3 August 2001


NEW YORK, 2 August (UNHeadquarters) -- Following is the text of the statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to today’s Security Council debate on small arms:

It gives me great pleasure to join you today, as the Security Council considers the contribution it can make in addressing the devastating impact of small arms and light weapons on people and societies throughout the world.

Last month's United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects achieved important progress. I would like to congratulate the President of the Conference, Ambassador Camilo Reyes Rodriguez of Colombia, for his instrumental role in ensuring a successful outcome.

The Conference attracted widespread attention, with the world's media reporting extensively on the cost and carnage caused by these weapons. Civil society groups from across the globe were deeply and creatively involved. And after intense and difficult negotiations, Member States forged consensus among diverse views and interests, and adopted a comprehensive Programme of Action. Faced with the global scourge of small arms, the international community has now begun an important process of constructive global action.

States have committed themselves to develop, strengthen and implement norms and measures aimed at preventing, fighting and ultimately eradicating the illicit manufacturing of and trade in small arms and light weapons.

They agreed to place special emphasis on post-conflict situations, and in particular to provide greater support to programmes for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, including child ex-combatants.

And they agreed to act responsibly in the areas of export, import, transit and re-transfer of weapons, since legal weapons all too often and all too easily find their way into the hands of terrorists, criminals and drug-traffickers.

States recognized the need to mark weapons and keep accurate records that will enable timely tracing and identification.

They pledged to improve implementation of arms embargoes decided by this Council.

And they agreed to destroy illicit or surplus weapons as necessary. I am pleased to note that the Department for Disarmament Affairs has produced a handbook on ecologically safe methods of weapons destruction, which I hope will assist States in this regard.

The Programme of Action calls for greater transparency and for education and public awareness programmes.

And to assess progress and maintain the momentum that has now been generated, it provides for a review conference to be held by the year 2006.

These are significant first steps in alleviating a grave threat to international peace and security. We must now consolidate these gains. A programme of action is a beginning, not an end in itself. Implementation will be the true test.

I would also encourage Governments to continue work on those issues on which consensus could not be found at the conference.

There is also the question of negotiating legally binding instruments. States have established international norms in the areas of nuclear non-proliferation, and have adopted treaties banning chemical and biological weapons and anti-personnel landmines. The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is conspicuous for its lack of such a framework of binding norms and standards.

There is also a need to address the supply side of the problem. Since the mid-1980s, there has been an increase in the number of companies and countries manufacturing small arms and light weapons. Some of the world's wealthy nations are the main suppliers. But many developing countries also produce small arms, including for export.

The devastating impact on children also warrants special mention. Children suffer the direct effects of small arms violence, such as death, injury or displacement; the loss of parents and siblings; and trauma at witnessing violence. But there are also severe indirect consequences, such as the destruction of health and education facilities and the lack of opportunities that comes with stunted societal growth.

The glorification of guns also sends children a terrible message: that non-violent solutions are unworkable and unrealistic, and that power is to be found not in one's skills or intellect, but by intimidating or inflicting harm on others. The fact that small arms require such minimal training has surely played a role in the recruitment of some 300,000 child combatants around the world.

Children are the most vulnerable victims of small arms and light weapons, and their special needs have not been given sufficient attention.

Small arms are easy to buy, easy to use, easy to transport and easy to conceal. Their proliferation exacerbates conflict, sparks refugee flows, undermines the rule of law and spawns a culture of violence and impunity. This is not just a question of disarmament; it is also an issue of development, democracy, human rights and human security.

Last month's landmark conference was not meant to infringe on national sovereignty, limit the right of States to defend themselves, or interfere with their responsibility to provide security. Nor was it meant to take guns away from their legal owners.

The targets remain unscrupulous arms brokers, corrupt government officials, drug trafficking syndicates, terrorists, armed groups and others who bring death and mayhem into our streets, schools and towns, and who ruin lives and destroy in minutes the labour of years. No country is immune from this threat.

There are no simple solutions, and no single method for dealing with the impact of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. Political commitments can make a critical difference in saving lives and easing suffering. And this Council has a major role to play in making small arms a focus of urgent global attention. I look forward to continuing our work on this central aspect of international peace and security. Thank you very much.

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