16 January 2006

Arms Trade Impact on Development, Transfer Controls, Brokering Addressed, as Preparatory Body Debates Key Issues for Small Arms Review Conference

NEW YORK, 13 January (UN Headquarters) -- No one disputed the close nexus between development, peace, security and human rights and the illicit small arms trade, but divergent views emerged today about whether the upcoming review in June/July on the illicit arms trade and its preparatory process was the correct forum in which to examine those linkages.

On the third day of its two-week session, the Preparatory Committee for the small arms Review Conference began a series of interactive thematic debates aimed at identifying key issues for inclusion in the outcome of this summer's review.

This morning's discussion focused on the human and humanitarian, socio-economic and other dimensions of the illicit arms trade, for which participants had before them a paper of the Committee Chairman, Sylvester E. Rowe (Sierra Leone).  It suggested several "indicative issues" to be discussed, among others:  creating yardsticks for measuring progress; additional programmes States could establish to promote "arms for development" projects; whether the implementation strategy could address "civilian-on-civilian" gun violence; victims' suffering; and a role for the new Peacebuilding Commission in strengthening the Programme of Action.

Moderating that debate were the Committee Chairman, Mr. Rowe, and Deputy Director, Directorate of Arms Control and Military-Technical Cooperation, Foreign Affairs Ministry of Ukraine, Serghii Shutenko (Ukraine).  The afternoon's discussion, moderated by Hassan H. Hassan (Sudan), Jacek Januchowski (Poland), and Dominic Hayuma (United Republic of Tanzania) took up the question of norms, regulations and administrative procedures.  Topics included:  ratification of legally binding instruments; illicit brokering; end-user certificates; non-State actors; export/import control; and compliance with United Nations sanctions regimes.

In the course of the discussion, some speakers questioned whether such items as poverty and health were appropriate concerns for the Preparatory Committee and the Review Conference process.  The United States' representative said that those issues were "tangential" to the main purpose, namely to address illicit small arms trafficking.  Thus, the focus should be on those core issues that did the most to advance that work, namely the destruction of excess, loosely protected and at-risk arms stockpiles, proper stockpile management and maintenance, brokering, export and import controls, and marking and tracing.  The more time the focus rested elsewhere, the less time the session would have to address the core issues, he said.

Nevertheless, a robust debate ensued, in which many speakers asserted that the humanitarian aspect of the small arms problem was very much a part of a review of progress in eradicating the illicit small arms scourge.  Ghana's representative stressed that tackling poverty and underdevelopment was unquestionably at the heart of every effort to control the misuse and proliferation of small arms and light weapons.  The small arms Review Conference, therefore, should call on the international community to place a premium on efforts to eliminate poverty and underdevelopment.

Mexico's speaker asserted that the nature of the small arms menace was multidimensional.  All items on the Chairman's non-paper should be considered, and perhaps more.  Peace, security and development were interlinked, as the world leaders noted in September.  Their instructions, as set forth in the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit should be respected.  The issue was the illicit small arms and light weapons trade "in all its aspects".  Five years after adoption of the Action Programme, the multidimensional aspect of the problem had been recognized, but not everyone had understood all of its components.  Moreover, the Preparatory Committee was not a subsidiary body of the Disarmament Committee, and now was the time to identify priorities and not seek to eliminate any of them.

The Action's Programme preambular section had spelled out the repercussions of the illicit small arms trade on poverty and underdevelopment, Egypt's speaker recalled. So, the first step in international efforts to implement the action plan should be to treat the root causes of armed conflict, which, in turn, created a demand on illicit arms trafficking.  That, subsequently, prolonged the conflict, thereby impeding respect for human rights and international development efforts.  Indeed, there was a direct link between development and illicit arms trafficking.  The international community should support developing countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable development and resolve conflicts, and developed countries should implement their pledges and renew their commitment to Summit outcomes.

Kenya's representative drew attention to the enormous economic, emotional and psychological effects of armed violence on survivors, saying that the burden was heaviest in developing countries where survivors were unable to support the cost of surgery or prolonged therapy. The Action Programme had addressed the question of survivor assistance, but very weakly. The Review Conference was an opportunity to build on that dimension of the small arms challenge. He proposed three points for inclusion in the outcome text:  reaffirming States' responsibility to ensure adequate health care for all victims of armed violence; addressing such gaps in national action plans on small arms, and stepping up multilateral assistance in that regard; and strengthening the links between the small arms process and conflict prevention and victim assistance.

Similarly, the Permanent Observer for the Holy See said that the primary responsibility for controlling arms flows rested with the Governments. Preventing proliferation was not enough, especially in post-conflict situations where many would not voluntarily give up their arms without an opportunity for a way out of poverty.  People were more likely to turn over their guns in exchange for participation in rehabilitation programmes and microcredit schemes, and for the provision of basic services, such as food and health care. To achieve effective civilian disarmament, the national Governments should be able to reduce weapons' spread.  The arms trade also needed more effective controls globally, as transfer controls were full of gaps and often exploited by brokers and others.

On behalf of the European Union, Austria's speaker agreed that, unless people felt secure, they might not feel able to give up their weapons.  National and global poverty reduction strategies should ensure full implementation of the Action Programme. Inclusion of small arms issues in national development policies ensured sustainable small arms control measures. Globally, the relevant agencies should recommend how best to integrate small arms measures into development frameworks.  More guidance was also needed on the links between formal disarmament and wider voluntary weapons collection programmes.  Those should complement each other, but they must be properly sequenced as part of post-conflict recovery.

Stressing that the United Kingdom attached particular importance to the issue of transfer controls, its representative noted that, since 2003, many States had supported a regional partnership focused on effective controls over small arms and light weapons through a number of regional and international workshops.  That process, known as the Transfer Controls Initiative, had helped States to build from the bottom up in articulating guidelines that reflected their security concerns.  The essential principle had been established in 2001, but since then, it was increasingly clear that that was one part of the Action Programme that would benefit from further elaboration.  The review should take account of that initiative and acknowledge what had already been achieved by a number of regions, notably the Nairobi Declaration countries, Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Nigeria's representative said his country also attached great importance to transfer controls, specifically to prevent the acquisition of arms by non-State actors.  Weapons, whether nuclear or small arms, were dangerous in the hands of non-State actors, which was why the Security Council had adopted resolution 1540 (2004).  Similarly, the General Assembly last year adopted a resolution on the non-transfer of man-portable air defence systems to non-State actors.  Now, the Preparatory Committee needed to forward a recommendation to the Review Conference relating to the transfer of small arms to non-State actors.  An international standard in that regard must be transparent, non-discriminatory and non-selective, he added.

Indonesia's representative shared that view, and also sought to forward to the Review Conference a recommendation on civilian possession of small arms and light weapons.  He underlined the importance of the marking and tracing instrument adopted last year by the General Assembly, and urged States with more advanced technology to render their support and assistance in terms of transferring technologies to all States that requested it to enable all countries to fully implement the new instrument.

Turning to illicit brokering, New Zealand's representative highlighted the volume of evidence that had been amassed since the 1990s on the extent and dramatic consequences of known examples of illicit brokering activities. Those examples had suggested that regional and subregional initiatives, alone, were not "up to the task".  As for whether United Nations moratoriums had been successful, the evidence suggested that, no, those had not been 100 per cent effective. In addition, lax civil aviation controls and weaknesses, including with respect to end-user certificates, had contributed to small arms and light weapons falling into the "wrong hands". States had not done enough. The preparatory process should make a very clear recommendation to review the transfer controls issues and consider developing criteria and guidelines for such controls.

India's representative underscored the need to forward a recommendation aimed at preventing terrorists' acquisition of weapons. The 2001 Action Programme had highlighted that the illicit small arms trade fuelled conflict and terrorism. Within the United Nations system, the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee had focused on cutting off financial support to terrorists, and its resolution 1540 (2004) had dealt with preventing terrorists' acquisition of mass destruction weapons.  The World Summit Outcome text had repeated the call to freeze the assets of terrorists and ensure that national territories were not used for terrorist activities.  Steps should be initiated now to eradicate the illicit small arms trade in the broader context of the global anti-terrorism campaign, through the development of an international norm on the non-transfer of those weapons to non-State groups.

The Preparatory Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 16 January, to continue its interactive thematic debates.

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