|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE ON ARMS TRADE TREATY
Former force commanders from United Nations missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti, respectively, joined with arms control advocates to call for progress on a comprehensive arms trade treaty at a headquarters press conference this morning.
Major General Patrick Cammaert, former General Officer in Command of the Eastern Division of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), described the horrors wrought by unregulated weapons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the hands of militias. He said that, without strengthened arms control, disarmament programmes of peacekeeping missions were doomed to failure.
“You had the feeling you were mopping up the floor while the tap was open,” he said, explaining that groups would immediately rearm after their weapons had been taken away. “If we can turn down the tap a bit, it could give populations in places like the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] a chance to regain some stability,” he added, stressing that an arms treaty was needed to produce that mitigating effect.
Participating with Major General Cammaert at this morning’s briefing were other supporters of the “Control Arms” Campaign run jointly by Oxfam International, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms. They included Brigadier General Robin Gagnon, former Force Commander of the United Nations Transition Mission in Haiti; Lieutenant General B.S. Malik, member of India’s leading defence and strategic studies think-tank; Anna MacDonald of Oxfam; and Janine di Giovanni, war reporter for The Times of London and Vanity Fair. The mission of the United Kingdom, represented by Ambassador John Duncan, hosted the press conference.
During last year’s General Assembly, 153 States had voted to begin work on an arms trade treaty, with only one voting against, Ms. MacDonald said. Following that action, the Secretary-General had requested Member States to submit their views on the feasibility, scope and parameters of such a treaty. An unprecedented 97 States had responded.
Those responses would form part of the discussion as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) began its discussions this week, she said. Next year, 26 or 27 representatives were projected to begin to formulate the details of a draft treaty. Small arms currently took the lives of 1,000 people a day, but an arms trade treaty was not being sought only by humanitarian organizations, she said -- the presence of military and political leaders on the panel showed that there was a widespread call for tougher arms control.
Brigadier General Gagnon said that the proliferation of small arms had had a devastating effect on nation-building initiatives. In Haiti, such weapons had frustrated efforts to provide security and dignity to people living in places like Cité Soleil, where police were regularly outgunned by gangs. “Arms proliferation spoils the seeds of recovery,” he said.
Ambassador Duncan said that an arms trade treaty would, for the first time, provide a universal framework to strengthen the patchwork of national and regional controls that now existed, and to be able to deal with global supply chains. He emphasized that the purpose was not to put restraints on individual possession of guns or on national defence programmes. “It is about ensuring the arms trade is responsible,” he said.
Ms. di Giovanni described horrific first-hand experiences, culled from 20 years as a war reporter, which had convinced her that arms must be better controlled. They included a small arms and mortar attack on a column of refugees in Bosnia in 1992 that had left a little boy dying, his stomach ripped open. “This is what a weapon does,” she recalled.
In response to questions by correspondents, Mr. Duncan said that he had been speaking to the United States-based National Rifle Association and similar groups about the need for the arms trade treaty, telling them that such regulation would not affect their industry if they developed it responsibly. In fact, it would give them greater assurance they would have responsible partners.
Lieutenant General Malik added that the arms trade treaty would not be a sanctions regime, but more of a twenty-first century instrument, in that it harnessed the interests of those affected.
Asked about allegations that United Nations peacekeepers were trading weapons for gold in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Major General Cammaert replied that he had never seen any proof of a troop contingent being involved in such trade. Out of 15,000 troops, it was possible, however, that there were some individuals involved.
* *** *