Press Releases

    18 July 2005

    Implementing Existing Commitments Foundation for Combating Illicit Small Arms Trade, Says Chairman, as Meeting on 2001 Action Plan Concludes

    Import/Export Controls, Weapons Tracing, Among Many Issues Addressed; Week-Long Headquarters Gathering Preparation for 2006 Review Conference

    NEW YORK, 15 July (UN Headquarters) -- “New measures are not a substitute for good-faith implementation of old ones” the meeting to review progress in the implementation of a United Nations action plan to combat illegal trafficking in small arms and light weapons was told, at the conclusion of its five-day session at Headquarters this afternoon.

    Part of the follow-up to the July 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, the Meeting considered implementation of the action plan -- formally known as the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects -- which identifies national, regional and global measures aimed at small arms.

    “We have considered the state of play with regard to the full range of commitments assumed by Member States under the Programme of Action”, Chairman of the Meeting, Pasi Patokallio (Finland), said.  “We have considered these commitments together with our partners, international and regional organizations, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations.  It has been a good meeting.”

    Having presented an opportunity to exchange information and views more than had been previously, the Meeting had been devoted to the discussion of complex and interlocking themes that ran through the Programme of Action, he said.  The thematic discussion had been enriched by interventions from international and regional organizations and United Nations agencies.  The next biennial meeting should bring in non-governmental organizations as full partners, as well.

    He saw emerging from the discussions this week some overarching themes that would be central to future work, he said.  Implementation of existing commitments remained the foundation of all efforts.  Small arms trafficking, proliferation and misuse could be brought under much better control if all States implemented the commitments they had undertaken in 2001.  Among the needs, he listed international cooperation and assistance and capacity-building in affected States.  Without capacity, even States with the strongest political will and commitment could do little.  But there must also be political will and commitment on behalf of the recipient States for international cooperation and assistance to make a difference.  Aid could be wasted on small arms projects just as easily as on any other projects, if the political will to effect real change on the ground was lacking.

    Much had been said on a need for a comprehensive or holistic approach, he added.  Small arms trafficking, proliferation and misuse impacted on security, development and human rights.  There was a clear need for stronger supply-side measures.  Enhancing controls on transfers, globally, would go a long way towards preventing small arms and light weapons from being used to stoke conflict, undermine or even reverse development and violate human rights.  All States enforcing proper criteria in authorizing their arms transfers would go a long way towards dealing with the problem of non-State actors.  For the same reason, regulating brokers and brokering activities was also important.

    The fact that the international instrument to enable States to identify and trace illicit small arms was not legally binding was widely regretted, he said. The instrument, nevertheless, represented important progress. There was also a clear need on strong demand-side measures, including weapons for development programmes with strong community focus and local participation. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes certainly worked better when women were involved as equals in decision-making and in receiving the benefits, and when special needs of the children were taken into account. Weapons collection and destruction programmes in affected communities were needed, with immediate and public destruction of surrendered weapons acting as a confidence-building measure. Security sector reform was also a vital demand-side measure. While all such demand-side measures already benefited from international cooperation and assistance, more was required both in terms of political commitment in affected countries and in terms of resources, both internal and external.

    The review conference next year and its preparatory process would provide further occasions to address those issues, he said in conclusion, as well as other important events organized with a view to implementing the Programme of Action.

    The Meeting concluded with the adoption of its report, which includes the summary of proceedings during the session and lists weapons collection and destruction; stockpile management; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; capacity-building; resource mobilization; institution building; linkages with terrorism; organized crime; trafficking in drugs and precious minerals; import/export control; illicit brokering; human development; public awareness and culture of peace; children, women and the elderly among its main themes of discussion.  International cooperation and assistance were addressed as a cross-cutting theme.

    The report states that progress in national, regional and global implementation, in particular since the first review meeting in 2003, had been reported.  While welcoming the significant progress made, the Meeting recognized that further action was required to fulfil the commitments undertaken in the Programme of Action.

    Following the adoption of the report, the representative of Israel expressed disappointment that the document did not include reference to the recently adopted instrument on marking and tracing.  During action on the text, the representative of Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) had also expressed regret that a decision had been made in informal consultations not to include the issue of assistance, which was of great importance to the affected States.  Several delegates, including representatives of Sierra Leone and Benin, also wanted the text to include reference to national reports, which represented an essential part of the Programme’s implementation and review.

    Earlier today, Member States wrapped up thematic discussions, begun on Wednesday, on vital aspects for controlling small arms and light weapons, such as marking and tracing, linkages with terrorism, organized crime and precious minerals, and import/export control and illicit brokering of those weapons.

    Thematic Discussion Summary

    During the thematic discussion to evaluate the implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action to combat illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, participants focused on brokering, human development, the initiatives to mainstream the Programme into national policies and the efforts to increase public awareness of related issues.

    The need to avert the risk of diversion of small arms and light weapons to unauthorized entities and non-State actors was highlighted in the discussion.  States were urged to introduce legislative and administrative measures towards that end.  Among the proposed actions were standardization of end-user certificates, improved customs controls and better enforcement.  Speakers agreed on the urgency of developing national and international instruments to regulate arms brokering.  Summarizing progress achieved to date, the Meeting’s Chairman said that there were now some 30 States with legislation to regulate brokering.

    It was also pointed out that effective import/export control should include an efficient certification and licensing system, as well as measures to prevent forgery.  Countries needed to cooperate and share practices to ensure control, and regional arrangements were particularly important in that respect.

    There was an urgent need to develop cross-verification of arms transfers between the exporting and importing countries to prevent the weapons going to the illicit market, said the representative of Burundi.  At present there was no way to verify that arms were going to their intended end-users.  The delivery of arms should be authorized by the importing country before they are allowed to be received by end-users.  There should be criminal penalties for illicit transactions.

    While some delegations supported the introduction of minimum international export/transhipment standards, as proposed by the United Kingdom in its Transfer Control Initiative (TCI), others expressed doubt that such steps would be useful.  One Indian representative said that protracted negotiations would be required on the issue.  The focus should be on illicit trade, and introduction of minimum criteria should not lead to new standards being applied to legitimate transfers, which were a prerogative of States.  Effective management of stockpiles, improved regulation of possession by civilians and law enforcement would go a long way towards reaching the desired goals.

    Several countries shared their efforts to ensure responsible transfer of small arms and light weapons.  Argentina’s representative said that her country was implementing a set of political criteria to prevent misuse or diversion of exported weapons into the illicit market.  Some of those criteria took into account the political, economic, social and human rights situation of the recipient country, as well as the regional situation.

    The representative of the United States shared his country’s experience of implementing amendments to include brokering provisions in export control laws.  Persons engaged in brokering were required to register and to obtain licenses.  Those measures allowed the authorities to identify who was engaged in arms brokering and facilitated national review of proposed brokering activities.  Persons who violated brokering regulations were subject to penalties.

    Limiting the duration of licensing for brokers was another measure that could better regulate brokering, suggested the representative of Senegal.  A periodic review of brokers’ licenses should also be considered in national and international legislation on brokering.

    Other speakers suggested giving very clear mandates to the group of government experts to be established to review the question of brokering.  There was a need to study initiatives for promoting greater international cooperation.  It was critical to define and adopt new cooperative measures in that respect.

    Speakers also focused on the nexus between security and human development, which one speaker characterized as “the lethal interaction” between poverty, underdevelopment, crime, conflicts and violence.

    Iraq’s representative was among the speakers who described their countries’ suffering as a result of the proliferation of small arms among civilians and appealed for international assistance to address the situation.  In the case of Iraq, the problem had occurred not through illegal trade, but as a consequence of the dissolution of armed forces that had left stockpiles of arms in the hands of civilians.  Such a situation had grave security implications and had resulted in the death of more than 170,000 civilians and the disabling of many more.  Massacres that targeted civilians hindered the process of development in his country.

    Countries seriously affected by armed violence should address it as both a security and development issue, a speaker said.  Increased concern that excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread of small arms had a wide range of socio-economic consequences had led to increased cooperation between development and disarmament agencies.  Sensitivity to small arms proliferation should be incorporated into various international documents, including the outcome of the World Summit in September.

    The representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that the most effective way to address the small arms issue would be to incorporate it in national development frameworks.  That would allow governments to allocate sufficient and transparent resources for the efforts to stop the scourge of gun violence.  Some speakers also suggested that resources to combat misuse of small arms and light weapons should be part of official development assistance.  Given the multidimensional nature of the problem, appeals for international aid should be directed to security, development, human rights and other relevant agencies.

    Also highlighted in the debate was the need to recognize the needs of women, children and the elderly in the efforts to counter the disastrous impact of small arms and light weapons.  It was noted that while there were clear standards for the protection of children in armed conflict, atrocities against children continued largely unabated on the ground.  Information on rape, sexual violence, use of child soldiers and denial of access to the affected population should serve as a trigger for action.  Serious and concerted action was needed to address those issues.  Key international decision-making bodies, regional organizations and national governments should all act in the spheres within their purview.

    Several delegates agreed that public awareness campaigns should be community-oriented, and the civil society had a crucial role in that regard.  The role of the mass media was important in spreading the message of peace, achieving “mental disarmament” and stopping illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

    Special focus should be placed on the situation of children in post-conflict situations, a speaker said.  Another delegate added that an approach of dealing with children, women and the elderly in the context of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration had already been established, but more systematic attention should be paid to that area.  It was also pointed out that the absence of positive role models had a detrimental effect on society.  In that connection, a speaker advocated deployment of counsellors to communities, who would promote peace and stop gun violence.

    Summarizing the three-day thematic debate, the Chairman said that it had been a fruitful discussion.  Participation of regional and international organizations had been a very useful addition.  During the discussion, it had become very clear that some of the themes were so interlocked that they would benefit from being discussed together in the future.  For example, capacity-building, resource mobilization and institution-building should probably be dealt with in a single cluster.  Import/export control and brokering represented another cluster.

    The representative of Turkey said that his delegation’s statement during the thematic discussion on weapons collection and destruction had been reflected incorrectly in the United Nations Press Release of 13 July.  Therefore, his delegation was now circulating the statement and had requested the Department of Public Information to make a correction and to display the utmost attention to accurate reflection of Member States’ statements in the future.

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