19 February 1999


19 February 1999

Press Release


19990219 (Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 19 February (UN Information Service) -- The Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, comprising representatives of 23 Member States, will hold its second session from 22 to 26 February at the Palais des Nations.

During its week-long deliberations, the Group will review several chapters of its draft report, including those dealing with progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the Secretary-General's August 1997 Report on Small Arms (A/52/298), prepared with the assistance of the United Nations Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, and particularly the Panel's recommendation on the convening of an international conference on the illicit arms trade in all its aspects. The Group will also consider further recommendations to be taken up. On the second day of its discussions the Group is expected to be briefed by a representative of a United Nations technical study group on ammunition and explosives, which will submit a separate report to the Assembly. The Group will convene its third and final session in New York from 26 to 30 July prior to submitting its final report to the General Assembly in the fall.

The 23 experts of the Group are meeting in Geneva amidst heightened international interest in the wide-ranging problems posed by small arms. During its last session, the General Assembly adopted an unprecedented four resolutions dealing with small arms, three of which by consensus. The primary focus of the adopted texts was the illicit trade in small arms which appears to be the focus of a growing consensus among Member States. A resolution sponsored by Mali (53/77 B) encouraged the Secretary-General to continue his efforts to curb the illicit circulation of small arms and to collect such arms in affected States, while a German-sponsored resolution (53/77 M) on practical disarmament measures encouraged Member States and the Group of Interested States to support the Secretary-General in responding to requests for the collection and destruction of small arms.

Since its establishment in March 1998, the Group of Interested States, chaired by Germany, has provided financial and political support for a number of practical disarmament projects in collaboration with the Department for Disarmament Affairs, such as a workshop in Guatemala City in November 1998 on weapons collection and integration of former combatants into civil society, and a weapons collection project underway in the Gramsh district of Albania in which weapons are voluntarily surrendered in exchange for community development incentives.

In a resolution sponsored by Japan (53/77 E), the Assembly decided to convene an international conference on the illicit arms trade in all its aspects no later than 2001 and also requested the Secretary-General to initiate a study as soon as possible on the feasibility of restricting the manufacture and trade of such weapons to the manufacturers and dealers authorized by States. A South African-sponsored resolution (53/77 T) requested the Secretary-General to hold broad-based consultations on the magnitude and scope of the phenomenon of illicit trafficking in small arms.

In another unprecedented development, the Security Council, which has seen progress reversed in a number of its peace operations, due in part to the easy availability and misuse of small arms, became seized of the matter in the context of the implementation of the Secretary-General's Report on Africa. Last November the Council adopted its first-ever resolution on illicit arms flows (1209), encouraging the Secretary-General to explore means of identifying international arms dealers acting in contravention of national legislation or embargoes established by the United Nations on arms transfers to and in Africa.

The Secretary-General recently designated the Department for Disarmament Affairs as the focal point to coordinate all action on small arms within the United Nations system. The Department subsequently established the "Coordinating Action on Small Arms" (CASA) mechanism within which the Department of Public Information is producing a UNTV documentary film on small arms and UNICEF is developing an exhibit on small arms and children. The United Nations Development Programme is also collaborating on the ground in the Albania weapons collection project while the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is developing a humanitarian strategy on small arms within a reference group established by the Working Group of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC).

Complementing the ongoing efforts in the United Nations system, Member States such as Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Norway, South Africa and Switzerland, together with regional bodies such as the Organization of American States, the European Union, the Organization of African Unity and the Economic Community of West African States, are playing an active role in the small arms issue. From 18 to 20 February, the Government of Switzerland

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is convening a workshop in Geneva for the members of the Group of Governmental Experts on such issues as the marking of small arms and key elements of a possible international action plan to address the problems associated with small arms. Switzerland has offered to host the international conference on the illicit arms trade in Geneva.

From 11 to 12 March, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and National Defence College of Sweden will host a seminar on the removal of small arms in the context of peace missions. From 17 to 20 May, the Government of Japan will invite the members of the Group of Governmental Experts to Tokyo for an intersessional meeting. Many non-governmental groups with a wide range of concerns (including development, peace and disarmament, crime, humanitarian and human rights issues) are supporting or taking initiatives on small arms -- at local, national, regional and international levels. The "International Action Network on Small Arms" (IANSA) has recently been established, involving over 200 non-governmental organizations from all regions of the world, to promote awareness and action on small arms and on tackling problems associated with them.

The Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms derives its mandate on Small from General Assembly resolution 52/38 J of 9 December 1997, which requested the Secretary-General to prepare, with the assistance of a group of governmental experts, a report on the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations on reduction and prevention measures identified in his Report on Small Arms (A/52/298) and further actions recommended to be taken. In April 1998, the Secretary-General appointed experts from 23 countries including, for the first time, the five permanent members of the Security Council, to participate in the Group. Algeria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Mozambique, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States are represented. The Group held its first session in New York from 26 to 29 May 1998 and reconvened in Tokyo from 7 to 9 September 1998 in an intersessional meeting.

In pursuance of Assembly resolution 53/77 E, the Group has also been mandated to assist the Secretary-General in preparing a report containing his recommendations on the objective, scope, agenda, dates, venue and preparatory committee of an international conference on the illicit arms trade in all its aspects.

When the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to establish the Panel of Governmental Experts to study the issue in 1996, small arms were thought to be essentially a disarmament and security problem. In the Secretary-General's far-reaching Report on Small Arms, however, the Panel found that virtually every part of the United Nations system was dealing in one way or another with the consequences of the armed conflicts, insecurity, violence, crime and

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displaced peoples that are directly or indirectly associated with the wide availability and use of small arms. While their accumulation does not itself cause the conflicts in which they are used, the widespread availability of small arms contributes towards exacerbating conflicts by increasing their lethality and duration and by provoking a vicious circle of insecurity which, in turn, leads to a greater demand for and use of these weapons. In short, it was found that the excessive and destabilising accumulation and transfer of small arms has far-reaching disarmament, humanitarian, human rights, security and development implications. The Report's impact acted as a catalyst to place the issue of small arms firmly on the international agenda, and the United Nations has continued to encourage and support all efforts to address the wide-ranging problems posed by small arms.

The main focus of the former Panel and the current Group of Governmental Experts has been small arms and light weapons manufactured to military specifications which are actually being used in conflicts dealt with by the United Nations. By maintaining this approach, the Group aims to avoid overlap with the ongoing negotiations of a Vienna-based ad hoc committee within the Economic and Social Council which is discussing the elaboration of an international instrument combatting the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition, in the context of the elaboration of a comprehensive international convention against transnational organized crime.

Swadesh Rana, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch of the Department for Disarmament Affairs in New York, will deliver a press briefing at the Palais des Nations on the opening day of the Second Session, 22 February, at noon. She will provide an overview of various United Nations initiatives in the area of small arms. Mitsuro Donowaki, Special Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan and Chairman of the Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, will deliver a briefing summing up the Group's deliberations on the last day of the Second Session, 26 February, at noon, at the Palais.

Those seeking further information on small arms may wish to refer to the web page of the Conventional Arms Branch, Department for Disarmament Affairs, New York (

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For information media. Not an official record.