10 July 2006

United Nations Conference Aimed at Strengthening Global Effort against Illicit Small Arms Trade Ends without Agreement on Final Document

President Says Action Plan Validity, Effectiveness Undiminished; Canada Calls for Informal Meeting in 2007 to Accelerate Implementation

NEW YORK, 7 July (UN Headquarters) -- The first Conference to review an ambitious 2001 Programme of Action to control the illicit trade in small arms ended this evening without agreement on a formal outcome document, thus failing to provide the General Assembly with either a mandate to conduct a further review in five years, or guidance on future implementation.

The Programme of Action, which had been endorsed by United Nations Member States in 2001, had provided for the convening of a Review Conference by the General Assembly no later than 2006, to assess progress in implementing the action plan.  It had also provided for biennial meetings of States to consider national, regional and global implementation, which would go forward as previously agreed.

Establishing a global framework for curbing the illicit trade in small arms, the action plan contained substantial agreed norms and programmes on several issues, including preventing and combating the illicit production and trafficking of small arms and light weapons; ensuring effective controls of the legal production of those weapons; their holding and transfer; weapons collection and destruction; and the control of those arms in post-conflict situations.  National strategies, which had been an important result of the 2001 Conference, were in varying stages of implementation, but they had emerged as a key focus for increased global assistance.

Asserting that the real victims of the outcome tonight were the millions of people around the world dying daily from small arms violence, Finland's speaker, on behalf of the European Union, said he "deplored the lack of progress on the priority areas", as well as on issues such as the role of civil society, civilian possession, gender issues, stockpiles management, man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), and the human rights aspects of the illicit use of small arms.  Following adoption of the Conference's procedural report, he said the Conference had missed an opportunity to "make a real difference in the common fight against this scourge", owing to the unwillingness of some delegations to make significant progress.  He also regretted that civil society's momentum had not been matched by the will of States.

Canada's representative, confident that the General Assembly would see the merit of continuing with a formal follow-on to the Conference, said that, although he would have preferred a formal mandate from the Conference, Canada would seek to convene an informal intercessional meeting of States to discuss concrete measures to accelerate implementation.  That meeting would be held in Geneva in the spring or autumn of 2007, and be one week in duration.  It would focus on transfer controls, the specific refinement of global principles and resource mobilization.  It would be funded on a voluntary basis by States in a position to do so, and all relevant United Nations agencies, international and regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations would be invited to attend as observers, and be welcome to contribute to specific discussions in an advisory capacity.

Also deeply regretting that the Conference had not reached agreement, particularly on a blueprint for its follow-up, Iran's speaker said, however, that that should not be seen as a failure of will to follow-up on the 2001 Plan.  States could decide to hold biennial meetings and the General Assembly could decide to hold another five-year review, if it so wished.  "See you in 2008," he added.

Kenya's representative said that his delegation had sincerely hoped for progress, particularly because his region continued to suffer the impact of the illegal small arms trade.  But, the fact that delegations had refused to budge from their positions, had led to the Conference's failure.  Kenya would continue to work on the issue -- within its region and beyond -- for it was too important a subject to be left unaddressed.  It would continue to pursue the matter in the Assembly.

The representative of the United States said the lack of consensus would in no way impact on his country's commitment to implement the Programme or offer assistance, and it would not shirk from its duty in the area, particularly transport controls, marking and tracing, and export controls, among others.  The United States would continue its assistance to States seeking to implement the Programme.  It had expanded such assistance every year since 2001, and intended to expand its efforts in Africa and Eastern Europe, among other regions.  His country would also continue to help countries facing the lethal consequences of illicit trade in small arms.

If "push comes to shove", said Sierra Leone's speaker, the issues debated here would be voted upon.  "We shall not depend on this concept of consensus, which, in my view, has been used as a weapon to destroy the work that we have done, the work that you have done, and all that we have put in," he said.  He looked forward to the session of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), and, "if we have to vote, we will vote, and make sure we save the people -- the children -- who are suffering from the use of these illicit weapons."

Conference President, Prasad Kariyawasam (Sri Lanka), said that an agreed final document had been "within grasp", but, ultimately, it had been impossible to conclude it.  In the final analysis, however, the Action Programme had remained an enabling framework that empowered States, global and regional organizations, and civil society to work for its full and effective implementation.  Its validity and effectiveness remained undiminished; it was a living document.  In the action plan, the international community shared a common blueprint of what needed to be done and how to achieve the objectives.  Not having a final document at the Conference had not altered the resolve to confront the scourge of the illicit trade in small arms.  Furthermore, the Conference had attracted unprecedented global attention, and everyone had been enriched by the contributions made to advance the issue.

Opening briefly this morning in a formal meeting, delegations adopted the draft resolution recommended by the Credentials Committee, containing credentials of representatives of the States to the Conference (document A/CONF.192/2006/RC/8).

Closing remarks were also made by the representatives of Indonesia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), India, Argentina (on behalf of the Southern Common Market), Barbados (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Saudi Arabia (on behalf of the Arab Group), Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, Japan, Guatemala, Mali, Niger, Australia, Pakistan, France, Liberia, Israel and Egypt.  Additional speakers delivered their statements in their national languages after interpretation services had ended at 6:15 p.m.

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