17 January 2006

Security Council Arms Embargo Enforcement, Link between Terrorism, Arms Trade among Issues, as Debate Continues on Small Arms Conference Recommendations

NEW YORK, 16 January (UN Headquarters) -- As efforts intensified to evolve a set of recommendations for the upcoming Review Conference this summer on the illicit small arms and light weapons trade, delegations, in two meetings today, highlighted a host of challenges to designing and implementing norms, regulations and administrative procedures and to curbing the excessive accumulation, misuse and uncontrolled spread of those weapons.

With delegates presenting their "wish lists" for inclusion in the review's outcome text, as the second and final week of the Preparatory Committee session got under way, attention remained focused on brokering, arms transfers, including to non-State actors, marking and tracing, civilian possession, and management of ammunition stockpiles.  Several speakers stressed the need to respect the Security Council-imposed arms embargoes, among them, the United States' representative.

Despite legally binding Security Council embargoes, he said that many parties forbidden to receive weapons continued to do so.  He called for strict enforcement of the embargoes, destruction of excess stockpiles, strong brokering laws and strong export and import controls to address the problems associated with arms falling into the wrong hands.  The United States continued to oppose measures limiting trade in small arms and light weapons to non-State actors, however, saying that a repressed, non-State group defending itself against a Government-imposed genocide should be able to receive such assistance.  It also opposed measures to restrict civilian possession, which fell outside the review's mandate.

Also pressing for strict adherence to Council-imposed arms bans, Switzerland's representative said the question centred on how best to link the problem of tracing those weapons with the major work of the United Nations, such as in the Security Council and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  The future small arms debate and the next session of the Peacekeeping Special Committee should explore how tracing could be improved in peacekeeping operations.  Among troop contributors and civilian staff, there should be specialized persons able to identify and trace those illicit arms.  The Review Conference should also make the problem of arms transfers to non-State actors, including terrorists, a theme, and recommend the establishment of a governmental expert group on the non-State actors' question.

Recalling that the 2001 Action Programme had recognized the close link between the illicit small arms trade and terrorism, Israel's representative said that it should be regarded, therefore, as an important instrument in the global anti-terrorism effort.  The Review Conference, in its outcome text, should call for a clear ban on arms transfers to unauthorized entities, particularly to terrorists.  He also urged States to implement the marking and tracing instrument adopted last year, as its guidelines were a basic requirement in the anti-terrorism struggle.  Israel had set a limit of one handgun per person, and the number of bullets held by a handgun owner was also strictly limited.  Control over civilian possession was being enhanced through stronger enforcement measures.

At the heart of what the review was trying to achieve, Canada's speaker said, was agreeing upon common norms and establishing a regulatory environment on civilian possession to help prevent the illicit production, transfer and use of small arms and light weapons without hampering the efforts of States to defend themselves and enforce their laws.  Nor would that prevent the possession and use of firearms by private citizens for legitimate purposes.  It was critical for each State to establish and maintain an appropriate national regulatory framework that would control access to firearms and how they were used, as well as to set up an effective regime of import and export and transfer controls to ensure that arms produced or transferred legitimately were not diverted for illegitimate use.

Egypt applied very strong restrictions on civilian possession, its representative said.  Touching on a theme raised by previous speakers, he said that review's outcome should contain an invitation to States to implement the arms embargoes of the Security Council.  The new international instrument on marking and tracing also had his support, and he hoped States would commit to its implementation.  It might not be judicious to discuss strengthening or developing it further, just one month after its adoption by the General Assembly.  As for export and import controls, those should be governed by national legislation.

From the European Union's perspective, cracking down on the illegal small arms trade crucially deepened the ability to systematically track weapons from their point of manufacture or importation to the point where they were diverted to illegal markets, Austria's representative said, on the Union's behalf.  The Action Programme had taken that into account when it dedicated one third of its operative paragraphs to the issue of tracing and related aspects.

He said that brokering, in itself, was not illegal, but most of those activities were unregulated.  Thus, irresponsible brokers could carry out dubious transfers because there were no laws to break.  Brokers acting illicitly played a key role in diverting weapons to illicit destinations, including to regions of conflict, embargoed actors and serious human rights abusers.  Despite distinct national and regional progress since 2001, 80 per cent of the Member States still had no national regulation to control brokering and, thus, were not in conformity with their commitment under the action plan.  Also, given that illicit brokering was cross-border in nature, a set of global standards were needed to combat that.

In "shelving differences" in the quest to find common ground, China's representative stressed, however, States should duly consider the diversities among countries and regions and respect each country's legitimate choice.  With full cooperation and further implementation of the Action Programme, more and more common understandings on the transfer controls issue would emerge and relevant principles of common application would be gradually established.  Only then could the formulation of common criteria on transfer controls be achieved on a voluntary basis.  Strengthened import/export transit controls would prevent legally transferred small arms and light weapons from ending up in illegal channels.

Moderating the debate on norms, regulations and administrative procedures were Hassan H. Hassan (Sudan), Jacek Januchowski (Poland) and Dominic Hayuma (United Republic of Tanzania).  The debate this afternoon on excessive accumulation, misuse and uncontrolled spread was moderated by Roman Hunger (Switzerland) and Pedro Augustin Roa (Colombia).  "Indicative issues" proposed for discussion by Preparatory Committee Chairman Sylvester E. Rowe (Sierra Leone) included:  supply and demand perspective; national security needs; disarmament, demobilization and weapons collection; post-conflict weapons problems; financing of illegal manufacture, trade, acquisition and possession; and diversion from legal to illegal trade.

On the latter topic, Nigeria's speaker, on behalf of the African Group, said that precious little attention had been given to the supply side of the problem.  The supply of the illicit small arms trade could be tackled by controlling illicit arms flows from the source through the establishment of a global mechanism to ensure the imposition of sanctions on arms manufacturers and suppliers, or on Governments diverting arms into illicit networks, particularly to non-State actors.  Unless those actors were held to account, there could be no progress.  The most effective means of curbing the demand for illicit small arms, however, were measures to prevent conflict.  Further, in affected States, the exploitation of natural resources channelled funds into the illicit small arms trade.

Namibia, after a 27 year-long armed liberation struggle culminating in its independence in 1990, had embarked on a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, its speaker said.  The disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants were carried out successfully, "war debris" was destroyed, and a demining programme was implemented with the assistance of donor countries.  Although the disarmament and demobilization were a success, the reintegration of former fighters continued to challenge the Government, as that was a long-term process requiring concerted and sustainable development.  For that reason, he called for action-oriented research on post-conflict reintegration programmes, in a bid to avoid relapses into conflict and to adequately implement the Action Programme.

Stressing the need to ensure the security and safety of ammunition stockpiles, Austria's speaker, on behalf of the European Union, said that stockpile management was an important means to block one of the most damaging channels for acquiring illicit weapons and ammunition.  Weapons management encompassed a wide range of issues, including stockpile management, marking and record-keeping of weapons and ammunition, identification of surplus weapons, disposal of weapons and the fight against corruption.  The fight against the illicit trade in ammunition was a pressing task.  Hundreds of millions of small arms and light weapons were in circulation, a great part of them in zones of instability.  For military combat, ammunition was needed in large quantities.

He said that the intensity of conflicts could be diminished significantly by interrupting the influx of ammunition and by drying up the stream of its illegal delivery.  Surplus ammunition was diverted from military stockpiles into zones of instability where it fuelled conflicts.  It also got into the hands of criminal gangs and terrorists.  Ill-managed ammunition stockpiles threatened the population since those damaged the environment and posed the risk of explosion.  At the regional and subregional levels, much work, including by the Union, had been dedicated to the issue of illicit ammunition.  Stockpile security also sought to prevent losses of ammunition, and stockpile safety was aimed at protecting ammunition and the stockpiles themselves against physical dangers.

Venezuela retained the right to stockpile and produce those arms it deemed necessary for its security needs, its representative said.  It was up to each State to determine, in a sovereign and voluntary fashion, its legitimate defence and security requirement, as well as whether any of its supply of small arms and light weapons could be deemed excessive.  It was also up to each State to determine whether the magnitude and nature of those weapons might be a risk to its own security, and what steps to take to improve management of its weapons stockpiles.

Because there was much work remaining, the representative of the Russian Federation said it was premature to talk about expanding the scope of the Action Programme to cover legal transfers.  It was still possible, however, to implement globally some "common minimal standards" for deciding whether or not to supply weapons to a certain country, but attempts to elaborate universal principles of inter-State military and technical cooperation would not likely succeed.  The idea was promising at the regional level, provided it gained regional acceptance.  To prevent "legal" arms from becoming "illegal", he proposed the following national measures:  limiting the number of intermediaries; denying supplies to non-governmental structures; ensuring that the importing State would use the arms for declared purposes; and preventing the use of expired licenses for trade abroad.

Representatives from the following delegations also spoke in the debate on "norms, regulations and administrative procedures":  Norway; Turkey; Kenya as Director of the Regional Centre on Small Arms; Poland; Jamaica; Japan; Senegal; South Africa; Spain; Russian Federation; Cuba; Australia; Argentina; Brazil; Finland; Colombia; Republic of Korea; United Republic of Tanzania; Venezuela; Nigeria on behalf of the African Group; Sierra Leone; Pakistan; and Uganda. A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also spoke.

Speakers in the debate on the excessive accumulation, misuse and uncontrolled arms spread also included Nicaragua, Sweden, Netherlands, Cambodia, Argentina, El Salvador, Burundi, South Africa, Côte d'Ivoire, India, Senegal, Canada, China; Switzerland; Norway; Malawi; United States; Kenya; Japan; Jamaica; Chile; Israel; and New Zealand.

The Preparatory Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 17 January, to continue its interactive thematic debates.

* *** *