10 May 2002


Press Briefing


In Africa, an ever-expanding illicit trade in small arms was "thriving on the backs of the continent's youth", Albrecht Muth, Executive Director of the Eminent Persons Group, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.  He hoped to announce shortly the creation of an informal transparency mechanism, which would shed light on small arms transfers to the African continent.

Mr. Muth spoke on behalf of the former Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and Co-Chair of the Eminent Persons Group, Salim Ahmed Salim.  The Eminent Persons Group is an independent commission of 24 international personalities close to the United Nations Secretary-General.  Its objective is to advance the Secretary-General's vision of a small arms non-proliferation regime.  Today's press conference was sponsored by the Office of the Permanent Observer for the OAU to the United Nations.

Mr. Muth said the special session on children was considering how best to redress one of the great humanitarian challenges of the time:  the victimization of children by war.  The resolve to redress that "untenable calamity" was due, in no small measure, to concerted efforts by the United Nations and the OAU. 

He said that the release of an uncompromisingly frank United Nations-sponsored report by Graca Machel had greatly helped launch an important diplomatic process aimed at safeguarding the rights of the child.  Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and Ms. Machel had helped galvanize political will in capitals for goal-oriented action.  Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said, "time has come to match the rhetoric of concern with action". 

One element, which directly affected the agenda for war-affected children, was the mounting death toll resulting from the uncontrolled proliferation of inexpensive small arms and light weapons, he said.  He was grateful for Alpha Oumar Konare, President of Mali and Co-Chair of the Eminent Persons Group, for first alerting the international community to the impact of small arms violence on children. 

He said that a whole generation of African children was being inducted into a culture of violence marked by violent death and injury.  Of the seven-to eight million fatalities in Africa's recent regional conflicts, two million were children.  Four to five million children had been disabled, and another 12 million had been left homeless.  More than one million had been orphaned or separated from their families.

The economic cost of small arms violence to the international community was increasing, while the overall economic strength and political stability of countries across Africa kept declining.  Small arms violence undermined good governance.  It disrupted trade, tourism and investment.  As domestic conditions deteriorated, violent crime and general lawlessness increased exponentially.

Further, small arms violence raised the cost of maintaining order, thereby jeopardizing economic development by depleting budget resources, he went on.  As a result, with human rights abuses on the increase and famine conditions

exacerbated, democracy and development were put at risk.  An increasing number of governments failed to provide basic human needs to their populations. 

Moreover, he said, increasing social inequities further alienated the disenfranchised and contributed to sudden explosions of violence.  Not surprisingly, virtually every low-income country in Africa had either undergone major conflict or bordered on one or more in conflict.  The oversupply of inexpensive small arms also heightened inter-State conflict, putting the nation-State system itself under attack.

With armed guerilla groups proliferating and often dividing into warring factions, internal instabilities increasingly tended to evolve into larger regional wars, he said.  The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo involved the armed forces of eight countries.  Small arms proliferation, however, was not merely a regional problem, or germane only to Africa; it had a global dimension.  Despite widespread calls to eradicate their illicit flow, the transfers of small arms to regions in conflict had continued unabated.

Success in eradicating the illicit small arms and light weapons trade depended upon a coalition of governments and civil society groups, including manufacturers, he said.  The Secretary-General supported the Eminent Persons Group's efforts to build such a coalition and believed the Group played an important role in that regard. 

He recalled the words of Russian General M.T. Kalashnikov, who had recently joined the Group.  He had said "as a major designer of the automatic small arms spread, absolutely beyond my desire, over many countries of the world, I am deeply concerned about the clandestine trafficking in the weapons, which bear my name.  While creating the AK-47 machine gun, I sincerely believed that this weapon would be used only for the defence of my country". 

With more than 90 per cent of illicitly trafficked small arms and light weapons originating in the licit trade, especially from the industrialized North, the Group had undertaken within the "Paris process" to confront the supply side of the illicit traffic by eradicating the potential for diversion. 

Mr. Muth described the "Paris process" as an informal mechanism, with the objective of furthering the Secretary-General's vision of small arms non-proliferation.  The Governments of China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States were among those actively engaged in the process.  In addition, Ambassadors of Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the Russian Federation served on the Group in their personal capacities.

The "Paris process" advanced cooperation among commercial/State-run manufacturers, governments and non-governmental organizations on cost-effective and realistic voluntary measures for marking, tracing and norms for transfer under international law, he explained.  The recommendations of the "Paris process" were set forth in the Paris Chairmen's report (see document A/Conf.192/13).

He said the Group had called upon manufacturers and manufacturing/exporting States to use more efficiently means already available:  to ensure stricter national control, to promote in practice serious international cooperation in curbing the illicit traffic in those weapons, and to recognize their markings on a reciprocal basis. 

For many reasons and despite manifest political will in Africa, enforcement of binding agreements in the field of small arms was not possible without a

minimum of cooperation of manufacturers and manufacturing/exporting States.  In furtherance of the objectives of the "Paris process", manufacturers would be meeting in Naples, Italy, on 13 and 14 June.  The report of the Naples meeting would provide an important signal impact for the next meeting in Geneva in November.

He said that, with the support of manufacturers, the creation of an informal transparency mechanism was an essential building block towards attaining the Secretary-General's overall objective, namely to develop and implement a cooperative regulatory approach to small arms and light weapons transfers leading to a significant reduction of available illicit weapons.  That would reduce the potential for and lethality of future armed conflicts, as well as reduce the numbers of affected peoples on the ground.

Asked how the Group proposed dealing with the violence caused by control of those weapons by rebels and other non-State actors, Mr. Muth said that what needed to be done was to separate the legitimate side of the business from the illicit side.  Towards that end, support was needed for those engaged in the licit side of the trade.  Those were the people who had the knowledge about who, what, where, when and how those weapons were either illicitly manufactured or at what point they were being diverted from licit sources to illicit traffic.  A number of examples had demonstrated the value of having someone inside the circle to help identify what was being done outside of it, he added.

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For information media. Not an official record.