PREPARATORY COMMITTEE FOR JULY SMALL ARMS CONFERENCE CONTINUES TO HEAR COMMENTS ON DRAFT PROGRAMME OF ACTION

DC/2763
23 March 2001

PREPARATORY COMMITTEE FOR JULY SMALL ARMS CONFERENCE CONTINUES TO HEAR COMMENTS ON DRAFT PROGRAMME OF ACTION

23/03/2001
Press Release
DC/2763


Preparatory Committee for the

United Nations Conference on

 The Illicit Trade in Small Arms

 And Light Weapons in All Its Aspects

34th Meeting (AM)


PREPARATORY COMMITTEE FOR JULY SMALL ARMS CONFERENCE CONTINUES


TO HEAR COMMENTS ON DRAFT PROGRAMME OF ACTION


The Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects continued its preparations for the Conference this morning, by hearing statements on the draft programme of action from 17 non-governmental organizations, the Foreign Minister of Kenya and the Director and Deputy to the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.


Bonaya Adhi Godana, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Kenya, said the major task was to draw a global road map that would address both the delicate concerns of the most vulnerable regions and the issues and problems associated with illicit small arms.  "The choice facing us today is not whether we can face this challenge, but how", he said.  Success would not be achieved unilaterally, but through comprehensive, coordinated cooperative action.


Evgniy Gorkovskiy, Director and Deputy to the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, speaking on behalf of the Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA), said the Department had established CASA because that Department had been designated, by the Secretary-General, as the focal point to coordinate all action on small arms within the United Nations system.  The CASA membership included all departments and agencies.  Together it was pursuing the objectives of the Organization’s policy on small arms, including:  determining priorities; encouraging civil society involvement in building resistance to violence; and ensuring small arms efforts complemented those of overall disarmament.


As representatives from non-governmental organizations commented on the draft programme of action and the Conference, which will be held at Headquarters from 9 to 20 July, they touched on a wide variety of issues, including:  the impact of small arms on civil society and the role of that sector in addressing the proliferation of weapons; rights and responsibilities; tracing of weapons and transparency; and follow-up actions.


Lending support to the Kenyan Foreign Minister's initial point, the representative of the Arms Management Programme, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa, said the key to the success of the programme of action lay in understanding that what was needed globally was an umbrella for action that all regions could take according to their needs and priorities.  


She said "what we do not need is a set of recommendations and actions that are so global in character that they provide no incentive nor support for regional actions; nor so exquisite in detail they will not be implemented by those who need it the most".  If an incorrect approach was taken, or if the Conference could not agree on a solution to a common problem, "we will sit in this room in 20 years time with nothing to hold us together but a massive pile of casualties, directly or indirectly caused by the continued excessive and uncontrolled availability of small arms and light weapons”.


Amnesty International's representative, also on behalf of Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers, said that every time details were uncovered about illicit small arms, one thing became clear -- international arms traders could operate in many countries on the fringes of the law, using regulatory loopholes, corrupt officials, tax havens and weak law enforcement to escape detection and break arms embargoes with impunity.  Unless governments took steps to address that, the United Nations would not make any progress in its efforts to address the issue.


The representative of the Africa Peace Forum, Kenya, reiterated that overcoming corruption was essential both among government officials, who could facilitate the illicit trade in arms by turning a blind eye and members of the security forces, who could sell weapons from official stocks.


The representative of the National Rifle Association of America said that this was the first disarmament conference in history where the majority of arms were not held by States, but by citizens.  Those citizens -- millions of legal firearms owners -- must be given due consideration by the both the Committee and the Conference.


Statements were also made by the representatives of:  Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; Security Research and Information Centre, Kenya; Working Group on Weapons Destruction, Cambodia, Christian Council of Mozambique; Center for International Policy, United States; Saferworld, United Kingdom; Groupe de Recherche et d'Information sur la Paix at la Securité, Belgium; Bradford University, United Kingdom; International Alert, United Kingdom; Arais Foundation, Costa Rica; Sporting Shooters Association of Australia; Eminent Persons Group; and International Network on Small Arms (IANSA).


The representative of the United Arab Emirates also spoke in exercise of the right of reply to the statement of Amnesty International.


The Committee will meet again this afternoon at a time to be decided to consider it programme of work for the coming week.


Background


When the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects met to continue its preparations for the Conference this morning, it expected to hear representatives from non-governmental organizations, as well as other speakers on the topic.


The Conference, which will be held at Headquarters from 9 to 20 July, will be the first major international meeting on the issue.  The Preparatory Committee was established at the General Assembly’s fifty-fourth session to recommend draft final documents for the Conference and decide certain procedural issues.  Earlier preparatory sessions were held in early February 2000 and January 2001.  For this final session, the Committee began discussions with a revised Chairman’s working paper on the draft programme of action (A/CONF.192/PC/L.4/Rev.1).  (For complete background see Press Release

DC/2756 of 16 March.)


Statements on Draft Programme of Action


BONAYA ADHI GODANA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Kenya, said the major task ahead was to draw a global road map that would address both the delicate concerns of the most vulnerable regions and the issues and problems associated with illicit small arms and light weapons.  He was convinced that this meeting would arrive at a conclusion that would address the monumental problems associated with the issue at hand and curb its menace.


He said that in many countries the increased availability of such small arms and light weapons had made crime the number one problem.  The ready availability of weapons meant that violence was often the first choice of conflict resolution.  In Africa, arms continued to threaten legitimate governments and innocent civilians.  In many cases, manufacturers, exporters and buyers of small arms had no idea of the end uses of their products.


He said the horrendous hardships suffered by civilian populations as a result of civil wars and conflicts in Africa had helped bring the problem of the easy availability and illegitimate use of small arms and lights weapons into sharp focus and nudged the continent towards a series of remedial measures.  The Nairobi Declaration was a landmark foundation for an action programme for the East African Region.  One of its chief calls was for greater cooperation between States to effectively control and monitor their borders. 


That Declaration, he continued, was being submitted as an official document of the Preparatory Committee and also underlined pertinent aspects that aimed to enrich the global effort to find realistic and achievable solutions to the problem through a comprehensive approach.  It recognized the inherent rights of States to self-defence.  It noted, however, that States no longer commanded a monopoly of small arms at the levels of manufacture, supply, demand and use.  In addition, their inadequate capacity to effectively control and monitor their borders, had compounded the problem with the attendant mass movement of armed refugees across national borders.


"The choice facing us today is not whether we can face this challenge, but how", he continued.  "The main challenge before us is, therefore, to seek out and implement appropriate solutions to eradicate this problem".  Success would not be achieved unilaterally, but through comprehensive coordinated cooperative action.  The final document should provide the broad comprehensive and global framework for cooperation.  He appealed to all those who felt that they might be far removed from the problem at hand, to remember that they were dealing with a real issue that had a profound affect on people, especially Africans.


EUGENY GORKOVSKIY, Director and Deputy to the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, on behalf of the Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) said the Department of Disarmament Affairs had established CASA because that Department had been designated, by the Secretary-General, as the focal point to coordinate all action on small arms within the United Nations system.  The membership of CASA included all departments and agencies.  Together, they were pursuing the five-fold objectives of the Organization’s policy on small arms.  Those objectives included coordinating the determination of priorities for international action, encouraging civil society involvement in building resistance to violence, strengthening United Nations capacity to respond to request for assistance by affected countries and ensuring that small arms efforts were complementary to those for overall disarmament.


In those efforts, he said, CASA was an integral part of preparations for the upcoming Conference and in promoting information exchange throughout the United Nations system.  He referenced the many documents of the General Assembly and the Security Council that had made references to CASA in the course of their increasing involvement in the small arms issue.  CASA had also been briefed by an array of non-governmental organizations on the problem, and had provided the framework for workshops, documentaries, exhibits and projects.  In addition, CASA had worked on the linkages of the small weapons issue with other issues through its work in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration as well as practical disarmament measures.  Upon the conclusion of the 2001 Conference, CASA stood committed to assisting Member States in the implementation of its decisions.


The representative of the International League for Peace and Freedom Federation said the draft programme of action must prevent the targeting and use of children in conflict and incorporate their special needs in demobilization and reintegration processes.  It must prevent small arms from falling into the arms of children and help develop cultures of peace through education and awareness programmes that took their special needs into account. 


She said the final Conference document must also reflect that women were effective actors in peace negotiations and, therefore, all obstacles to their participation in peace initiatives should be removed.  Their involvement in such initiatives must be supported, she stressed.  The action programme should also recognize that women were effective mobilizers in their communities and played a crucial role in weapons collection programmes in post-conflict countries.

A representative of the Security Research and Information Centre, Kenya, said that the role of non-governmental organizations were important in the context of the upcoming Conference and in action against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons at all levels.  A strong non-governmental organizations sector acted as the backbone of civil society, monitoring and assisting governments in fulfilling their responsibilities to citizens.  The role that civil society played was especially crucial in Africa and the third world, where governments were weak and lacked the capacity to meet the expectation of their people.  Their role in the small weapons problem included arms collection at a grass-roots level, implementing an action agenda on the ground and utilizing the expertise of professionals such as physicians. 


The role of non-governmental organizations in fighting the problem, he said, also included:  building awareness through public campaigns; research and documentation of the effects of small arms; tracking small arms flows and  investigating practices and patterns in small arms proliferation.  Non-governmental organizations were effective in policy development for governments and regional organizations, as well as lobbying for those policies.  If effective measures were to be employed to stem the problem, civil society and government must work hand in hand.


The representative of the Working Group on Weapons Reduction, Cambodia, described the extant of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Cambodia, most of them imported during the fighting of the 1970s and 1980s.  At least two-thirds of households in Phnom Penh, according to one study, possessed illegal weapons.  In late 1998, the Government initiated a civilian disarmament campaign that included a weapons census programme and a limited weapons “buy-back” programme.  After the completion of those programmes, the Ministry of Interior expanded the efforts to a national scale, with awareness campaigns, voluntary turn-in initiatives, spot checks, and new laws.  As a result, a large number of weapons were collected.


In those efforts, he said, a few problems became evident, including partisan accusations, loose application of the legal framework, and difficulty in distinguishing legal from illegal arms.  In addition, the Government focus on the reduction of criminal activity ignored the root causes that were serious threats to the people and the development of the country.  This organization was working, over the long term, towards transforming the desire to own and use weapons into commitment and skills for non-violent problem-solving.  Its activities include monitoring, information dissemination, networking and public education.  It worked for accountability in the Government weapons-destruction programmes.  They could be helped in their efforts by strong language in the Conference’s programme of action on effective control of stockpiled weapons, as well as promises, of resources to assist countries to achieve that end.


The representative of the Christian Council of Mozambique said the problem of the proliferation and possession of small arms and weapons in his country was connected to the very weak capacity of some gun holders to legally meet daily economic needs.  "This is the reason why we exchange weapons for tools as a collection strategy and as a way of creating some economic alternatives for them", he said.  With a sewing machine, bicycle, tractor or any type of ploughshare, the beneficiaries had an alternative and an opportunity to begin other activities publicly and legally for the economic needs of their families. 


By doing what it was doing, he continued, his organization was also thinking of justice, reconciliation and community development -- one the major problems for people after a war.  The project was also transforming the weapons into artworks.  "We are developing exhibits in museums of sculptures made from the fragments of weapons as historical reminders of the peace process in Mozambique, he said.  He urged States to discover the importance of working with non-governmental organizations by allowing them to participate fully in the July Conference.


The representative of Amnesty International also spoke on behalf of Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers. 


She said every time details were uncovered about illicit small arms, one thing became clear -- international arms traders could operate in many countries on the fringes of the law, using regulatory loopholes, corrupt officials, tax havens and weak law enforcement to escape detection and break arms embargoes with impunity.  Unless governments took steps to address that aspect of the problem, the United Nations would not make any progress in its efforts to address the issue.  On 20 December 2000, the United Nations investigation into the trade in arms and diamonds to and from Sierra Leone's armed rebels released a detail report giving names of those involved in the illicit trade and calling for tougher action by the international community to implement the embargo against the rebels.


She said investigations by the United Nations Panels of Experts must continue to uncover the sources of the arms and the identities of the traffickers, so that further arms shipments and rough diamond exports did not undermine the fragile security situation in Sierra Leone.  The programme of action should urge all Member States to promote immediate action with other governments to achieve the immediate grounding and inspection of all aircraft suspected of being used to ships arms and ammunition to embargoed destinations and recipients.


The representative of the Centre for International Policy said that the problem of small arms flows in Africa and elsewhere had become a matter of great urgency and concern to everyone.  Weapons coming from conflicts in Angola, Burundi, the Congo and Rwanda in the last decade had transformed peaceful Zambia into a country racked by crime and violence.  Around the border areas, famished soldiers traded guns with local villagers for food and clothing, and then a range of options became available –- the arms could be used to prey on unarmed people, to settle disputes, to sell to others.


She called on the Committee to work in partnership with civil society to stop that process and its grave humanitarian effects.  Remedies must be found now.  Work must be done in the communities, where trust must be established, so that they could be assured that they were not left to cope alone.  On the international level, the illegal transshipment and diversion of arms must be eradicated.  Laws and preventive measures needed constant vigilance and would only be as good as sustained enforcement.  Political will and a long-lasting commitment were therefore crucial.


The representative of Safeworld said that the upcoming Conference represented an historic opportunity to reduce the spread and misuses of small arms and light weapons and their devastating effects.  However, the success of the Conference would depend upon the extent to which States acknowledged and addressed the link between the authorized and illicit trade in small weapons.  States must develop a common understanding of what constituted the illicit trade, what should be considered legal, and how the two categories were linked.  Accordingly, States must exercise responsibility and restraint in transfers of the weapons, effectively regulate their domestic possession and use by civilians, and closely control their end-use.


Towards those aims, she suggested specific additions and amendments to strengthen the programme of action for the upcoming Conference, including wording on the prohibition of “the unrestricted trade and private ownership of small arms and light weapons specifically designed for military purposes”, and an addition that “States should respect the domestic laws, regulations and administrative procedures of other States when authorizing the transfer of small arms and light weapons”.  A strong, internationally-agreed programme of action in those areas, she said would be central to effect action against the problem.


The representative of the Africa Peace Forum, Kenya, said it was one thing to put effective laws in place and quite another to enforce them.  Kenya had one of the most comprehensive firearm laws in the region, yet there had been an incredible rise in recent years in the number of illegal weapons in civilian hands.  The country's vast borders were incredibly difficult to police and there were large parts of the State over which the security forces had no control. Pastoral groups were now armed to the teeth, either to carry out raids on neighbouring groups, or to protect themselves.  Such insecurity was fueling the illicit trade. 


He said one of the critical ways to address the problems was by building the capacity of State and law enforcement agencies to provide security for their citizens and protect the principle of the rule of law.  Another problem that must be overcome was corruption among both government officials, who could facilitate the illicit trade in arms by turning a blind eye, or members of the security forces, who could sell weapons from official stocks.  Security sector reform was also an area for the Conference to address, as members of that sector who abused local populations could fuel the illicit trade by creating a local demand for weapons.


The representative of the National Rifle Association of America said that this was the first disarmament conference in history where the majority of arms were not held by States, but by citizens.  Those citizens -- millions of hunters, shooters and legal firearms owners -- must be given due consideration by the Committee and the Conference itself.  Second, the Conference would touch upon the very fundamental issues of sovereignty, the right of self-determination and the constitutional rights of citizens.  Those issues would play an unavoidable role in deliberations.

He said that in one State there was simply no more politically volatile an issue than that which the Conference was about to consider.  If the

2001 Conference, however, could confine itself to such issues as firearms marking and the tracing of illegally traded light weapons using existing national law enforcement agencies and effective streamlined procedures that would not hinder legitimate commerce, then it would be a realistic endeavour.


The representative of the Groupe de Recherche et d’Information sur la Paix and Securite, Belgium, urged the implemention of measures related to rapid and dependable tracing of small arms and light weapons.  That meant that marking and registration of small weapons was essential, with countries of origin and importation, manufacturer and serial identification all indicated, within a uniform system of symbols.  The special report of his group contained information on the various technologies available for such marking. 


Better control of ammunition, he said, could have a quick impact on the ground, because of the short useable life of that materiel.  In the area of registration, he said that a confidential international register that would contain the information of all national registers would have multiple benefits.  Finally, in the whole area of traceability, industry should be integrally involved.


The representative of Bradford University said there was a need for a specific international mechanism to establish cooperation in tracing small arms and light weapons.  Such a mechanism would enable States to trace sources and lines of supply of weapons that were of direct and legitimate concern to them.  It would help them, for example, trace weapons seized from rebels in their territory or from unauthorized shipments in their territories. 


He said the document agreed to at the upcoming Conference could only establish basic principles.  Many issues relating to rights, responsibilities and procedures would need to be worked out in detailed international negotiations.  Such negotiations should be launched at the next session of the United Nations General Assembly, as a direct follow-up on the July Conference. The draft programme of action should also address the arrangements needed for information exchange to assist global cooperation among customs intelligence, licensing and arms control officials.


The representative of the Eminent Persons Group said the Conference should reach consensus on three treaty making mandates:  record keeping in the manufacture of small arms and light weapons; an international treaty on brokering which would restrict arms trading to those entities licensed by State authorities; and an international code of conduct on the transfer of small arms and light weapons.


He said the participation of civil society and non-governmental organizations was essential in global efforts to establish a regime to counter the illicit trade in small arms.  Cooperation between governments and non-governmental organizations was, therefore, vital for success.  It was also important to recognize that while non-governmental organizations were useful in pushing the issue of light weapons, establishing appropriate regulations would necessitate the full involvement of States.  The adoption of various related national and regional documents and declarations were, therefore, steps in the right direction.  The illicit trade must be put at the centre of global efforts to address the phenomena of violence against civilians.


The representative of International Alert said that, working on the ground and dealing with people directly affected by the impact of small arms and light weapons, many non-governmental organizations had unique knowledge and expertise.  They could contribute to evaluate the lessons learned, and develop practical and innovative responses, complementing the actions of the governments.  She urged the further development of relationships between governments and non-governmental organizations on small arms.  


The follow-up to the Conference was also of particular concern, she said.  She welcomed the commitment for the biennial meetings that would ensue.  Those meetings should not be restricted to a review of actions alone, but should also address topics of real substance.  Consequently, the provision of adequate information, on which to base such assessments and analysis, should also be ensured.  The critical priorities were to develop effective mechanisms for coordination, cooperation and collaboration within and between regions.  Non-governmental organizations also believed in the need for legally-binding international instruments in the small weapons arena, and in the importance of practical programmes, such as weapons-collection and destruction.


The representative of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress said that the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons had had a profound and devastating impact on Central America.  A vast arsenal of weapons continued to circulate on the streets and in the countryside, creating a situation in which homicide rates were among the highest in the world.  Those problems were made worse by active and accessible markets in illicit weapons, a continuing influx of weapons (particularly handguns), and a lack of domestic regulations.


For those reasons, he said the plan of action of the Conference must be as bold and comprehensive as possible, including, among other things, basic minimum standards on civilian possession and use of weapons.  Implementation and follow-up of that plan were equally important.  Those activities would be judged not by their intentions, but by the concrete improvements made in the security of people, and that would only occur if States were willing to invest the political and financial capital necessary.  A binding agreement to control the legal transfer of weapons was also essential.  The Arias Foundation had joined with several non-governmental organization partners to promote a draft of such an agreement, and in that endeavor was supported by Costa Rica and a Commission of 17 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. 


The representative of the Arms Management Programme, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa, said the key for the success of the draft programme of action lay in understanding that what was needed globally was an umbrella for action, which all regions could use according to their needs and priorities. 


"What we do not need is a set of recommendations and actions that are so global in character that they provide no incentive nor support for regional actions; or are so exquisite in detail they will not be implemented by those who need it the most", she said.  It was, therefore, imperative that whatever document was produced by the Conference took into account that the problem areas in each region of the world were very different.


She said that if an incorrect approach was taken, or if the Conference could not reach agreement on a cooperative solution to a common problem, "we will sit in this room in 20 years time with nothing to hold us together but a massive pile of casualties, directly or indirectly caused by the continued excessive and uncontrolled availability of small arms and light weapons”.


The representative of the Sporting Shooters Association said the established firearms manufacturers in the Americas and Europe were not the "bad guys" being sought.  Every firearm in the United States was marked in a manner that made tracing easy and practical.  In addition, marking was unique and very hard to remove.  It, therefore, made perfect sense to have the manufacturer, country and unique serial number on every gun produced. 


He said a unique serial number meant easy, simple marking with letters and/or numbers, comprising 36 symbols that were easy to decipher and read.  The manufacturers should keep better records, so that a more precise and faster answer could be given to law enforcement inquiries.  He said another point was the question of firearm definition, which was confusing.


The representative of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) said that many of the groups that had spoken that morning were participants in IANSA.  From all countries affected by the small-arms scourge, she asked that the Committee not forget that millions of lives were at stake around the world.  Every day, countless people were threatened, displaced, maimed and killed because of the illicit trade. 


Between now and the July Conference, she said, IANSA participants were organizing events in their own countries.  They were actively searching for cooperation from governments to promote the Conference, to give it the status and political standing it should have.  Their message was loud and clear -- “we need action now”.  They would work at the local, regional and international levels in research, public awareness and formulating policies.  The Committee, however, had the primary responsibility for providing solutions to the problem and for mobilizing the political will that would support commitments and intentions, as well as reinforcing the work that had already been done.  She called on the Committee not to fail all those who were depending on it.


ABDULLAH KHAMEES AL-SHAMSI (United Arab Emirates), in exercise of the right of reply, said that Amnesty International had accused the United Arab Emirates of dealing with international criminal networks, and had made other similar claims.  Such claims were totally unfounded.  Before making such tendentious accusations, it would have been better to investigate their truth, as well as the reliability of the sources that had made them.  Relationships between his country and Africa were historical.  His country also provided a

high amount of humanitarian assistance to African States.  Furthermore, his country was well known regionally and internationally as a State that was totally committed to the rules of international law, especially those combating international criminal activities.  It had also participated in international efforts to exchange information to combat crime and to promote peace and stability in its region and the entire world.  It totally rejected the accusations of the representative of Amnesty International.


* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.