27 June 2006

UN Not Negotiating "Global Gun Ban", Nor Is there Intention to Deny Law-Abiding Citizens Right to Bear Arms, Secretary-General Tells Small Arms Conference

States that One Quarter of Estimated $4 Billion Annual Global Gun Trade Believed to Be Illicit

NEW YORK, 26 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the United Nations Small Arms Review Conference in New York today:

Mr. President, let me first congratulate you on your election to chair this important session.  I am sure you are going to lead us to a successful conclusion and you will, I trust, have the support of all the members.

Five years ago, United Nations Member States made a commitment to urgently address the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.  The Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons represented a landmark consensus against the trafficking of small arms, and it gave us a blueprint to staunch the flow.

Today, we gather to mark that milestone, and to review our progress in realizing its commitments.

The problem remains grave.  In a world awash with small arms, a quarter of the estimated $4 billion annual global gun trade is believed to be illicit.  Small arms are easy to buy, easy to use, easy to transport and easy to conceal.  Their continued proliferation exacerbates conflict, sparks refugee flows, undermines the rule of law and spawns a culture of violence and impunity.

The majority of people who die directly from conflicts worldwide -- tens of thousands of lives lost each year -- and hundreds of daily crime-related deaths can be traced to illicit small arms and light weapons.

These weapons may be small, but they cause mass destruction.

I am glad to say that, since the adoption of the Programme of Action, we have seen significant progress.

Nearly 140 countries have reported on its implementation.  An overwhelming majority of them have laws to restrict the flow of illicit small arms and light weapons, and well over half have established national coordinating bodies to check their spread.

In addition, a third of all States have made efforts to collect weapons from those not legally entitled to hold them.  And a majority have implemented standards and procedures to secure and manage weapon stockpiles.

Regional and subregional cooperation to stem the flow of illicit weapons across national borders is on the rise.  I particularly welcome the entry into force of the Southern African Development Community and Nairobi Protocols, and the recent transformation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) moratorium into a legally binding instrument.

There are other noteworthy developments, as well.  The Firearms Protocol is now in force.  The United Nations General Assembly has adopted the International Tracing Instrument to identify and trace illicit small arms.  Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration are now part of all United Nations peacekeeping and post-conflict programmes.

And we have made advances on illicit brokering in small arms.  A group of governmental experts are set to study this problem later this year.  I hope they will come up with concrete recommendations on ways for States to act effectively against this nefarious activity.

Clearly, much has been accomplished, and much is currently being done. Yet, important challenges remain.

There is an urgent need for Member States to introduce or update legislation meeting the standards outlined in the Programme of Action.  Countries also require better stockpile management and security procedures to reduce weapons pilferage. And we must reach agreement on a realistic and effective approach to end-user certification.  Without such certification, any effort to regulate the trade and brokering in small arms and light weapons will be found lacking.

At the same time, 55 States have yet to report on the Programme of Action.  Some of the reports submitted contain insufficient data for the assessment of progress, while many national coordinating bodies lack the capacity or resources to carry out their functions.  Weapon collection efforts have destroyed a mere fraction of the illicit weapons available in conflict zones, or on city streets.  There is a need for even better international cooperation and increased donor funding to match unaddressed needs.

Inevitably, States must take the lead in dealing with these complex problems, and in clamping down on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.  But, civil society plays a significant role, as well.  Through awareness campaigns, advocacy, community initiatives, research and technical expertise, civil society actors have been instrumental in our efforts to implement the Programme of Action.  I am, therefore, delighted to see so many civil society organizations present here today.  I look to them to share their perspectives, their concerns and their expertise; I suspect they will do so vigorously!  I also want to thank them for bringing me the Million Faces [Campaign Petition], the million faces of people around the world, who are standing with us and who are fighting to make sure that this Plan of Action is implemented.

Let me also note that this Review Conference is not negotiating a "global gun ban", nor do we wish to deny law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms in accordance with their national laws.

Mr. President, with your permission, I would want to repeat, because there are people around who either have not heard this, or do not want to hear.  We are not negotiating a global ban, nor do we wish to deny law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms in accordance with their national laws.

Our energy, our emphasis and our anger is directed against illegal weapons, not legal ones.  Our priorities are effective enforcement, better controls and regulation, safer stockpiling, and weapons collection and destruction.  Our targets remain unscrupulous arms brokers, corrupt officials, drug trafficking syndicates, criminals and others who bring death and mayhem to our communities, and who ruin lives and destroy, in minutes, the labour of years.  To halt the destructive march of armed conflict and crime, we must stop such purveyors of death.

This is an ambitious -- but achievable -- goal.  The Programme of Action has already provided us with a framework.  Now, it is up to all of us, States, international and regional organizations, and civil society participants, to realize its aims.

It is in that spirit that I wish all of you a very successful Review Conference.

* *** *