United Nations Conference on the
Illicit Trade in Small Arms
10th Meeting and Round-up

23 July 2001


Conference President, Calling Compromise Text ‘Significant Step Forward’,
Disappointed at Failure to Agree on Controls over Private Ownership, Transfers

NEW YORK, 21 July (UN Headquarters) -- Convinced of the need for a global commitment to a comprehensive approach to promote the prevention, reduction and eradication of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons as a contribution to international peace and security, the States participating in the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects resolved to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade by undertaking a number of measures at the national, regional and global levels.

Those measures were contained in the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, which was adopted by the Conference without a vote and as orally amended, in the afternoon of Saturday, 21 July.

The Programme of Action, the culmination of the two-week Conference, contained measures on preventing, combating and eradicating the illicit trade at the national, regional and global levels; implementation, international cooperation and assistance; and follow-up.

Among the national measures undertaken by States was to ensure that licensed manufacturers apply an appropriate and reliable marking on each small arm and light weapon as an integral part of the production process, as well as ensure that comprehensive and accurate records were kept for as long as possible on the manufacture, holding and transfer of small arms and light weapons under their jurisdiction.

In addition, they undertook to ensure that all confiscated, seized or collected small arms and light weapons were destroyed, unless another form of disposal or use had been officially authorized, and provided that such weapons had been duly marked and registered.

At the global level, States undertook to strengthen the ability of States to cooperate in identifying and tracing, in a timely and reliable manner, illicit small arms and light weapons.

As for follow-up to the Conference, it was recommended that the General Assembly convene a Conference no later than 2006, to review progress made in the implementation of the Programme of Action, the date and venue to be decided at the fifty-eighth session of the Assembly.

Further, it was recommended that a United Nations study be undertaken, within existing resources, for examining the feasibility of developing an international instrument to enable States to identify and trace in a timely and reliable manner illicit small arms and light weapons.

The President of the Conference, Camilo Reyes Rodriguez (Colombia), stated that with the approval of the Programme of Action, the international community had taken a significant step forward in addressing one of the most urgent problems facing world peace and security -- the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects. Delegations had put aside their differences and created a comprehensive document.

Unfortunately, he continued, there had been no agreement reached on two of the most important issues – maintaining and controlling private ownership of small arms and the transfer of such weapons to non-State actors -- even though there was overwhelming support for their inclusion in the outcome document. While congratulating all delegations for reaching consensus, he expressed disappointment that deliberations on those issues had been hampered by inflexibility on the part of one delegation.

He went on to say that African delegations, representing the States most affected by the scourge of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, had agreed only reluctantly to the language on those two points. They had done so in the true spirit of reaching a compromise that would permit the global community as a whole to move forward.

Also this afternoon, the Conference adopted its draft report as contained in document A/CONF.192/L.6, as orally amended.

As delegations took up the draft Programme of Action, the Secretary-General of the Conference, João Honwana, introduced and explained a number of technical corrections to the text.

The representative of the United States said that his delegation had noted during informals that it would have been preferable to take the text back to Washington for final review but under the circumstances, he understood why that could not have been done. Still, he was under instruction to consider the text "ad referendum" until such a review by his Government could be undertaken. His delegation would consider it as such.

Technical corrections, transcription errors and translation discrepancies were noted by the following delegations: Cameroon, Japan, Pakistan, Belarus, Algeria, Cuba, Republic of Korea, Mali, United Kingdom, China, Iraq, Sudan, Kenya, France, United States, Switzerland, Syria, Egypt, Canada, Peru, Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Nepal and Tunisia.

The Chairman of the Preparatory Committee, Carlos Dos Santos (Mozambique) said that all participants had done a great service to the citizens of their countries. Representatives had shown that even where strong differences existed, objectives promoting a common good could still be achieved. Indeed, that was the value of the United Nations. As a representative of an affected country and region, he would leave the hall with the feeling that the Conference would make a contribution to those peoples and countries that was reflective of the concerns expressed by African leaders in the Bamako Declaration. He could also leave the Conference believing that implementation of the elements of the Action Programme would begin immediately and with sound conviction.

In closing remarks, many delegations and representatives of regional groups paid tribute to the fortitude the President had shown in guiding the Conference to a successful conclusion. Delegations also acknowledged the efforts of Carlos Dos Santos (Mozambique), Chairman of the Preparatory Committee, for providing the Conference with a balanced and comprehensive draft which had focused the negotiations. Delegations also expressed gratitude to Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, and other members of the Secretariat.

Many delegations felt that the successful conclusion of the Conference was not the end of the international community’s work, but the beginning of a complex process to address the myriad challenges posed by the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. The true success of the Conference would be the effectiveness with which States implemented the provisions of the Programme of Action. One speaker noted that governments had made a commitment to consider all aspects of the small weapons problem, particularly brokering, tracing and the provision of financial and technical assistance. There was no turning back: the way the international community perceived these challenging and serious issues had been forever changed.

Another speaker noted that the Conference had been about the people most affected by the illicit small arms trade, and it was they who were most responsible for achieving agreement. Many said that there was no way to imagine the sadness African delegations felt at having to set aside their noble and important concerns in order to reach consensus. Others expressed dismay that the view of the overwhelming majority, on issues related to the control of arms used by citizens and the transfer of such weapons to non-State actors, had been held hostage by the "singular interest" of one delegation.

Closing statements and expressions of gratitude were also made by the representatives of Sierra Leone, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Mexico, Israel, Nepal, Canada, Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Cuba, Japan, Morocco, Kenya (on behalf of the member countries of the Nairobi Initiative on Small Arms), South Africa (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), United States, Guinea, Nigeria, Egypt (on behalf of the League of Arab States), China, Mali, United Kingdom, Viet Nam (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Namibia (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Bulgaria (on behalf of Eastern European States), and the Observer for Switzerland.

Programme of Action

In preventing, combating and eradicating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects, States undertook, at the national level, to:

-- put in place adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to exercise effective control over the production of small arms and light weapons within their areas of jurisdiction, and over the export, import, transit or retransfer of such weapons, in order to prevent illegal manufacture of and illicit trafficking in these weapons, or their diversion to unauthorized recipients;

-- establish national coordination agencies responsible for policy guidance, research and monitoring of efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade, including aspects of the illicit manufacture, control, trafficking, circulation, brokering, trade, as well as tracing, finance, collection and destruction of small arms and light weapons;

-- identify groups and individuals engaged in the illegal manufacture, trade, stockpiling, transfer, possession, as well as financing for acquisition, of illicit small arms and light weapons, and take action under appropriate national law against such groups and individuals;

-- ensure responsibility for all small arms and light weapons held and issued by the State and effective measures for tracing such weapons;

-- put in place and implement adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to ensure the effective control over the export and transit of small arms and light weapons, including the use of authenticated end-user certificates;

-- make every effort, without prejudice to the right of States to re-export small arms and light weapons that they have previously imported, to notify the original exporting State in accordance with their bilateral agreements before the retransfer of those weapons;

-- and develop and implement, where possible, effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, including effective collection, control, storage and destruction of small arms and light weapons, particularly in post-conflict zones, as well as address the special needs of children affected by armed conflict.

At the regional level, States undertook to:

-- encourage regional negotiations with the aim of concluding relevant legally binding instruments aimed at preventing, combating and eradicating the illicit trade, and where they do exist to ratify and fully implement them;

-- encourage the strengthening and establishing of moratoria or similar initiatives in affected regions or subregions on the transfer and manufacture of small arms and light weapons and/or regional action programmes to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade, and to respect such moratoria, similar initiatives and/or action programmes;

-- and establish, where appropriate, subregional or regional mechanisms, in particular trans-border customs cooperation and networks for information-sharing among law-enforcement, border and customs control agencies.

Among measures at the global level, States and the World Customs Organization would be encouraged to enhance cooperation with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to identify those groups and individuals engaged in the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects, in order to allow national authorities to proceed against them in accordance with their national laws.

With regard to implementation, international cooperation and assistance, States undertook to encourage the establishment and strengthening of cooperation and partnerships at all levels among international and intergovernmental organizations and civil society, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international financial institutions.

States and appropriate international and regional organizations in a position to do so should, upon request of the relevant authorities, seriously consider rendering assistance, including technical and financial support where needed, such as small arms funds.

In addition, States undertook to cooperate with each other, including on the basis of the relevant existing regional and global legally binding instruments, in tracing illicit small arms and light weapons, particularly by strengthening mechanisms based on the exchange of relevant information. They are encouraged to exchange information on a voluntary basis on their national marking systems on small arms and light weapons.

Annexed to the Programme of Action is a list of initiatives undertaken at the regional and subregional levels to address the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

Conference Highlights

The Conference, held at Headquarters from 9 to 20 July, addressed the increasing threat to human security from the spread of small arms and light weapons and their illegal trade. The General Assembly, which had placed the issue on the international agenda since the mid-1990s, decided, by its resolution

54/54 V of 15 December 1999, to convene the Conference. It also established a preparatory committee and requested it to recommend a draft final document for the Conference.

Held at the ministerial level, the Conference aimed to find ways to curb and eliminate illicit trafficking in small arms. The outcome, a comprehensive action plan negotiated during the Conference’s second week, contained measures that States can take at the national, regional and international levels.

Opening the Conference, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said there were an estimated 500 million small arms and light weapons in circulation -– one for every 12 people on earth. A significant number of those weapons ended up in the hands of outside forces, criminals and terrorists. Even in societies not torn by conflict, the proliferation of small arms had contributed to a culture of violence and crime by eroding the authority of legitimate but weak governments and by undermining respect for international humanitarian law, making peacekeeping that much more difficult.

Conference President Camilo Reyes Rodriguez (Colombia) said while it was critical that Member States take concerted action against the illicit trade in small arms as soon as possible, they must understand that the Conference and its outcome were only first steps in a process. Indeed, the scope of the illicit trade in small arms most notably affected development, as increased violence destabilized nations, regions and communities, tearing at the very heart of all our societies -- the family. Harri Holkeri, President of the fifty-fifth session of the General Assembly, added that people all over the world were looking to the Conference for meaningful steps towards enhancing human security and preventing further suffering.

Over the course of the Conference’s five-day Ministerial Segment, it heard statements from some 143 speakers, including one Vice-President, two Deputy Prime Ministers, 38 Foreign and other Ministers, and 23 Deputy Ministers. Of those,

131 represented their countries, four spoke for regional groups and eight for United Nations agencies and intergovernmental organizations. Delegations called for measures to curb the illicit trade in such weapons while reaffirming the legitimate right of States to own them for national security purposes.

As the Segment began, the Vice-Premier and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it was the duty of the international community to reduce the myriad threats posed by the illicit small-arms trade. Regional measures should be taken, but other problems required action on the global level.

Many delegations recognized that the African continent was the nexus of the global trade in illicit small arms and light weapons. Nigeria’s Defence Minister said even though the capacity of African States to manufacture small arms and light weapons was very much limited, the continent, unfortunately, was the recipient of large quantities of those weapons. In West Africa alone, it was estimated that there were some 7 million of those deadly weapons, and the incessant conflicts provided the perfect milieu in which the illicit trade in small arms, bartered for natural resources, continued to thrive. The Conference could not fail to lead the way and underscore, in an unambiguous manner, the collective determination to fight this scourge.

Mozambique’s Minister of Interior and State Minister for Defence and Security Affairs said in order to reduce the potential of violence, his Government had defined as a priority the identification and disposal of arms caches and the ultimate destruction of the weapons. Since 1995, the country had conducted operations resulting in the identification of 533 arms caches, as well as the destruction of 17,941 firearms, 574,036 rounds of ammunition and over 18,000 types of ordnance.

While welcoming the Conference as an opportunity to work toward the elimination of the illicit trade in small arms, the representative of Qatar, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said it was important that all efforts respect the sovereign integrity of States. It was also important for all to understand that the convening of the Conference did not mean that the international community should abandon its general commitments to overall disarmament, particularly nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Viet Nam’s representative felt the issue could best be approached through regional mechanisms, taking into account the different situations, capacities and priorities in each region. The illicit trade in his region was related to transnational crimes, such as the production and trafficking of drugs, money laundering and cross-border terrorism, conflict and post-conflict situations, and particularly the problem of armed separatism.

That sentiment was echoed by many delegations, particularly among the representatives of small island developing countries. Many speakers from the Latin American and Caribbean said the problem could not be solved by individual nations. Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Youth and Culture said the illicit arms trade in the region was underpinned and fuelled by the illegal drug trade. Also, fully automatic rocket launchers and missiles were increasingly the tools of the trade of criminal gangs and terrorist groups. It was time for the international community, particularly arms-manufacturing States, to consider implementing measures that would limit civilian access to weapons manufactured for military use.

Among the regional initiatives delegations highlighted were the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials, and the West African Moratorium on the Manufacture, Import and Export of Small Arms. Many delegations also highlighted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, approved in November 2000.

In efforts to dispel any misconceptions about what the Conference was and was not about, many speakers spelled out the scope of the debate. Several speakers noted that it was perhaps necessary to examine the legal small arms trade, as most illicit weapons started out in the licit arena. It was also stressed that the Conference was about the fundamental right of people, particularly women and children, not to be gunned down in cold blood by weapons illicitly acquired, transferred and used in the world’s various battlefields. Those battlefields, he noted, were not only found in conflict areas, but also in urban areas of many countries.

The representative of Nepal said children were indeed the worst part of the story. They found themselves caught up in every aspect of the violence wrought by the widespread availability of those weapons, as helpless victims, agile handlers or as addicted killers. Tragically, children got explosives and munitions when they needed food and medicine. The Conference should test States' commitments to the protection of the rights of the child and the virtues they attached to a responsible, non-violent society by promoting transparency in the arms trade and controlling illicit trade and transfers.

Another speaker noted the Conference was not about taking guns away from the civilian population for hunting or other legal purposes -– a fear expressed by more than one State. It was also not about interfering in national sovereignty or domestic laws on gun ownership. "We should not allow ourselves to be blown off course by the unfounded fears spread by powerful lobbying organizations."

The United States Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs stressed his country’s belief that the responsible use of firearms was a legitimate aspect of national life. All small arms and light weapons were not the same, nor were they all problematic. While he strongly supported the general thrust of the draft Programme of Action, there were several elements that he could not support as they went beyond the scope of appropriate international action. Those included measures to constrain the legal trade and legal manufacturing of small arms and light weapons, the promotion of international advocacy activity by international or non-governmental organizations, and measures to prohibit civilian possession of small arms.

The Assistant Secretary-General of Political Affairs for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) urged the Conference to take into consideration the Common African Position as reflected in the Bamako Declaration on the question of proliferation of light weapons and ways and means of insuring more effective arms control on the African continent. He appealed for a Programme of Action that was precise and realistic, focusing on prevention of illicit trafficking, strengthening export control measures, reducing arms surplus and monitoring existing stocks.

The representative of Uruguay, speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), echoed the sentiments of other delegations that international agencies and NGOs were making great contributions to efforts to combat the illicit trade in small arms, through such means as the creation of information campaigns and promotion of a culture of peace.

On a day set aside especially to hear the presentations of NGOs, concerned civil society actors told the Conference that the number of lives saved was the best measure of success or failure of the international community’s efforts to combat the scourge of the proliferation of small arms. The representatives of over 40 organizations addressed a variety of issues reflective of the myriad challenges posed by the illicit small arms trade, including its impact on the development of communities. Other speakers addressed issues related to firearm injuries and the effects of trauma.

A representative of the International Action Network on Small Arms said "now was the time to back words with commitments, and the commitments with action". Civil society was ready to help carry out the arduous task of implementing a comprehensive action plan as long as the measures envisioned would make a real difference for communities. Other speakers addressed the importance of domestic and international controls, as well as follow-up measures. Many others spoke of the humanitarian impact of the illegal arms trade on the world’s most vulnerable populations, namely disabled persons, women and children.

Believing that the United States position expressed during the ministerial segment represented "a minority view of a minority government", a representative of the Million Mom March said she sought to set the record straight. The majority of American citizens favoured better regulation of guns, including closing the gun-show loophole that allow criminals and minors to get weapons. The American public was learning that guns purchased in legal markets in their country often flowed into the global illicit market for small arms.

The Conference also heard from the representatives of 12 firearms community groups. While reiterating support for the Conference aims to address the illicit trade in small arms, a representative of the National Rifle Association (NRA) of America expressed concerns that the legitimate domestic rights of United States citizens to own and use legal arms might be restricted by the outcome.

The ultimate aim of the Conference, said the representative of Viva Rio, a Brazilian organization, must be a reduction in the number of human lives lost as a

result of small arms proliferation. A representative of the Arias Foundation, Costa Rica, said that the Conference should be guided by the right to life –- it was clear that arms were illegal when they were used to violate the basic principles of human rights.

The Bureau of the Conference consisted of the President, Camilo Reyes Rodriguez (Colombia), and 29 Vice-Presidents -- Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Moldova, South Africa, Spain, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

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