly regulate gun possession.
Ms. Frey also identified actions that the international community could take collectively to prevent SALW-related human rights violations. They included the design and implementation of SALW embargoes, as well as the enforcement of criminal sanctions against persons and groups violating them; and the adoption of an arms trade treaty, with the aim of creating a common global standard that would prevent the transfer of arms likely to be used to commit such violations. She also called on the human rights community, including the Sub-Commission, to focus on international action on small arms.11
The 56th session of the Sub-Commission considered the progress report of the Special Rapporteur. It subsequently adopted a decision, expressing its satisfaction with the report and asking Ms. Frey to submit her next report to the Sub-Commission's 57th session, taking into account the discussions at the present session.12
Disarmament and Human Security
Within the people-centred concept of human security, disarmament is viewed as humanitarian action. In the 1990s, the disarmament community joined forces with humanitarian and development communities to tackle the destructive impact of landmines, resulting in the Amended Protocol II to the CCW in 1996, and the Mine-Ban Convention in 1997. Since then, international efforts have been intensified to address the devastating consequences of the proliferation and misuse of SALW on human lives and security, and the need to tackle its multifaceted impact have brought together actors from the disarmament, human rights, humanitarian, health and development communities.
The Group of Governmental Experts on the relationship between disarmament and development established by the Secretary-General in 2003 examined the links between disarmament, humanitarian and development activities and made a recommendation that United Nations organizations and other international organizations should make greater efforts to integrate disarmament, humanitarian and development activities. In this connection, the United Nations Development Assistance Framework should, for example, incorporate disarmament and security measures where appropriate.13
In 2004, human security and disarmament continued to be one of the three main research focuses of UNIDIR (United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research).14
The Institute's activities on human security and disarmament included cross-cutting research on small arms collection, weapons as a public health issue, and security-building measures such as peace-building, humanitarian action and the impact of landmines. The Institute actively sought to involve civil society groups and NGOs in disarmament and security debates. Inclusive methodologies and approaches, such as participatory evaluation and monitoring techniques, were used to ensure that the voices and reflections of those most affected by violence, conflict and weapons proliferation could be heard.
Message to the Annual Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, 27 November 2003.
The 1949 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field; 1949 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Conditions of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of the Armed Forces at Sea; 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners in Time of War; 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War; 1997 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I); 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II).
See the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW), and its Additional Protocols (I-V). See also chapter III, page 16 of this volume.
See Mine-Ban Convention of 1997, Amended Protocol II of CCW; also see Chapter III of this volume.
See Report of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, A/CONF.192/15.
See Universal Declaration of Human Rights at www.unhchr.cn/html.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights established the Sub- Commission's predecessor, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, in 1947. The Sub-Commission meets annually and is composed of 26 experts who serve in their personal capacities.
See The United Nations Disarmament Yearbook
, vol.26, 2001, 172-176 (United Nations publication Sales No. E.02.IX.1).
See The United Nations Disarmament Yearbook
, vol. 28, 2003, 233 (United Nations publication Sales No. E.IX.03.1).
"Progress report of Barbara Frey, Special Rapporteur on the prevention of human rights violations committed with small arms and light weapons" (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2004/037).
Press Release, "United Nations Press Release, Sub-Commission Discusses Report on Human Rights Violations Committed with Small Arms and Light Weapons," 9 August 2004 (HR/SC/04/15).
Decision 2004/123, "Report of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on its 56th session, Geneva, 26 July-13 August 2004" (E/CN.4/2005/2 and E/CN.4/Sub.2/2004/48).
A/59/119, available at http//www.disarmament.un.org/cab/d&d.html.