Background Release

3 July 2003

First Biennial Meeting of States on the Implementation of the 2001 Plan of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons Opens in New York on 7 July

VIENNA, 3 July (UN Information Centre) -- The first Biennial Meeting of States on the Implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) will meet at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 7-11 July, 2003.  The Biennial Meeting will consider the implementation of the Plan of Action to eradicate the illicit trade in small arms.

The Plan of Action was adopted at the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects held in New York from 9-20 July 2001. The Conference succeeded in placing the SALW issue on the international agenda.

Small arms and light weapons kill 500,000 people every year, out of which 90 per cent are civilians. Of 49 major conflicts in the nineties, 47 were waged with small arms as the weapons of choice. Small arms are responsible for over half a million deaths per year, including 300,000 in armed conflict and 200,000 more from homicides and suicides.

The Plan of Action includes a number of measures at the national, regional and global levels to address what the UN Secretary-General has termed "a global scourge." The measures include: (a) Legislation: (b) Destruction of weapons -- confiscated, seized, or collected; and (c) International cooperation and assistance to strengthen States' ability to identify and trace illicit arms and light weapons.

The aim of the Meeting is to exchange information on initiatives undertaken during the first two years of the implementation of the Plan of Action by States, regional and international organizations, and civil society. It will highlight the successes achieved (best practices) and identify problems encountered.

Ambassador Kuniko Inoguchi, the Permanent Representative of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, will be the Chairperson of the Biennial Meeting.

UNODC Contributes to Plan of Action

I.  UNODC's Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition - An Important Instrument in the Fight Against the Illicit Trade in SALW

The UNODC Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which has now received the necessary 40 ratifications and will come into force on 29 September 2003, will serve as an important tool in the fight against the illicit trade in SALW. The Convention's Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 31 May 2001 (Res/55/255), is presently open for ratification.

The measures in the Convention, which include mutual legal assistance, the extradition of offenders and cooperation in tracing and confiscating proceeds and other crime-related property, can be used alone in any SALW-related case where the activities are serious crimes involving transnational and organized crime elements.  These can be used between State Parties as soon as the Convention comes into force in September.

When the Protocol comes into force, these general measures against transnational organized crime will be supplemented by specific measures against illicit trafficking in firearms, including criminal offences for illicit manufacturing and trafficking, requirements to mark all firearms, and assistance in tracing and other investigative measures. The Protocol obligations apply only to "firearms" and not all "small arms," but States Parties are free to extend the offences and preventive measures to SALW if they wish.

The Protocol will prove an effective instrument against illicit firearms trafficking, and will come into force when 40 countries have ratified it.  Countries are urged to ratify and fully implement it as quickly as possible.

II. UNOCD / OSCE Project on Uzbek-Afghan Border Addresses Some of  Plan of Action's  Concerns

The Termez-Hayraton Cross Border Training Programme run by UNODC on the Uzbek-Afghan border focuses on strengthening the capacities of Uzbekistan's border and customs forces through training programmes to combat drugs flows and other cross-border organized crime, including SALW trafficking. The input of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre to the programme helps combat illicit cross-border trafficking in SALW between the two countries.

 The problem is enormous since in Afghanistan alone there are estimated to be 10 million small arms.

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