RIGHT TO OWN FIREARMS, NATIONAL LEGISLATION, HELPING GUN VIOLENCE VICTIMS FOCUS, AS UN CONFERENCE ON ILLICIT SMALL ARMS TRADE CONCLUDES FIRST WEEK
RIGHT TO OWN FIREARMS, NATIONAL LEGISLATION, HELPING GUN VIOLENCE VICTIMS FOCUS, AS UN CONFERENCE ON ILLICIT SMALL ARMS TRADE CONCLUDES FIRST WEEK
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
on Illicit Small Arms Trade
9th & 10th Meetings (AM & PM)
Right to own firearms, national legislation, helping gun violence victims Focus,
as un conference on illicit small arms trade concludes first week
Activists gathered in New York today argued passionately on both sides of the “gun politics” debate -- gun control versus gun rights -– as representatives of non-governmental organizations weighed in on worldwide efforts to implement the United Nations five-year-old blueprint for action to staunch the flow of illicit small arms and other weapons.
Debating everything from the freedom or restriction of private ownership, use and misuse of firearms, to the efficacy of arms and ammunitions tracing, and to what extent such policy influenced crime, anti-gun activists and gun-rights advocates debated, as the small arms Review Conference wrapped up its first week. It runs through 7 July and aims to boost worldwide support for the 2001 Programme of Action, under which States made a commitment to collect and destroy illegal weapons and curb illicit small arms trafficking.
Some speakers, including survivors of armed violence and one ex-fighter argued that small arms were so cheap and readily available in their countries and regions that the Conference should come up with a strict set of international rules to curb their spread and to keep them out of the hands of criminal gangs and rebel groups. Others, including hunters, weapons regulators and brokers, urged the Conference to remain focused on the real threat -- illicit trafficking in military-style weapons -- and not unnecessarily regulate weapons used for hunting, sport shooting and other personal purposes.
The Director of the International Small Arms Network (IANSA), United Kingdom, said that, in the adoption of the Programme of Action five years ago, both Governments and civil society had made strides to stem the illegal small arms trade, including through the drafting of regional arrangements on arms transfer controls and implementing weapons collection and destruction programmes. But, if it was the Programme that had brought Governments and non-governmental organizations together today, then everyone must realize that their responsibilities went far beyond the document.
“We are accountable to our countries and organizations, but most of all we are accountable to the millions of people who are affected daily by gun violence, those who have died and those who will die, and the many more who survive gun violence and have to learn to live with its legacy of trauma, pain [and] economic hardship”, she said, calling on the Conference to take concrete action in specific priority areas, including transfer controls, national firearms legislation, links to development, assistance to survivors, and follow-on mechanisms.
Among the speakers IANSA had assembled to address the Conference, the representative of the Congolese Action Network on Small Arms of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, recounted a grisly story of an August 2004 massacre at a refugee camp, near Bujumbura, Burundi. That attack, in which some 200 people had been slaughtered, proved that Governments in the region did not have the capacity to deal with armed groups. The police were equally at a loss -- struggling to hunt down rebels while trying to monitor the vast region’s porous borders. He called urgently for strict international regulations on the transfer of weapons and the activities of brokers, particularly since most of the weapons that flooded the Great Lakes and other regions of Africa had not been manufactured there.
The representative of the National Commission against the Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms of Sri Lanka, said the Review Conference outcome should recommit States to set up national coordination bodies or commissions responsible for developing and implementing national strategies to address small arms and light weapons concerns. It should also commit States and regional organizations in a position to do so to increase technical and financial assistance, and commit States to share information on the development and operation of those parties with other States, relevant international and regional bodies, and the general public.
But a representative of Pro Tell, which represented lawful firearm owners in Switzerland, said non-governmental organization lobbying relied heavily on the premise that it was necessary to register, prohibit, cease production of and destroy small and light weapons, and that, without such measures, development aid for long-term stability and acceptable living conditions was fruitless and, hence, real progress towards world peace could not be achieved. And while his group had no objection to reasonable means being agreed to reduce illicit transfers of military arms and apply marking and tracing regulations, a blanket prohibition of privately owned firearms was wrong and the anti-gun approach offered no solution.
The representative of the FAIR Trade Group, of the United States, said his Group’s membership was concerned with the enactment of “overly broad international regulatory programmes” that unnecessarily and adversely impacted upon the legal trade in small arms and light weapons, instead of focusing on the illicit trade in such weapons. To that end, the definitions the international community currently used when referring to light weapons did not adequately distinguish between civilian and military firearms. Policies considered should generally address “fully automatic military firearms, which continuously fire so long as the trigger is depressed and held. In other words, machine guns”, he said.
The Conference wrapped up its work today with a thematic debate on progress and problems in implementing the 2001 Programme of Action, with a specific emphasis on international cooperation and assistance and best practices in curbing the illegal small arms trade. The discussion was co-chaired by Yoshiki Mine ( Japan) and Pasi Patokallio ( Finland), who had chaired the 2003 and 2005 biennial meetings of States during the run-up to the Review Conference.
During the morning session, representatives of the Defence Small Arms Advisory Committee, the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, the British Shooting Sports Council, the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action, the South African Gun Owners Association, the Brazil Pro-Legitimate Defence Coalition, the National Firearms Association of Canada, the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association of the United States, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute of the United States, Safari Club International, and the Manufacturers Advisory Group of the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities also made statements.
Also speaking on behalf of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) were, an independent South African filmmaker, Amnesty International, Sou da Paz of Brazil, the Centre for Democratic Empowerment of Liberia, the Permanent Peace Movement of Lebanon, Oxfam, the Association of People with Disabilities of Ecuador, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Million Mom March of the United States, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Million Faces Campaign and the Mozambican Council of Churches.
During the afternoon thematic debate, representatives of Cambodia, Austria (on behalf of the European Union), Australia, Canada, Lesotho, Sri Lanka, Samoa, Mali, Papua New Guinea, the United States and Indonesia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement) made statements.
Also speaking during the afternoon discussion was a representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Regional Centre on Small Arms.
The Conference will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 3 July, to continue its general exchange of views.
The United Nations Conference reviewing worldwide efforts to implement the Programme of Action of its 2001 special session on combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons continued its two-week session this morning.
ALLEN YOUNGMAN, Executive Director of the Defence Small Arms Advisory Council, said his trade association represented the majority of United States-based manufacturers serving the military small arms market. Members of the Advisory Council must comply with the most demanding and meticulous export licensing programme in the world, making the association uniquely qualified to assist Member States in achieving the vitally important goals of the United Nations Programme of Action. Concrete measures, such as the adoption of uniform standards for end-user certificates, would help prevent sales of military weapons to ineligible buyers and thus prevent misuse of those weapons. He stood ready to assist the Review Conference in crafting such standards.
The Advisory Council had been highly supportive of Government measures to implement more effective monitoring and regulating of the worldwide trade in military small arms, he continued. However, recently it appeared that even though much work remained to be in implementing the original goals of the Programme of Action, they were already in danger of being relegated to secondary importance behind other agendas. Concerns that the process had shifted its focus from military weapons control to a much broader, more intrusive scheme concerning all types of firearms had complicated efforts for further implementation. Much of the impetus for that change came from private organizations, not Member States, and thus undermined the willingness of some to support additional implementation measures. The more closely the course of action adhered to the Programme of Action’s original purpose, the more readily would the industry be able to continue building support for implementation.
CARLO PERONI, President of the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, said the World Forum and its member organizations had been participating in United Nations meetings regarding small arms since 1995. In those 11 years, the World Forum had brought a constant message to the United Nations. First, law abiding hunters, sport shooters and legal firearms owners were not the problem. Second, the World Forum had attempted to offer positive solutions to real problems that did exist, including contributions to the deliberations on tracing. Unfortunately, all was not well with the matter. For years, the World Forum had been told that the United Nations effort was not a threat to legal civilian ownership of firearms.
In one of the pre-Conference documents, he said, was the outrageous claim that the 400 million firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens were the problem. Legally held firearms had always been part of the World Forum’s tradition and culture, without creating a problem. The issue of legal civilian firearms possession should only play one role in this Conference, and that is for the body to acknowledge in its report the legitimate and rightful role of hunting, sport shooting and lawful civilian firearms ownership in many United Nations Member States. So again, the World Forum asked the Conference to adopt language such as that, in its final report.
DAVID PENN, Secretary of the British Shooting Sports Council, said his organization was an umbrella body of major associations for target and quarry shooting, which aims to achieve consensus positions on issues affecting the shooting industry. It promoted and safeguarded the lawful use of firearms and air weapons for sporting and recreation in the United Kingdom. The legitimacy of shooting as a leisure activity and essential component of wildlife management was increasingly recognized in the United Kingdom. In 2005, the Labour Party published a “Charter for Shooting”, which endorsed self-regulation, recognized that there was no connection between legitimate sporting shooting and street crime, and encouraged responsible development of shooting for young people. It also recognized the benefit of the national heritage of firearms collection. In the European Union, the legitimate use of firearms was acknowledged. Hunting was permitted in some of the European Union’s Natura 2000 network of conservation sites.
Civilian firearms owners shared society’s concern over the misuse of firearms in crime and conflict and did not appreciate attempts to marginalize them or link their activities to crime or conflict, he continued. The legitimate shooting community was a willing and committed contributor to mitigating the evils of violent crime and conflict. Neither the civilian shooter nor his firearms would go away. Short-term, real progress could be made if the focus was put on controlling the movement of military small arms and light weapons. Faster and more harmonious progress could also be achieved if the United Nations took steps to recognize the legitimacy of sport shooting and firearms collecting. Legislation was only part of the solution. Unwanted stockpiles of small arms must be controlled or destroyed. Education must be provided and realistic economic prospects in conflict areas must be recognized. He also called for recognizing that, in many cultures, there was strong desire by many to possess firearms.
TONY BERNARDO, Canadian Institute for Legislative Action, said a great deal had changed in Canada. There had been two watershed events in Canada since the 2001 Conference. First, Canada had an on-the-ground experience of attempting to institute an expensive, but impractical gun registration system. It ended up costing billions of dollars and made criminals out of law-abiding citizens. The second was that registration scheme became a significant political issue in several federal elections. An important lesson was to be learned. Regulatory schemes were doomed to failure if their primary impact was upon law-abiding, hunters, sport shooters and firearms owners.
The Canadian experience, he said, could not be ignored. The United Nations must focus on illegal international trafficking and not be seduced into impractical new schemes. Unfortunately, the draft report contained one such scheme. An international effort on marking and tracing of ammunition was beyond the pale of what was either practical or realistic. The implementation of importation marks applied to firearms had already been significantly delayed in Canada due to the horrendous costs and technical problems associated with it. On behalf of Canada’s recreational firearms community, he implored the United Nations to consider those factors.
HERMAN SUTER, Pro Tell, said his organization represented lawful firearm owners in Switzerland. He had no objection to reasonable means being agreed to reduce illicit transfers of military arms and apply marking and tracing regulations. However, non-governmental organization lobbying relied heavily on the premise that it was necessary to register, prohibit, cease production of and destroy small and light weapons, and that without such measures, development aid for long-term stability and acceptable living conditions was fruitless and, hence, real progress towards world peace could not be achieved. According to some influential lobbying groups, it sufficed to prohibit and destroy small arms and light weapons in order to ensure lasting foreign aid to promote peace and win the battle against hunger and poverty. That premise was well meant, but it amounted to no more than oversimplification and public relations hopefulness.
A blanket prohibition of privately-owned firearms was wrong and the anti-gun approach offered no solution, he continued. It invested precious human and financial resources in the wrong places and hindered people from shaping an informed opinion of the real problems. After more than a decade of increasingly restrictive legislation against lawfully-held guns, policymakers were realizing that the pendulum had swung too far. Switzerland had joined Canada, New Zealand and Brazil in rejecting measures such as the mandatory registration of longarms, based on the growing awareness that such approaches were not cost-effective and did not reduce crime. Prohibitions and ever-increasing restrictions on small arms as demanded by the International Action Network on Small Arms punished the wrong people. Those who profited from them were rogue Governments. Studies showed that, in stable countries, arms prohibition did not lower criminal abuse. There was danger that the United Nations would lose further trust and credibility worldwide by mistakenly directing its attention towards private gun ownership.
BRUCE SHAW, South African Gun Owners Association, said a great deal had happened since 2001. The United Nations had not yet confronted the issue that the concern was with military weapons and not sporting arms. There had been numerous calls to do this by the adoption of some appropriate definition of a small arm. In 2001, the Association said that hunting laws played an important role in South Africa and it still did. South Africa had recently adopted new laws and regulations which would impact both hunting and other bona fide private firearm ownership. The process had not been without problems. He called for the Conference to say “yes” to legitimate possession and use of firearms by private citizens. It did not happen in 2001 and it needed to happen in 2006.
JAIRO PAES DE LIRA, Brazilian Pro-Legitimate Defence Coalition, said he represented the 60 million Brazilian voters who, within the 2005 national referendum, voted down the Government attempt to ban legitimate firearms owned by law-abiding citizens. People who wanted firearms to hunt for food for their families or for target shooting as weekend sport were law-abiding citizens. However, supported by a huge media network, the 2003 Statute of Disarmament was approved by Congress and brought many restrictions and unbearable taxes that made legitimate licensing impossible for poor, particularly rural, families. The 2003 Statute also gave the Government unlimited power to impose further regulations on the quantity of ammunition one could buy during a certain time frame and imposed a complete ban on the sale of firearms and ammunition nationwide, except for official purposes. Opinion polls initially indicated that more than 80 per cent of the population would support the complete ban. Many powerful non-governmental organizations lobbied in the media for a full ban. However, when the results were tallied, fully 65 per cent of Brazil’s voters rejected the prohibition during the 23 October 2005 referendum.
The referendum was not about disarmament, he continued, but about the total prohibition of the sale of goods to civilians and law enforcement officials. The case against it was based on a simple, true message: that the anti-gun case jeopardized a citizen’s rights. Throwing away that right would irreparably damage the rights of future generations. The 23 October vote in Brazil was a mandate. Small arms of good and lawful origin, destined exclusively for legitimate hunting, sport shooting and home defence, should never be confused with light weapons. That mandate must be acknowledged and respected.
GARY MAUSER, National Firearms Association of Canada, said that his country had undergone major changes in the past two decades, including the introduction in the 1990s of a programme to license firearms owners and register sporting rifles and shotguns. Earlier legislation had primarily focused on the criminal misuse of firearms, as well as controlling handguns and fully automatic firearms, he said, stressing that the former Canadian Government had insisted on introducing that costly system despite contrary advice from other Governments and experienced Canadian civil servants. But, Canada’s recently elected new Government had decided to abandon the firearms registry.
It had been demonstrated that the Canadian licensing and registration system was not cost-effective and had not reduced crime, he said. Research had shown that 71 per cent of firearm licenses were found to have errors, and over 250,000 guns were registered with the same serial numbers as stolen guns. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had said that they had no faith in the registry’s information, which listed barely more than half the country’s guns or gun owners.
Moreover, the firearms register had not saved any lives: while gun homicide numbers were indeed down, the proportion of domestic homicides involving guns had not declined. Nor had the overall homicide rate declined, he added, stressing that the actual increase in homicides suggested that crime rates were driven by sociological factors, such as the percentage of youth in a total population, and social conditions, rather than the availability of one method of murder. He said that he had found no evidence that blanket gun regulations, even firearms prohibitions, contributed to the reduction of criminal violence. He urged the General Assembly to “resist the siren call of the anti-gun NGOs”, saying that the campaign to impose blanket prohibitive gun regulations was contrary to the growing body of research showing that, in a wide variety of countries, such regulations did not reduce criminal violence. Mistakenly directing its attention towards private gun ownership would cause the United Nations to lose further credibility around the world, and would also detract from the attention that should be paid to poverty reduction and development.
JAMES FULMER, Former President of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, said his organization represented more than 20,000 members in the United States. He said he was struck by how little awareness there was on the part of many delegates and non-governmental organizations of the existence of groups such as his association. During the 2001 Small Arms Conference, several groups such as the Sports Clay Association and the Single Action Shooting Society spoke. Such groups were not large, politically active organizations. However, they did exist and represented people who use “small arms” for a wonderful hobby. Although his group used muzzle-loading antique or replica firearms that were no longer used in conflicts, it was still as concerned as other organizations that used more modern arms about the work of the United Nations. Conference measures that impacted even just a few hunters, sport shooters or legal firearms owners, in fact impacted all of them. The Review Conference needed to formally acknowledge the legitimacy of hunting, sport shooting and legal firearms ownership.
THOMAS MASON, Managing Director of Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute of the United States, which sets standards for the manufacture, transportation and storage of firearms ammunition and components, said that everyone should realize that firearms were very simple “tools”, which could be used for good or harm. They were guided by the hand, which was controlled by the mind, and the human mind had “a great capacity to find a way to do what it wants to do”. In that context, how could the United Nations myopic focus on “a tool” succeed in preventing the wilful and illegal misuse of those tools -- firearms? Everyone wished that the solution to such a complex problem could be so simple and, if that were the case, perhaps it could have been solved long ago. Further, any solutions must coexist with national legal frameworks and cultural constructs. As such, many of those issues were best handled at the national and regional levels, he added.
While he went on to applaud the general thrust of the United Nations efforts on marking and tracing, he said the Organization’s initiatives aimed at ammunition were “well intentioned but flawed”. The idea that current mass production and quality control methods, honed over more than a century, would be rendered obsolete overnight by an international effort to mark each and every bullet produced, was unworkable. The industry could simply not afford the capital required to build new factories and production process to mark all bullets with case or lot numbers. But the overall opposition to that suggestion had nothing to do with money. The fact was that, even with improvements, marking and tracing of ammunition simply didn’t work. The Conference would be better served by focusing on other issues that had the potential to make a real difference and not waste time and money on ammunition marking and tracing.
RICHARD PARSONS, Safari Club International, said communally managed hunting programmes, developed with the input and expertise of indigenous persons, were lauded by experts in international development as some of the most successful natural resource programmes and had changed the lives of the most disadvantaged and marginalized people in the world. The Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resource Areas, or CAMPFIRE, operated in some of the poorest communities in Zimbabwe. It was built on the philosophy of sustainable rural development and enabled indigenous communities to manage and benefit directly from wildlife and other resources, and generated profits by providing hunting opportunities to foreign hunters. Programmes like CAMPFIRE existed in many African States, such as in Botswana and Namibia, as well as the ADMADE Programme in Zambia. They changed lives and played an important role in achieving the millennium targets.
Such programmes relied on hunting and could not continue unless foreign hunters were able to retain flexible travel with lawfully owned firearms, he continued. Inadvertently setting up barriers to the role of those foreign hunters would undermine the goals of eradicating poverty and hunger, creating a global partnership and ensuring environmental sustainability. The Organization of American States (OAS) Firearms Protocol acknowledged the need to facilitate international activities of hunters and sport shooters. He called on the Review Conference to recognize the wishes of States parties to neither discourage nor diminish lawful hunting and shooting sport activities.
MARK BARNES, speaking on behalf of the FAIR Trade Group, of the United States, said that he was an attorney and registered broker in the United States. He said that his Group’s membership was concerned with the enactment of “overly broad international regulatory programmes” that unnecessarily and adversely impacted the legal trade in small arms and light weapons, instead of focusing on the illicit trade in such weapons. To that end, the definitions the international community currently used when referring to light weapons did not adequately distinguish between civilian and military firearms. Any policy that was considered should generally address “fully automatic military firearms, which continuously fire so long as the trigger is depressed and held. In other words, machine guns”, he said.
Further, the definition of “broker” must also be carefully considered. By example, he said that the United States regulatory regime had recently changed its definition of brokering activities to include one or more predicate acts. By making it clear that simply one act, such as the financing of a defence article, constituted brokering under United States law, it was clear that a wide variety of people and conduct could be subject to regulation. “Is such a model necessary at the international level and cost-effective in attempting to curtail potential core problems in the small arms trade?” he asked, adding: “I think not, and urge that the future UN work in this area recommend actions which are narrowly tailored to a specific problem area.”
He stressed that, while some believed that brokers were the primary force behind the movement of firearms, in most cases were merely the facilitators of sales transaction between two interested parties already governed by the laws of the sending and receiving States. Therefore, brokering norms should be focused on who was able to facilitate a transaction instead of “how” the firearms themselves were being moved.
EDWARD ROWE, Chairman of the Manufacturers Advisory Group of the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, said his organization’s membership included the world’s major civilian firearms manufacturers. Founded in 2001, the Advisory Group had conducted numerous international workshops and appearances where the small arms issue had been discussed. It had also sought to make positive contributions and was particularly active in forming workshops on the criterion for marking and tracing, and had held workshops on brokering, definitions and other issues not directly related to the United Nations.
Small arms should be defined only as “fully automated firearms for use as weapons of war”, he continued. It served no real useful purpose for the Review Conference to expend efforts on lawfully owned civilian firearm or ammunitions marking. He stood ready to assist and cooperate with Member States to share its knowledge.
Following those presentations, the Conference heard from another group of non-governmental organization representatives and activists brought together by the International Small Arms Network (IANSA), a global network of civil society organizations working to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.
REBECCA PETERS, Director of the International Small Arms Network, United Kingdom, said that, in the five years since the Assembly had adopted the United Nations Programme of Action on eradicating the illicit small arms trade in all its aspects, both governments and civil society had made strides to stem the illegal trade in light weapons, including through the drafting of regional arrangements on arms transfer controls, the implementation of weapons collection and destruction programmes, the collection of invaluable research and data documenting the human costs of the small arms trade, and the shaping of basic principles to guide international arms transfers. But if it was the Programme of Action that had brought both Governments and non-governmental organizations together, then everyone must realize that their responsibilities went far beyond the document.
“We are accountable to our countries and organizations, but most of all we are accountable to the millions of people who are affected daily by gun violence, those who have died and those who will die, and the many more who survive gun violence and have to learn to live with its legacy of trauma, pain, physical scarring and economic hardship”, she said, calling on the Conference not to forget the human face of gun violence, because “these are the people, at the end of the day, whose fates we have in or hands”. The speakers IANSA had assembled would ably present that “face” with their personal testimonies and presentations, she said. The IANSA had also identified several areas it felt should be prioritized, including transfer controls, national firearms legislation, linkages to development, assistance to survivors of armed violence, and follow-on mechanisms.
She said that the Conference needed to look ahead and set the programme of work in the areas of small arms for the next six years. The IANSA’s vision for 2012 was clear: it wanted to se a world where fewer people would die, be hurt or traumatized by ill-gotten weapons. The organization also wanted to see a world where survivors of gun violence were taken care of and give a real chance to reconstruct their lives. And it wanted to see a world where adequate controls existed on the sale, use, stockpiling and transfer of small arms. All that could be achieved in six years, she said, but stressed that it would take Governments working together with civil society to bring about real change.
SHELLY BARRY, South African filmmaker and survivor of gun violence, said that, in 1996, she had been shot at point-blank range on her way to a job interview. She happened to have been riding in a taxi, and at that particular time, in her country, rival care services and taxi businesses had been enmeshed in a violent turf war. The driver of her taxi had been shot seven times and died while she watched, severely wounded from the back seat. A bullet had severed her spinal cord, punctured both her lungs and cut through several ribs. Her partner sitting next to her had been shot in the chest. Miraculously, both survived, but she would never walk again. She did not know whether the gun used in the attack had been legal or illegal, and it did not really make any difference.
After a long recovery, she had become a disability rights advocate in South Africa. Today, she was about to graduate with a Master of Fine Arts degree from Temple University. She was making films and fulfilling her dreams. But, for as long as she lived, she said she would speak out about gun violence. Armed violence was a global concern and it was destroying societies, she said, adding: “There is no choice but to take this matter very seriously.” She also said that survivors of armed violence had the potential to play a valuable role in their families and communities, but only if they received the help they needed for effective rehabilitation and reintegration.
CESAR MARTIN, Amnesty International, said the Programme of Action firmly established the need for strict controls over the international transfer of small arms and committed Member States to study export licenses for small arms in accordance with international law. That was a welcoming development, since without such measures the illegal transfer of light weapons would continue to exacerbate conflict, impede sustainable development and contribute to human rights violations. However, such existing responsibilities under international law had not been incorporated into the Programme of Action. States must establish a universal interpretation of their commitments concerning the transfer of small arms. He also expressed concern over the lack of consistency of Member States in implementing the 2001 Programme of Action. Different States would give different answers concerning guidelines over export controls and their obligations concerning small arms. While many States transparently and responsibly applied transfer controls, not all abided by the same rules. There was always the risk that certain transfers would be cancelled out by other States that did not adhere to strict, rigorous rules. States must work together to ensure the highest level of responsibility.
That could be achieved by preparing common guidelines at the international level, he said. There was no need to begin anew. It was just a matter of taking existing international law and applying it specifically at the national level to the transfer of small arms and light weapons. Since 2001, several responsible initiatives had been developed, in accordance with the Programme of Action, such as the “Biting the Bullet” transfer control initiative. A coalition of civil society had also adopted a body of common principles for these transfers. It should not be beyond the Review Conference to do something similar.
Most States had made commitments through regional, subregional and multilateral agreements in line with international law, but their principles varied and didn’t completely reflect the current responsibilities of States. Such efforts could serve as a basis for the Review Conference’s final outcome document. However, the latest draft outcome document did not commit States to do so. It asked States to consider implementation of global guidelines, but there was no explicit mandate that they include those guidelines in their current commitments in line with international law. All States had signed the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions on human rights. Many non-governmental organizations present at the meeting were extremely disappointed that the Programme of Action and the draft outcome document did not explicitly mention any of those themes. He called on the Review Conference to include them in the final document as a tool for complete, consistent implementation of the Programme of Action. The lack of effective global control over the proliferation of small arms was a sad reality that had worsened since 2001. The world demanded action. The Petition of a Million Faces was proof that world public opinion supported immediate, concrete action.
CHARLES NASIBU BILALI, of the Congolese Action Network on Small Arms of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addressed the impact of arms transfers on developing countries. He recounted a grisly story of an August 2004 massacre that took place at a Gatumba refugee camp, near Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. As a journalist, after he heard reports of the attack, he had rushed to the scene only to be horrified by the slaughter. Bodies of men, women and children lay everywhere, covered in blood and riddled with bullets. The survivors stood around gaping in stunned silence. The police seemed unable to get a handle on the situation.
He said that the refugees had been murdered in the night, by an armed militia group whose members had reportedly come from the Congo, was well as neighbouring countries. That tragic incident, in which close to 200 people had been slaughtered while they slept, had sadly been just one incident in a region where not a day went by without dozens of lives being taken by small arms and illegal ammunition. Governments in the Great Lakes simply did not have the capacity -- financial or institutional -- to fend off the activities of armed groups, bandits and other criminals. The police were equally at a loss -- struggling to hunt down countless rebel groups, while trying to monitor or control the vast region’s porous borders.
He called urgently for strict international regulations on the transfer of weapons and the activities of brokers, if only because most of the weapons that flooded the Great Lakes, other regions of Africa and other developing countries, had not been manufactured there. He called on States to take the opportunity provided by the Conference to erect international, legally binding barriers to stem the flow of illegal small arms and light weapons.
MARY LIGH BLEK, Million Mom March, said 12 years ago today, she and her husband had travelled from California to New York to identify and claim the body of their 21-year-old son, Matthew. He had been shot by a young teenage robber wielding a firearm that had likely been bought in the south of her country, where such weapons were easy to obtain because of permissive gun laws. While she was proud to be from a country that had committed itself to implementing the Programme of Action, she stressed that most of the positions taken so far during the Conference by the United States did not represent the views and opinions of the majority of the country’s citizens. “Most Americans would support common sense agreements and regulations of small arms to save the lives of children around the globe and at home.”
She said everyone in the room shared the tragic knowledge that the proliferation of small arms and their diversion to illicit markets killed at least 1,000 people a day worldwide. “So is there not a moral obligation imposed upon each of us to do all we can to prevent small arms deaths?” she asked. Following the adoption of the 2001 Programme of Action, it was now time to do more, particularly to take advantage of the new and innovative technologies that were surely on the horizon to help curb illicit trafficking, she said.
JULIUS ARILE LOMERINYANG, of Kenya, spoke on behalf of the “Million Faces Campaign”, which, ahead of the Conference had presented United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan with a petition for an international arms treaty made up of photos and self portraits of 1 million people from more that 160 countries and backed by non-governmental agencies such as the Control Arms Campaign, Amnesty International, Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small Arms.
He told the Conference that the petition had been significant because, since Control Arms had begun the campaign in 2003, about 1 million people worldwide had died from armed violence. Those victims of the unregulated arms trade could not speak out, but the 1 million people who had presented their pictures to the Secretary-General in the form of a petition had done so in their stead. He, himself, had been the millionth face, and he could assure the Conference that his country, Kenya, had suffered a great deal from the illegal small arms trade. In his home region near the Rift Valley, such arms were easily available.
“I know this because I had an AK-47. I raided livestock. I can tell you that when a young warrior gets hold of a firearm, he thinks of no other means of livelihood, apart from violence”, he said. But he had also seen many of his friends die and had grown to realize that there were better alternatives. He traded in his gun in 2004, exchanging it for an athletic training kit, and today, he was training to become a professional athlete. “This is so much better”, he added, calling on the Conference to send the world a strong message on arms control.
KINGSLEY RODRIGO, National Commission against the Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms of Sri Lanka, said some 90 States had implemented the Programme of Action through national commissions, coordinating agencies or national focal points. National commissions should include a broad spectrum of members, including Government ministries, law-enforcement agencies and civil society groups, and should ensure that the national commission was involved in all decision-making on small arms control and was properly funded. Research suggested there was often a strong link between high levels of donor engagement and creation of effective National Commissions. The Sri Lanka National Commission, set up by Presidential decree in 2004, had undertaken several high-profile activities to develop and implement programmes to tackle the small arms trade, including a major public event to mark International Arms Destruction Day in Colombo in July 2005, during which 35,000 small arms were destroyed; the Ballot without the Bullet campaign during the 2005 presidential election; and a national small arms and light weapons survey.
Civil society participation had been instrumental in getting the Sri Lanka National Commission off the ground, he continued. The district-level consulting process to connect local problems of community safety and security to national policymaking had involved discussions in every district. It brought together community organizations, women’s groups and others to identify links between the spread and misuse of small arms and tackling community safety, security and development challenges. The Review Conference outcome document should recommit States to set up national coordination bodies or commissions responsible for developing and implementing national plans or strategies to address small arms and light weapons concerns. It should also commit States and regional organizations in a position to do so to increase technical and financial assistance, encourage States that had already begun to set up national coordinating bodies to ensure that they functioned effectively, and commit States to share information on the development and operation of those parties with other States, relevant international and regional bodies, and the general public.
FADI ABI ALLAM, Permanent Peace Movement, said his Lebanese organization worked on conflict resolution and arms control. Conflict resolution and arms control were the two main pillars for peacebuilding. His organization and others recently carried out a survey on public perceptions of human security in several Middle East countries. Its findings were published in a new report by the Middle East North Africa Action Network on Small Arms. The survey revealed that a clear majority of survey participants confirmed their belief that there was a direct link between the presence of arms in their communities and underdevelopment of their economies. More than 80 per cent of young people in the Middle East wanted stricter State controls on private gun ownership. In Gaza, Lebanon and the Sudan, more than 50 per cent of survey participants said they would choose not to use guns because they perceived guns as dangerous for their families. In the West Bank, 40 per cent of the respondents said they would choose to own a gun. However, 60 per cent said they believed that there were too many guns in their society.
Those survey results illustrated that in the Middle East people believed that there was a strong link between guns and underdevelopment and good governance and that people were interested in strategies to end gun violence in their communities, he continued. The Programme of Action laid the foundation for large-scale public participation and awareness campaigns, the needs of children, creation of a culture of peace, promotion of dialogue, and the successful implementation of small arms control in post-conflict societies. It was important to benefit from the experience of programmes which had reduced demand, improved development and increased feelings of security. For example, in the Caribbean, leaders of armed youth gangs had been encouraged to participate in programmes to end gun violence. South African civil society had created “gun free” zones in many areas. In Cambodia, law enforcement officers had been trained in the appropriate use of force and educated about national firearms legislation and their implementation. Massive campaigns to promote new firearms legislation in Cambodia had proven truly effective. Many initiatives were under way in the Middle East but much remained to be done to address the demand for arms.
The Review Conference must strengthen Member States’ commitments to end supply and demand of weapons, he said. The Review Conference’s latest draft outcome document contained several important points, including references in paragraphs 16-19 in Section III to tackle the demand for small arms and references in paragraph 36 of Section II on the need to promote a culture of peace. He regretted, however, that a reference to global principles on the use of force by the police, as well as gender-specific recommendations, had been removed from the draft.
EMPERATRIZ CRESPIN, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said she was a medical doctor who lived in El Salvador, a country considered to be affected by arms. Due to the long civil war, there were an estimated 500,000 weapons in circulation, half of which were illegal. According to the National Civil Police, light arms were involved in 70 per cent of the all violent crimes every year. Management of that violence cost the country the equivalent of 12 per cent of its gross domestic product. She said she had contributed to a project to identify the political concerns of survivors of national armed violence. Their perspective was important and should be taken into account when developing national action plans to incorporate arms control in development and strategies to reduce delinquency.
In a survey about the needs and experiences of assisting survivors of armed conflict, long-term patients and health workers of the Rehabilitation Institute in El Salvador emphasized the importance of the economic independence of such survivors and the difficulty they faced in returning to work. Disabled people were the poorest of the poor, according to the World Bank. The cost of their care was a huge financial burden on their families. In the survey, survivors and health personnel alike noted the difficulty for survivors in finding employment to pay for rehabilitation services and to gain access to costly assistance facilities. The $20 monthly fee to pay for rehabilitation services was as much as half the average salary of poor families. Patients also needed provisions for sheets, articles of hygiene and food. Those financial pressures lowered the quality of life for many disabled people. Some resorted to crime to pay for the cost of care. Providing assistance to overburdened public health, education and justice systems could help alleviate weak and inconsistent out-patient care for survivors of armed conflict. She praised the Salvadoran Government’s decision to support the public health system by imposing a tax on firearms. In States with weapons registry and licensing systems or a tax on imported firearms, it was indeed possible to raise funds for assistance to survivors of armed violence.
The Conference devoted the second part of its day to a thematic debate and exchange of views on progress and problems in implementing the 2001 Programme of Action, with a specific emphasis on international cooperation and assistance and best practices in curbing the illegal small arms trade. The discussion was co-chaired by Yoshiki Mine ( Japan) and Pasi Patokallio ( Finland), who had chaired the 2003 and 2005 biennial meetings of States during the run-up to the Review Conference.
The debate began with a detailed case study of the efforts that had been undertaken by Cambodia -- with the international community’s help -- to recover from the devastating reign of the Khmer rouge and to deal with the thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition left behind after the fall of that cruel regime. SAR MOLINE, Deputy Secretary-General of that country’s interior Ministry recounted the factional divisiveness and political instability that had opened the door to takeover by Khmer Rouge forces, and stressed that, during that time, members of all Cambodian factions could carry their weapons into markets, restaurants, and even schools and pagodas. Arms regulations were non-existent and most Cambodian citizens lived in fear.
He said that, after the Khmer Rouge fell, the Government put a concrete programme in place in late 1998 to deal with the illicit trade in, and massive accumulation of, small arms and light weapons in the country. More recently, the Law on Management and Control of Weapons, Explosives and Munitions had finally been adopted in June 2005. Cambodia had also received prompt assistance (in 2000) from the European Union’s Assistance on Curbing Small Arms in Cambodia (EU/ASAC) programme, as well as the Japanese Assistance Team for Small Arms Management in Cambodia (JSAC), which had supported the Cambodian Interior Ministry’s projects, among others, for weapons destruction, safe storage and registration and raising public awareness.
He said that, so far, the Cambodian Government had destroyed some 40,000 small arms, and the EU/ASAC initiative had helped in the destruction of some 144,000 more. Some 16,000 had been destroyed with the help of the JSAC. The representative of Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, provided further information on the initiative, while the representative of Japan reported on the JSAC’s work. He wrapped up his presentation with two recommendations for the Conference, including endeavouring to address the matter comprehensively, covering weapons collection, destruction and stockpile management, as well as ensuring that small arms programmes were tailored to the particular circumstances of the affected country.
KIZITO MHLAKAZA, Deputy Commissioner of Police Operations of Lesotho, said Lesotho’s major problem on illegal firearms was unique, because it was not due to long-term serious conflict, but to decades of a volatile and a mostly violent political history. Cattle rustling had become a challenge. A person in Lesotho measured his or her wealth by the number of livestock he or she possessed. Theft of livestock among villages or between districts had grown significantly, and was being carried out by organized groups across the Lesotho-South Africa border. Lesotho’s small police service could not patrol every foothill or mountain village to prevent theft, as the terrain was rugged and often lacked conventional roads. Communications was difficult and cellular phone receivers were not installed in remote areas.
The bulk of the illicit trade and proliferation of small arms occurred in those areas, he said, pleading for technical assistance -- including communication equipment, helicopters and other transport suited for the rugged terrain -- to equip police stations in rural or inaccessible areas in Lesotho. Further, he requested help to enable his Government to build more police stations in remote areas, and develop recordkeeping and public awareness campaigns. Lesotho had the necessary political will, as evidenced by its numerous operations to eradicate the illicit small arms trade, but needed technical support for implementation.
The representatives of Sri Lanka, Samoa, Mali, Papua New Guinea and the United States, as well as Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, shed light on best practices and current challenges to implement the 2001 Programme of Action through such activities as small arms stockpile management control, creation of national commissions and bodies to coordinate efforts to small arms, integrated security sector reform, law enforcement training, multilateral seminars and workshops, international fundraising for assistance programmes, and border control management.
A representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also highlighted lessons learned from a test case in Tajikistan and other situations in terms of assessing need and providing assistance for weapons destruction and stockpile management training programmes. Similarly, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shed light on the $50 million in technical assistance it had distributed for programmes to combat the small arms trade in the last five years and the UNDP’s best practices in that process.
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