15 July 2005

Global Standard for Tracing Weapons, Tighter Import/Export Controls among Issues Raised, in Day-Long Debate on 2001 Action Plan on Small Arms

NEW YORK, 14 July (UN Headquarters) -- In a full day of thematic discussions held to assess progress on a 2001 action plan to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, delegations highlighted universal standards for the marking and tracing of weapons, capacity-building, resource mobilization, linkages among criminal activities, and tighter import/export controls as essential for advancing global efforts.

The weeklong Second Biennial Meeting, which began Monday, is a follow-up to the July 2001 Conference that adopted the plan.  A Review Conference on the plan’s implementation is scheduled for 2006.

Preceding today’s thematic discussions, Anton Thalman (Switzerland), Chairman of the Working Group established to negotiate a marking and tracing instrument, briefed delegations on the recently adopted political instrument for the marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons.  While acknowledging the difficulties in resolving differences regarding the nature of the instrument, he said the procedural report adopted by the Working Group succeeded in laying down the necessary groundwork for advancing the critical process of marking and tracing of illicit arms.

He added that the consensus reached by the Working Group reflected the political will and commitment of delegations to finding common ground for the implementation of the Programme of Action to combat the illicit arms trade.  He pointed out that the instrument included a detailed definition of small arms and light weapons, proposing standards for marking and record-keeping.  The application of the instrument in United Nations peacekeeping operations, he added, was among various aspects that should be further considered.

Acknowledging the importance of the adoption of a global agreement addressing the marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons, speakers agreed the instrument would serve as a valuable guide to future actions in the fight against illicit arms trafficking.  However, there was widespread dissatisfaction that the marking and tracing agreement was not a legally binding instrument, which many speakers insisted was necessary in order to effectively curb the illicit trade.

Several delegates from Africa expressed concern that the lack of a legally binding document posed a grave threat to peace and security in the war-ravaged regions of the continent, stressing that it was only through a legally binding agreement that the transfer of small arms among non-State actors could be effectively halted.  Some delegations expressed regret that the document did not contain clear language for the provision of technical and financial assistance for those countries lacking sufficient resources to carry out effective marking and tracing programmes.  Another gap noted was the agreement’s failure to address the question of marking and tracing ammunition, an indispensable component of all small arms and light weapons.

Despite such shortcomings in the agreement, speakers reiterated their commitment to continue working at the national, regional and international levels to implement the Programme of Action, with the hope that a legally binding instrument would be adopted in the future.  One speaker pointed out that, while the instrument made no reference to terrorism, it could still contribute to the global fight against terrorism.  If national policies were in line with the provisions of the agreement, they would constitute a significant contribution to global efforts to eradicate small arms and light weapons.

Turning to the interrelated themes of capacity-building, resource mobilization and institution-building, Member States shared national experiences and best practices accumulated over the years.  Speakers agreed that adequate resources were needed to undertake sustainable strategies in the implementation of the 2001 Action Programme.  Such problems as the porous nature of borders, inadequacy of national institutions and legislation, the lack of inter-agency cooperation, and the lack of skilled personnel and technical equipment limited the capacity of national law enforcement and customs authorities to curb the spread of small arms in many countries.  Thus, capacity-building, at both national and regional levels, was one of the most crucial elements of international efforts.  Drafting legislation to better monitor and regulate the flow of arms and improve law enforcement capabilities was critical in that regard.

While emphasizing the importance of national ownership of disarmament and anti-proliferation efforts, several developing countries’ representatives insisted that increased international support would seriously augment their efforts.  Given the transborder nature of trafficking in small arms and light weapons, assistance was needed in such fields as training, border control, dissemination of best practices, operational planning, investigation, arms recovery and destruction.  There was a critical need to strengthen structures for regional or subregional cooperation, along with effective national commissions to coordinate activities and action.  In post-conflict situations, it was imperative to not only disarm ex-combatants, but also to empower local communities, providing them with a real means of livelihood, and to integrate capacity-building into national development plans.

It was further noted that capacity-building was related to the work of various agencies and international organizations that played a vital role in resource mobilization and coordination efforts.  Regional organizations could contribute to efforts to optimize the use of resources through integration of various countries’ efforts.  Creation of regional drug and weapon control centres were cited as among the most useful initiatives.  Innovative budgeting approaches could also contribute to solutions for problems associated with programme financing.

Speakers then addressed the alarming links, or “unholy alliances”, among the illicit arms trade, organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking.  Understanding these links remained a key challenge and had grave implications for international security.  There was wide agreement that the fight against the spread of illicit small arms and light weapons should form an integral part of international efforts to curb terrorism.  Small arms and light weapons, including Man Portable Air Defence Systems, were known to have been used for terrorist purposes, one speaker pointed out.  Ammunition and related explosives had been used in a number of countries, including Iraq, Ireland and Algeria.

Like terrorism and drug trafficking, the problem of small arms respected no national boundaries, another speaker noted.  Thus, there was a need to harmonize national legislation addressing those issues, along with the adoption of common approaches to dissuade the armed groups from using such weapons by denying them access to funding and introducing arms embargoes.  Exchange of intelligence, criminal assistance and investigative cooperation were also of crucial importance.

Also emphasized was the importance of accurate licensing and record-keeping and effective policing of countries’ boundaries.

On the question of import/export controls, speakers shared national experiences and called for the improvement of existing systems for regulating transfers of small arms and light weapons.  Such improvements should include the strengthening of customs systems, the establishment of uniform standards for export control and end-use certificates, and increased international cooperation.  Speakers agreed that export controls were a key safeguard in States’ oversight of arms transfers.

While it was acknowledged that each State must decide on its own export control system, all systems should be backed by comprehensive laws and procedures and strong enforcement measures.  Other useful means of import/export control were preventing the forgery of end-user certificates, elimination of legislative loopholes, and reduction in the number of authorized brokers, with strict punitive measures to act as a deterrent for illicit brokers.

It was important to do away with intermediaries, or so-called “dogs of war”, one delegate said.  International instruments were also needed, along with the immediate development of minimum international transfer controls.  Every decision taken by international fora should be communicated to those involved.  Since small arms and light weapons were delivered to the users by means of air transportation, the 2006 Review Conference should consider how International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) could support international goals on brokering.  The revised Programme of Action should include marking and tracing provisions for explosives and ammunition, measures to combat illicit brokering, stepped-up transparency measures and legally binding control measures.  Regional initiatives should also be taken into account.

The Meeting will reconvene at 10 a.m., Friday, 15 July, to continue thematic discussions and to consider and adopt the report of the Meeting.

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