18 January 2006

Increased Technical, Financial Assistance, Civil Society Mobilization among Issues Raised as Debate Continues on Recommendations for Small Arms Review Conference

NEW YORK, 17 January (UN Headquarters) -- A "shockingly modest" $25 million a year was dedicated to fighting the small arms and light weapons scourge, while some $600 million was spent annually to combat a single weapon -- anti-personnel landmines -- which killed 20 times fewer people, the Preparatory Committee for the small arms Review Conference was told today.

As preparations for the July review of implementation of the 2001 Action Programme on the illicit small arms trade concluded its series of interactive thematic debates today, Canada's speaker said there was much to be gained by looking at the Ottawa Convention (Mine Ban).  The 148 States parties had voluntarily assumed hard targets and deadlines on destruction of stockpiles and mine clearance.  The treaty also obliged countries to provide technical and financial support to others.  With the small amount in global aid earmarked for the small arms problem, the challenge was clear:  to back up the political will with assistance to fully implement the Action Programme.

Expanding on the suggestion to model the arrangements put in place to implement the mine ban Convention, Nigeria's speaker said that States parties had assumed strong commitments as part of their treaty obligations to assist mine-affected States, and the results had been encouraging:  there was a progressively marked decrease in the global use, production, transfer and stockpiles of landmines, as well as a decrease in the number of mine victims, while victim assistance, mine clearance and mine action programmes had increased, along with the provision of financial and technical assistance.

On behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement of countries, Indonesia's speaker said that, based on national reports, several developing countries had indicated that they had received financial and technical support, and that 22 States had assisted them in small arms projects within the Action Programme's framework.  While such international assistance had grown in the past five years, it was still not sufficient in helping countries deal with the small arms and light weapons problem in all its aspects and the danger that continued to pose.  Equally important was to determine how the effectiveness of such assistance could be improved.

Thus, the Movement proposed that State and appropriate organizations in a position to do so should seriously consider rendering assistance for weapons collection and destruction, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes.  That should include effective collection, storage, control and destruction, particularly in post-conflict countries, stockpile management, transborder cooperation and information-sharing on cross-border activities, as well as cooperation on maritime borders.  States should also consider establishing a trust fund specifically dedicated to small arms and light weapons programmes.

The Review Conference was not a pledging conference, Egypt's representative asserted, but it should re-emphasize the common, yet differentiated, commitments to provide technical and financial assistance to States in preventing the illicit small arms trade and in enhancing implementation of those commitments.  He shared Canada's view that the Conference must contain in its recommendations a clear call for enhanced commitments towards increasing current assistance levels for affected and developing States.  Aware of the impact of underdevelopment as a major cause of the illicit small arms trade, he stressed that such assistance should not adversely affect official and international development assistance.

Post-conflict developing States were grappling with implementation, Sierra Leone's representative said, stressing that implementation of the Action Programme could only be accomplished through concerted international effort and commitment.  In the aftermath of the signing of the Loma Peace Agreement, Sierra Leone had made progress in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and community arms collection and destruction.  That had been further strengthened by the "arms for development" initiative of his Government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which ensured an arms-free community, where weapons, both licensed and unlicensed, were exchanged for community development programmes.  Countries with porous borders, however, remained vulnerable to weapons flows and former combatants.

He said that the Review Conference, therefore, should consider undertaking the following tasks, among others:  identify and adopt mechanisms for establishing national/international partnerships within the framework of regional arrangements; and express firm support for building the capacity of communities and law enforcement to tackle issues associated with the control of small arms and light weapons.  He recalled that most Member States had made a firm commitment in terms of financial and technical assistant at the second biennial meeting of States.  The forthcoming review would "open the window of opportunity" to move from rhetoric to action.

That interactive thematic debate, entitled "International cooperation and assistance" was moderated by:  Yoshiki Mine (Japan) and Kari Kahiluoto (Finland), both representatives of their Governments to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.  Also this morning, delegations completed their discussion on the third scheduled debate, on excessive accumulation, misuse and uncontrolled spread of those arms.  (For details of that debate, see Press Release DC/3008).

Wrapping up that debate, Benin's representative said that, for the least developed countries, particularly in Africa, the problem was related to the inability to of States to ensure the security of their populations.  Insecurity bred organized crime and supported the tendency to privatize security.  Privatized security, in turn, tended to increase violence, abusive detainments and other forms of ill treatment, while the perpetrators suffered no consequences, whatsoever.  In those times, impunity spread like gangrene throughout the State machinery.  The Action Programme, therefore, should pay particular attention to reinforcing State security, and not privatizing it, he said.

In the afternoon, the Preparatory Committee concluded two interactive thematic debates on "Communication" and "Follow-up and reporting mechanisms".  The first was moderated by:  Michelet Alouidor (Haiti) and Leslie Gatan (Philippines), and the second by:  Robert G. Aisi (Papua New Guinea) and Rosita Sortye (Lithuania).

On communication, the Philippines' representative said that the small arms problem went beyond the military and disarmament domains, also encompassing humanitarian and socio-economic consequences.  He accorded great importance to the Action Programme's call for the promotion of dialogue and a culture of peace involving all sectors of society.  Successful implementation of the Programme of Action would not be judged simply by the amount of weapons destroyed or by the number of regulations passed, but by the widespread inculcation of a proprietary sense among the general population of the problems associated with the illicit trade, as well of the culture of violence associated with that.

Agreement emerged that non-governmental organizations deepened discussions on the illicit small arms trade.  Japan's speaker said that the participation of those with relevant expertise should be encouraged.  India's representative said that, similar to civil society's mobilization of the mine ban movement, the small arms issue was exemplified by civil society engagement.  Those groups had contributed much to broadening understanding of the core issues and implementing the Programme of Action at the community level.  While creating a weapon-free and non-violent world might be a distant goal, the awareness campaign should intensify against the "culture of the gun" in favour of a "culture of peace and dialogue".

Having submitted a paper on "solving the content of the message", France's representative said his text had sought to identify the fundamental principles of communication on the small arms issue, and included a sample "umbrella message" designed to raise awareness of the small arms and light weapons issue.  It drew attention to the hundreds of thousands of deaths those weapons caused each year, and how they were used, not only to kill, but also to threaten, torture, maim and enslave children, women and men.  The text contained examples of certain key messages, which delegations should feel free to adopt, either fully or partially.

Turning to the final interactive thematic debate on follow-up, the speaker from the Netherlands said that the Action Programme's critical shortcoming was translating its provisions into action.  The text provided for biennial meetings to consider implementation, but no framework had been provided for how that implementation should be organized.  There were several provisions on which States had failed to take coordinated action, yet everyone wanted to "get serious" about implementation.  Regionally, there was also much room for improvement, and globally, States, international organizations and non-governmental organizations should come together on a more regular basis to accelerate implementation on such practical issues as resource mobilization and capacity-building.  He had submitted a short paper for consideration as to how, when and where that enhanced cooperation would occur.

The European Union suggested several measures to enhance follow-up and reporting, Austria's speaker said.  Nearly 60 States had not yet created the very basis for regional and global information exchange and cooperation by naming national contact points, under the Programme of Action.  A quick glance at voluntary national reporting on implementation showed that States were more likely to report when a major meeting on small arms and light weapons took place.  The Union supported consolidation of the review process and reporting around biennial meetings, as that could help reduce "reporting fatigue" and give several States  the chance to provide information that was focused on substance rather than quantity, with a special focus on the next Review Conference.

Argentina's representative urged the Review Conference to go beyond the context of the biennial meetings.  The Conference should not be restricted to a review of what had already been agreed upon, nor should it lead to a full opening up of the Programme of Action.  Several steps could be taken, including a review of implementation by using the reports of the biennial meetings as the basis.  The areas where the greatest difficulties had been encountered could be identified and progressive measures could be adopted.  Those could focus on, among other things, transfer controls and information exchange, and be based on a qualitative analysis of national reports, drawn up by the United Nations.  Two possible outcomes of the upcoming review were a political declaration and an agenda for action (2006-2011).

In the conclusion of the debate on "Excessive accumulation, misuse and uncontrolled spread" statements were made by the representatives of Brazil, Australia, Pakistan, Republic of Korea and Uganda.  A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also spoke.

Representatives of the following additional Governments participated in the debate on "International cooperation and assistance":  Nigeria; Pakistan; Switzerland; Finland; Japan; Canada; Algeria; South Africa; United States; Argentina; Chile; Sudan; India; Jamaica; Senegal; United Kingdom; Kenya; Republic of Korea; Trinidad and Tobago; Togo; Iran; and Nicaragua.  A representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also contributed.

The following representatives also participated in the debate on communication:  Ghana; Uruguay; Canada; Argentina; and the Republic of Korea.

Representatives of India, Senegal, South Africa, Canada, Ghana, China, Kenya, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, United States, Cuba, Iran, Egypt and Sierra Leone participated in the debate on follow-up and reporting mechanisms.  A representative of the UNDP also participated in that discussion.

The Preparatory Committee will meet again in plenary at a date and time to be announced.

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