Amid Growing Humanitarian Toll From Spread of Conventional Weapons, Delegates in First Committee Share Strategies for Combating Illegal Arms Sales

GA/DIS/3610
25 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 18th Meeting (AM)

Amid Growing Humanitarian Toll From Spread of Conventional Weapons, Delegates in First Committee Share Strategies for Combating Illegal Arms Sales

Rejecting United States Request to Dismiss Russian Draft on Missile Treaty, Members Grant Chair More Time for Consultations

The growing humanitarian toll of conventional weapons took centre stage in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today during its thematic debate segment, as delegates highlighted the detrimental effects of such weapons on civilian populations in vulnerable and conflict affected regions.

Guyana’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community, said the high incidence of violent crime remains among several challenges to sustainable development in her region.  It reduces citizens’ security, impedes socioeconomic development and erodes confidence in nation building while heightening fear among the population, she said.

The representative of Honduras recounted her country’s first‑hand experience with the dire violence and humanitarian effects caused by the illegal trade of small arms and light weapons, particularly with respect to organized crime and non‑State actors, including gangs.  As the scourge of such weapons is affecting thousands of families, her Government has taken steps to tackle the illegal trade of arms and transnational crime by adopting stricter arms control measures, she said.

Speaking on behalf of a group of countries, Ireland’s delegate expressed particular concern about the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.  The use of such weapons causes long‑term harm that outlasts the conflicts in which they are used, she said, citing the destruction of housing, schools, hospitals, water and sanitation systems and other critical infrastructure.

Commending the Arms Trade Treaty for making a significant contribution to international and regional peace, security and stability, many delegates called for States and non‑States Parties to comply with all of the Treaty’s provisions.

However, some speakers said that international assistance and cooperation remain essential for its implementation, calling on developed States to render more technical and financial assistance to developing countries towards that end.

Morocco’s representative, meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, urged States to implement the Treaty in a manner that reaffirms the sovereignty of all nations to acquire, manufacture, export, import and retain conventional arms, their parts and components for their self‑defence and security needs.

Many speakers noted the positive outcomes of the third Review Conference of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.  The representative of Egypt highlighted the Programme of Action on Small Arms as an essential multilateral tool that contributes to the eradication of illicit trafficking, as is the International Tracing Instrument.  However, he raised concerns about the severe threats facing the Middle East and Africa due to the increasing illicit flows of these weapons to terrorists and illegal armed groups.

Prior to the thematic debate, the Committee considered a point of order raised by the representative of the United States about the Russian Federation’s late submission of a draft resolution on the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, formally known as the Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate‑Range and Shorter‑Range Missiles.  He requested that the Committee Chair dismiss the Russian draft, saying it was submitted one week past the 18 October deadline.  The Russian Federation’s delegate then explained that the decision to submit the draft after the official deadline was the result of force majeure circumstances arising from announcements by the United States about its intended withdrawal from the Treaty and its intention to augment its nuclear capacities.

After the Committee Chair asked for more time for consultations, the representative of the United States challenged the decision, requesting an immediate vote on his point of order under rule 113.  The Committee Secretary clarified that, in accordance with rule 113, the Chair’s ruling will stand unless overruled by a majority of Member States.  By a recorded vote of 34 in favour to 77 against, with 12 abstentions, the Committee then decided to uphold the Chair’s ruling to allow more time for consultations.

Others speaking today were the representatives of Finland (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Latvia, United States, Switzerland, Canada, Paraguay and Jamaica, as well as the European Union.

The First Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 26 October, to continue its work.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this morning to continue thematic debates conventional weapons and on the disarmament aspects of outer space.  For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3597 of 8 October.

Point of Order

The representative of the United States, speaking on a point of order, said the Russian Federation’s delegation circulated a new draft resolution on 25 October, one week after the 18 October deadline.  As such, he asked the Chair to rule out consideration of the draft, which was also leaked to the Russian press before being shared with any First Committee member.  Bringing a bilateral issue into the body’s work sets a bad precedent.

The representative of the Russian Federation said recent developments compelled his country to immediately react to a situation it deemed critical concerning the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty [Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles].  Following the United States President’s announcement of its withdrawal from the Treaty and a subsequent statement about intentions to build up its nuclear arsenal, the Russian Federation sees these as “two links in one chain”.  The international community will soon encounter a new reality, which will lead to a new arms race.  Furthermore, during the First Committee’s debates on the nuclear cluster, many Member States supported the Treaty and called for continued Russian‑United States dialogue, with the aim of safeguarding the instrument and resolving mutual concerns, while stressing its importance as the cornerstone of European and international security.  Disagreeing with his United States counterpart that the resolution concerns a bilateral issue, he said Washington, D.C.’s withdrawal from the Treaty will affect the security of some 40 European States.  Indeed, the Treaty is a critical component of national, regional and international security, he said, noting that the Russian Federation’s decision to introduce a draft resolution after the official deadline was the result of force majeure circumstances due to the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Treaty and announce the build‑up of its nuclear capacities.  The international community is simply obligated under those circumstances to address this critical situation.  Describing the draft resolution, he said it is mainly rooted in previous resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and aims at reinforcing the viability of the Treaty, as well as encouraging further consultations between the United States and the Russian Federation to resolve existing concerns.  He called upon all delegations to support his delegation’s initiative to submit the draft resolution, which constitutes a response to the statements issued by many States.

The representative of the United States took the floor again to request that the Chair rule on his point of order immediately under rule 113.

The Committee Chair requested time to consult about the matter.

The representative of the United States then requested an immediate vote on document A/C.1/73/CRP.1, which outlines Committee deadlines for the submission of drafts.

The representative of the Russian Federation, requesting clarification on the implications of such a vote, said his delegation could not comply with such a banal rule of procedure as this is an urgent matter of international security.  “There is no need to play these games,” he said.  The United States withdrawal from the Treaty is a spark that could cause flames in Europe and around the world.  He said it is akin to one’s doctor asking if he can read a medical manual whilst a patient is having a heart attack.  “Would that be amenable?” he wondered.

The representative of the United States repeated his request for a vote and pointed out to the Russian Federation’s delegate that the Security Council is the appropriate forum for urgent matters of international security.

The Secretary of the Committee clarified that, in accordance with rule 113, the Chair’s ruling shall stand unless overruled by a majority of Member States.  A vote in favour means supporting the immediate consideration of the question of whether the Committee should consider the draft resolution after the deadline, while a vote against will allow the Chair to hold further consultations.

With a recorded vote of 77 against to 34 in favour, with 12 abstentions, the Committee rejected the United States’ request to overrule the Chair’s decision to allow more time for consultations.

Conventional Weapons

AAHDE LAHMIRI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, expressed deep concern over the illicit trade, transfer and circulation of small arms and light weapons and their excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread in many regions of the world, especially in light of their wide range of humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences on the continent.  Welcoming the successful conclusion in June of the third review conference on the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, she urged States to their implement obligations.

Despite a range of region‑specific initiatives, she said international assistance and cooperation remain essential ingredients for the full implementation of the Programme of Action on Small Arms.  Calling on Member States from the developed world to render more technical and financial assistance to developing countries, she urged States to implement the Arms Trade Treaty in a balanced manner that reaffirms the sovereign rights of States to acquire, manufacture, export, import and retain conventional arms, their parts and components for their self‑defence and security needs, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

JARMO VIINANEN (Finland), speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, said the third Review Conference on the Programme of Action on Small Arms found consensus on highlighting, for the first time, the importance of combatting gender‑based violence through small arms control initiatives.  States also agreed to mainstream gender dimensions when implementing the Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument while improving the collection of data disaggregated by gender on the illicit arms trade.  “These are tangible and forward‑looking steps,” he said.  Controlling the flows of small arms and light weapons and ammunition concerns both disarmament and development.

While the Arms Trade Treaty continues to be a high priority for the Nordic countries, he said regulating the global arms trade is not an easy endeavour.  As such, he expressed appreciation to Japan for leading the Treaty process for the past year, including working groups focused on practical issues.  The European Union remains strongly committed to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and its protocols.  Meanwhile, the Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems has been a useful format in increasing awareness and bringing States closer to a common understanding on the development and use of new technologies.  The Nordic countries are also strong supporters of humanitarian mine action and of the implementation and universalization of the Ottawa Convention.

RUDOLPH MICHAEL TEN‑POW (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the high incidence of violent crime remains among several challenges to sustainable development in the region.  It reduces citizens’ security, impedes socioeconomic development and erodes confidence in nation‑building while heightening fear among the population.  Caribbean States therefore recognize a need to combat violent crime in the region and its main drivers, including the illegal proliferation of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition.

The Arms Trade Treaty makes a significant contribution to international and regional peace, security and stability, he said.  The Secretary‑General’s new disarmament agenda observes that civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict around the global.  The same is true in his region, he said, calling on all States parties to comply with all of the Treaty’s provisions, and non‑States parties to halt arms transfers that violate the instrument.  Those who have not ratified the Treaty should do so as a matter of urgency, he said, adding that investing in or financing prohibited weapons undermines the international legal framework that governs their prohibition.

VIKTOR DVOŘÁK, of the European Union delegation, voiced support for an integrated approach targeting the root causes of violent conflict, bearing in mind that illicit, poorly regulated flows of arms contribute to instability and have a wide range of humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences.  The European Union is finalizing a review of its 2005 small arms and light weapons strategy, addressing all phases in the life cycle of small arms and their ammunition.  Transfer controls are an important tool, he said, calling on Member States to join the Arms Trade Treaty.

He said a good example of effective multilateralism is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti‑Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, known as the Ottawa Convention.  But, new large‑scale contamination by anti‑personnel mines are still being reported in several countries.  The use of such devices in urban warfare aimed at civilians is particularly worrying.  The European Union will continue to support efforts addressing new mine threats and the issue of legacy contamination while taking steps to universalize the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.  All States have a responsibility to ensure that their current and emerging weapons systems comply with the requirements of international law, he said, adding that human beings must make the decision to use lethal force and maintain control over the weapons they use.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), speaking on behalf of a group of countries, expressed concern about the devasting impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.  She called on Member States to enhance compliance with international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians during armed conflict.  The use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes long‑term harm that outlasts the conflicts in which they are used, she said, citing the destruction of housing, schools, hospitals, water and sanitation systems and other critical infrastructure.  Such devastation acts as a catalyst for the displacement of people, rendering refugees vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.  It also has a long‑term impact on the recovery and development of affected communities.

Welcoming the priority attached to explosive weapons in populated areas by the Secretary‑General’s Agenda for Disarmament, she advocated for the development of a political declaration.  In addition, she proposed the creation of common standards and operational policies.  As part of broader efforts, the group of countries will continue to support civil society initiatives to address the challenges posed by such weapons.

ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia) said combatants once accounted for 90 per cent of conflict‑related casualties, but today, 90 per cent of casualties in armed conflicts are civilians.  Conventional arms kill around 500,000 people per year, out of which 70,000 are killed in conflict zones.  These figures clearly demonstrate that the international community must focus on weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons.  In this respect, Latvia welcomes the Secretary‑General’s Agenda for Disarmament that spotlights conventional arms.  Having ratified the Arms Trade Treaty in 2014, Latvia assumed the presidency of the Arms Trade Treaty in August and will prioritize gender and arms‑related gender‑based violence.  Universality of the Arms Trade Treaty is key to creating a world without violence caused by illegal weapons.

IRMA ALEJANDRINA ROSA SUAZO (Honduras) said her country has first‑hand experience with the dire violence and humanitarian effects caused by the illegal trade of small arms and light weapons, particularly with respect to organized crime and non‑State actors, including gangs.  As the scourge of such weapons is affecting thousands of families, the Government has taken steps to tackle the illegal trade of arms and transnational crime by adopting stricter arms control measures.  To enhance the fight against crime, Honduras is committed to reducing the illicit trade through the Central American Programme on Small Arms Control.  This helps to curb gun violence and contributes to the strengthening of criminal justice systems, she said, adding that her Government has proposed a law regulating private security services and has ratified the Arms Trade Treaty.  Cooperation and international assistance in the field are vital, with developing countries having inadequate resources and institutional structures to fight against criminal groups with ample funding obtained from criminal activities.

ROBERT WOOD (United States) said the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is an important instrument because it has brought together States with diverse national security concerns.  In particular, the United States supports the outcome of the Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems and its recent successful and productive session, despite efforts by some States to politicize discussions.  Regarding the Programme of Action on Small Arms, he called for building on the momentum of work in the third Review Conference, rather than creating unattainable or unnecessary requirements, particularly those outside the instrument’s scope.  On man‑portable air defence systems, he said his country continues to work with partners to deter their illicit trafficking and use, he said, adding that the United States remains the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programmes, providing more than $3.2 billion in assistance to more than 100 countries since 1993.

SABRINA DALLAFIOR (Switzerland) said the preservation and strengthening of the rules‑based international order is a priority.  Member States should not question fundamental concepts of international humanitarian law.  Instead, human rights law must be complied with under all circumstances.  The increasing urbanization of conflicts and its effects on civilian populations and infrastructure underline a need for a two‑pronged approach.  The behaviour of some States with regard to current armed conflicts raises questions about their compliance with international humanitarian law.  She urged parties to armed conflict to comply with their international obligations and called for accountability for any violations.  Additionally, concrete measures are needed to improve compliance with international humanitarian law when conducting hostile actions in urban areas, and her Government welcomes efforts to take forward discussion on the issue.

BASSEM YEHIA HASSAN KASSEM HASSAN (Egypt), associating himself with the Arab Group, African Group and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the Programme of Action on Small Arms is an essential multilateral tool that contributes to the eradication of illicit trafficking, as is the International Tracing Instrument.  The Middle East and Africa face severe threats due to the increasing illicit flows of these weapons to terrorists and illegal armed groups.  This unprecedented flood of arms is conducted with the direct support of a few States that resort to arming terrorists as a tool of their foreign policies, in a clear violation of the United Nations Charter, international norms and several Security Council resolutions.  Raising other concerns, he said Egypt is one of the States that has suffered the most from the use of anti‑personnel mines.  Noting that about 20 per cent of the world’s landmines were planted in Egyptian soil during the Second World War, he emphasized a need to intensify international cooperation to address the problem.

KAYA DUNAWA‑PICKARD (Canada) said that while weapons of mass destruction pose an acute threat to humanity, conventional weapons kill and injure thousands of people annually and perpetuate gender‑based violence.  Her country is encouraged by how they figured in recent discussions of the Programme of Action on Small Arms.  She also cited the Small Arms Survey’s recent research into illicit arms flows, which included increased participation of women in multilateral policy‑making and gender analysis of arms control.  Looking at disarmament from a humanitarian impact perspective, she called on States to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions to rid the world of these weapons by 2030.  Canada prioritizes accession to the Arms Trade Treaty and, as president of the Group of Seven in 2018, ensures that conventional weapons are a focus of discussion.

ENRIQUE JOSÉ MARÍA CARRILLO GÓMEZ (Paraguay) called on Member States to ratify or accede to the Arms Trade Treaty and all related instruments on conventional weapons.  Concerning the implementation of international commitments, he said legitimate defence should not be use as justification for the proliferation of such weapons.  He highlighted a need to promote the participation of women in debates, decisions and measures on conventional arms and to offer resources and technology for developing countries to combat the illicit trafficking of conventional weapons.  Addressing the importance of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16.4, he highlighted ways to cross‑link resources through international cooperation.  He welcomed the voluntary contributions of the Trust Fund of the Arms Trade Treaty, which funded a project in his country that included training for Government officials and ways to detect small arms components through customs.

DIEDRE NICHOLE MILLS (Jamaica), associating herself with CARICOM, said that while her country is not a manufacturer or net importer of conventional weapons, it is vulnerable to violent crimes associated with the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons due to porous borders and its location.  Jamaica has been working to ensure that legislative, policy and operational measures are in place to prevent the illicit proliferation of small arms, including a review of the Firearms Act that will establish a firearms registry, national inter‑agency committee and a national control list.  In addition, Jamaica now has a standard manual for marking firearms, provides specialized training for law enforcement and works with private security firms to improve the regulatory framework governing the industry.  Welcoming various reviews undertaken in 2018, she expressed hope that the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean will be appropriately resourced.

For information media. Not an official record.