Universal action needed to halt illegal proliferation of small arms and light weapons, says Secretary-General as he opens meeting of States parties

Report
from UN Disarmament Commission
Published on 14 Jul 2008 View Original
DC/3119

Meeting of States to Consider Action
Programme on Illicit Small Arms Trade
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

High numbers of innocent civilians continued to fall victim to small arms, requiring joint action by all to halt their illegal proliferation, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message delivered on his behalf today at the opening of the Third Biennial Meeting of States on combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

Since 2003, Member States have gathered every two years to consider the implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects, which was adopted in 2001. The Programme of Action contains a number of measures to control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, including legislation, destruction of confiscated weapons, and strengthening the ability of States to identify and trace those weapons. The Third Biennial Meeting of States runs from 14 to 18 July.

In his message, delivered by Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, the Secretary-General noted that there were more small arms and light weapons in circulation today than there had been in 2001. All sectors of society, from Governments and parliamentarians, to civil society organizations and local communities, must join together to stem the illicit arms trade.

Pasi Patokallio ( Finland), outgoing Chairperson for the Meeting of States, opened today's session by stressing the importance of focused international cooperation and noting that States with national action plans and dedicated bodies were more likely to actively pursue the cause. In particular, the regulation of illicit brokerage throughout the world remained weak, with unscrupulous brokers continuing to break Security Council embargoes. Transferring and producing States were not the only ones involved; countries most likely to engage in the illicit arms trade tended to be those that performed poorly on the Millennium Development Goals.

During the ensuing debate, an official of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research noted that States affected by the illicit small arms trade were often unable to communicate their needs to donors, and stressed the need for greater communication between the two.

Agreeing, Indonesia's delegate, who spoke on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said it had prepared a working paper on how to enhance the flow of assistance to countries needing international assistance and cooperation to build their capacity to control private ownership of small arms, and to trace and identify illicit small arms and light weapons.

Expanding on that topic, the representative of the United Kingdom offered a donor State's point of view, saying it was important to focus on fewer, but larger, programmes and projects. Member States should explore the possibility of creating informal working groups that could meet periodically to discuss key implementation questions on various issues and themes. Such groups could report their non-binding findings to future biennial meetings.

In the afternoon, the Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch in the Office of Disarmament Affairs delivered a presentation on the 'Programme of Action Implementation Support System', designed to improve the work processes connected to the Programme of Action. The Implementation Support System was intended to act as an online clearing house of international assistance. The website would incorporate a tool, first developed by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, to match needs and resources.

Also speaking were the representatives of Australia, Brazil (on behalf of the Southern Common Market), France (on behalf of the European Union), Nigeria (on behalf of the Group of African States), Philippines, Gabon, Iraq, Japan, Burundi, Ukraine, China, Barbados (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Colombia, Netherlands, India, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras, Congo, Austria, Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Benin, Switzerland, Sweden, Russian Federation, Norway, Algeria, Finland, Sri Lanka, Uganda, South Africa, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guyana, Canada, Japan, Sierra Leone, Turkey and Iran.

Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Regional Centre on Small Arms, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also spoke.

At the outset, the Meeting elected, by acclamation, Dalius Cekuolis of Lithuania as Chairperson, who announced that Daniel Avila Camachio of Colombia had agreed to act as facilitator on international cooperation and assistance and national capacity-building; Jong Kwon Youn of the Republic of Korea as facilitator on illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons; Jurg Streuli of Switzerland as facilitator on stockpile management and surplus disposal; and Hossam Aly of Egypt as facilitator on the international tracing instrument.

Delegates also elected, by acclamation, the representatives of Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland, Japan, Liberia, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland and Trinidad and Tobago as Vice-Chairpersons of the Meeting.

The Meeting of States will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 July, to continue its debate.

Background

The Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects met this morning to begin its third biennial session.

Statements

PASI PATOKALLIO (Finland), outgoing Chairperson of the Meeting, said that, seven years after the adoption of the Programme of Action on Illicit Trade in Small Arms, the international community was continuing to exhibit strong commitment towards the cause, with 430 national reports having been submitted on implementation so far. The reports indicated varying degrees of progress: many reviewed legislation to better control possession and transfers; and some showed that functional coordination between bodies in at least 100 countries had led to coherent small-arms control policies. National action plans were important because they provided a basis for focused international cooperation and assistance. States with institutions dedicated to the cause were also more likely to be engaged regionally and internationally.

He said concerted efforts were needed to build and strengthen national capacity and manage stockpiles. Because the diversion of weapons into illicit markets continued to be a problem, end-user certification systems must be improved. Continuing awareness-raising actions should target all levels of Government and civil society. In addition, States must improve the way in which they prioritized their needs so as to enhance international cooperation. The regulation of illicit brokerage remained weak, with unscrupulous brokers continuing to break Security Council embargoes. The recent report by the group of Government experts in small arms brokering provided clear guidance on how to deal with that issue, and was therefore recommended reading. Transferring and producing States were not only the ones involved; there was a need to broaden the world's understanding of the issue. Countries most likely to engage in the illicit arms trade tended to perform poorly on the Millennium Development Goals.

The illicit trade had a negative impact on women and girls, who were much needed agents of change, he said, stressing that, for that reason, the world must study the issue with a sensitivity to gender issues. Perhaps the international community should study ways to develop alternative livelihoods so as to dissuade people from engaging in such illicit activities. At the present Meeting, States would begin considering implementation of the Programme to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons, which was an important tool in combating their spread. They would also consider ways to improve the Programme of Action by improving synergies between regional, national and international initiatives.

The Office of Disarmament Affairs was currently developing a Web-based tool to implement the Programme, which would hopefully demonstrate that simple solutions could go a long way to achieve 'lofty goals', he said. It was encouraging to note the high participation rate among civil society, as well as the increasing number of well-run regional conferences being held around the world. The Meeting of States must transform the momentum into an outcome that could be embraced by the General Assembly to provide guidance for stronger implementation of the Programme of Action.

DALIUS CEKUOLIS (Lithuania), Chairman of the United Nations Third Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, said the Meeting was as important today as the Conference that had produced the Programme of Action in 2001. The world needed a common set of goals and the political will to unite behind them while infusing a good deal of action into the Programme of Action and reinvigorating the small arms process.

He said the Meeting's focused structure would enable States to aim at a collective action-oriented outcome that would identify specific implementation challenges and opportunities. All delegations were encouraged to move away from prepared statements, engage in an interactive debate and use four discussion papers as they considered their focus themes.

Secretary-General's Message

SERGIO DUARTE, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, opened the Meeting by delivering a statement from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in which he said that, by convening the present Meeting, Member States were reaffirming their confidence in the Programme of Action as an important tool to combat the illicit trade. Since the Programme's adoption seven years ago, weapons collection and destruction activities had resulted in the destruction of thousands of weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition. National coordination bodies had been established and existing ones strengthened. States were increasingly focusing attention on implementing the new International Tracing Instrument.

He said he was encouraged by the recommendations of the Expert Group on illicit brokering, which, if fully implemented, could go a long way towards achieving the international community's collective goal of preventing illicit brokering in small arms. At present, there were more small arms in circulation than in 2001, indicating the abundance of challenges. Due to both conflict and crime, innocent civilians continued to fall victim to small arms in high numbers and Security Council arms embargoes continued to be violated. Because of those and other remaining challenges, the fight against the illicit arms trade was one of the Organization's priorities in the field of disarmament. To succeed, all sectors of society must join in, from Governments and parliamentarians, to civil society organizations and local communities. Increasing synergy between the Security Council and the General Assembly was also encouraging, and hopefully the third biennial Meeting would be a results-oriented one.

Statements

KERRY MAZE, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, introduced that institution's study of international cooperation and assistance, noting that too often the States affected by illicit trade could not communicate their needs to donors and stressing the need for greater communication between States and donors. Other important issues to be discussed in the coming week were the targeting of assistance, greater cooperation among countries and the development of more diverse approaches. There was also a need to submit reports in a timely manner.

ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY ( Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, voiced deep concerned over the illicit transfer, manufacture, circulation and excessive accumulation of small arms and light weapons throughout the world. It was important to strive for the full implementation of the Programme of Action, which was the main framework for addressing that problem. The Non-Aligned Movement called on all States, including producers, to limit the use of small arms and light weapons to Governments and authorized entities only. To that end, there was a need to control private ownership of small arms. The biennial Meeting of States was a key follow-up mechanism in that regard.

Calling full implementation of international instruments to trace and identify illicit small arms and light weapons, she said international assistance and cooperation for building the capacity of all States to deal with the issue was essential to the Programme's full implementation. To enhance the flow of assistance to those that needed it, the Movement had prepared a working paper containing recommendations to that end, including trust fund arrangements. The paper also discussed how technology transfer might be better accomplished and ways to overcome the challenges of matching donor assistance with requests for help.

ROBERT HILL ( Australia) agreed that the efficient matching of implementation needs with practical solutions remained a challenge for all States. Australia's work in Samoa showed that, with creativity and coordination on the part of the donor country, and the enthusiastic cooperation of the host Government, extraordinary results could be achieved.

Welcoming the work of the Office of Disarmament Affairs in creating the Programme of Action and the database for matching needs and resources created by UNIDIR, he cautioned, however, that resources for the Programme's implementation must be accessible, bearing in mind that services such as the Internet could not be taken for granted in developing countries.

He said reporting was an area in which there was a clearly identified need for more streamlined coordination at the regional level and, as noted in the Small Arms Survey's comprehensive analysis of the national reports submitted between 2002 and 2008, national reports should provide the basic data that could be used to match needs with resources. Member States must think creatively about capacity-building and making use, where possible, of existing regional structures.

PIRAGIBE DOS SANTOS TARRAGÔ ( Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and associated States, said the Programme was a 'point of reference' for States to perform at the national, regional and global levels, and called for renewed commitment to it. International cooperation and assistance were essential to the Programme's implementation, and must not be conditioned upon the presentation of national reports. MERCOSUR reiterated its support for concluding a legally binding international instrument to regulate illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons, and, in that context, requested that the report by the group of governmental experts be taken into account. MERCOSUR also supported addressing the definition of adequate stockpiles and the determination of surplus levels from the perspective of assistance and cooperation, as well as national capacity-building.

Underscoring the need to strengthen the international response to such issues, he said the Programme's non-legally binding nature was an obstacle to its implementation, adding that it should also deal with ammunition and explosives. Other issues requiring attention included the dissemination of information on prevention, and eradication efforts; the strengthening of cooperation with civil society; the incorporation of a gender and age perspective in implementing the Programme; the establishment of verification systems for end-user certificates; and the elaboration of an international landmark agreement for authenticating and standardizing end-user certificates.

MIKAËL GRIFFON (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, expressed support for the Chairman's 'courageous proposal' of a new approach to the biennial Meeting's agenda, and stressed the need to maintain a process at the global level that included the participation of all Member States. The discussion papers prepared by the four coordinators responsible for the different issues on the agenda contained many interesting and constructive suggestions of which the European Union had taken note.

He said the European Union had always been aware of its responsibilities and commitments under chapter III of the Programme of Action and considered assistance and cooperation as having a key role in achieving the objective and means contained in the December 2005 Strategy to Combat Illicit Accumulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons and their Ammunition. The European Union was the primary player at the global level for projects and technical cooperation in that area. Its member States continued to provide national funding for a number of projects in support of the Programme of Action and would continue to be involved via the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the European Commission. It had funded the destruction of small arms and light weapons as well as demilitarization programmes in Ukraine and Albania, and was financing the establishment of a database for the training of trainers that was intended for law enforcement agencies.

Acting in its institutional capacity and through its member States, the European Union would continue to help those countries requesting help in implementing the Programme of Action, he said. Yet goodwill and resources were not sufficient without the political will and determination of national Governments to commit to the Programme's objectives. Nor would the technical projects aimed at destroying small arms and light weapons stockpiles be enough without parallel efforts at the legislative and administrative levels. Legislative provision should be adopted in many regions and countries, while existing ones should be strengthened to target the export, import, transfer and brokering of small arms and light weapons. National reports submitted to the United Nations were an indispensable basis for assistance and cooperation between States.

LAWRENCE OLUFEMI OBISAKIN ( Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group of States and aligning himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said full implementation of the Programme of Action was key to promoting long-term security and favourable conditions for socio-economic development in Africa. The African Union Peace and Security Council had reaffirmed that peace, security and stability were crucial prerequisites for the continent's development and economic integration with the rest of the world. That Council also understood that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons undermined efforts to improve African standards of living, and could only be stemmed through well-coordinated continental cooperation.

Agreeing that poorly managed stockpiles posed a serious risk to public safety, not just a source of weapons but also by the explosions they caused, he said that securing often outdated national armouries called for extensive capital outlay and technological know-how. As such, all stakeholders, including producers and 'victims', must work together and look upon illicit brokerage of small arms and light weapons as a serious threat to world peace. The African Group welcomed the work of the group of governmental experts on the subject, scheduled to meet for the last time later in the month. It was to be hoped that the outcome of that meeting would contribute to peace. Member States were further urged to limit the trade in such weapons to Governments and Government-authorized licensed traders. Africa was awash with such weapons and both producers and brokers must learn to approach the issue as a global security challenge, not an opportunity to sell more arms.

HILARIO DAVIDE (Philippines), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the illicit trade in small arms created a serious threat to international peace and security as they were cheaply manufactured and killed vast numbers of people. The best way to solve the problems posed by the illicit trade in small arms was to implement the Programme of Action. The Philippines called on States to meet that challenge and fulfil their commitments.

He said States should develop mechanisms to force the sharing of information among countries and work through multilateral or regional initiatives to increase the prosecution of offenders. Non-governmental organizations played a vital role in controlling the illicit trade in small arms.

PHILIPPE NZENGUE-MAYILA, Vice-Minister for Interior Affairs, Local Collectivities, Security and Immigration of Gabon, associated himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, saying States must be politically aligned in order to tackle the problem effectively, with the understanding that the illicit small arms trade went beyond national borders. Countries in Central Africa had set up partnerships, with the help of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), to combat illicit weapons proliferation, such as the initiative to unite heads of police to prevent the movement of weapons.

Under the aegis of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, countries in that region had set up a body to implement the Programme of Action, he said. However, better cooperation required dissemination and exchange of information through databanks, which did not yet exist. Also, law enforcement authorities must be trained and given detection tools, such as x-ray devices. Gabon called for greater donor assistance to those initiatives and others like it.

T. HAMID AL-BAYATI ( Iraq) said that, since the fall of the former Iraqi regime, the new Government had worked diligently towards fulfilling the Programme of Action, ending the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and stopping terrorist activities. It had also attempted to control stockpiles and to organize and track their ownership. Iraq had increased its participation in and cooperation with regional and international activities to combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. It called on neighbouring States to provide assistance in that effort by controlling their borders with Iraq and preventing the smuggling of small arms and light weapons.

Through a focal point, Iraq was continuously submitting to the United Nations its periodic reports on the trade and stockpiling of small arms and light weapons, he continued. The country required specific elements of assistance, however, including help in exchanging experiences in the field of small arms and light weapons between States regionally and internationally; capacity-building and training for individuals responsible for preventing the use of small arms and light weapons; financial support and specific training courses for individuals tasked with fulfilling programmes to combat the illicit trade; and coordinating with international organizations and civil society in creating a future strategy to increase awareness of the trade. The Iraqi Government called on in-country United Nations to coordinate their activities to combat the small arms trade with the relevant national authorities.

TAKAHIRO SHINYO ( Japan) said his country supported the use of reports and improved dialogue to make better use of existing resources, and considered those tools essential to the strengthening of the Programme of Action. There was a need to assess conditions on the ground and for information on the entry points from where small arms began circulating within countries. More information and details, such as decreases in casualties, would help make assistance more worthwhile. There was a strong interaction between development and security, and it was very important to strengthen the relationship between the small arms field and development fields.

Ms. MAZE said in response to a question that the goal of the Programme of Action was to help States create priorities and fit their small arms programmes into national frameworks.

ALAIN GUILLAUME BUNYONI, Minister for Public Security of Burundi, said the international community's strengthened commitment to combating the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons demonstrated a broader understanding of how certain countries were being 'damaged' by those weapons. Indeed, international cooperation, particularly in the area of capacity-building, was essential to the successful implementation of the Programme of Action in countries like Burundi. Assistance must be channelled to Africa's various regional centres, such as the one headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, which worked in collaboration with the East African Community.

Other programmes meriting assistance included an initiative established through the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, which supported the security-sector reform in Burundi, he said, while stressing the usefulness of greater information exchange regarding the movement of small arms and light weapons through a common database that would be available worldwide. In addition, national capacities to tackle the phenomenon must be reinforced. Burundi had begun holding seminars to raise awareness on the subject among parliamentarians, senators, the army, national police and intelligence services. However, the country needed a steady stream of assistance from donors in order to continue those activities. The National Disarmament Commission also required financial support in order to succeed.

ALEXANDER HORIN, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said strict implementation of the Programme and the recently agreed instrument on tracing illicit small arms and light weapons at the national level were most important in countering the illicit trade. International cooperation in such areas as arms transfers and strengthening national measures to enforce implementation were also priorities.

Describing national efforts, he said there was no common civil use of small arms and light weapons. All stocks belonged to Government security forces and were under strict control. Ukraine attached particular importance to ensuring that effective export control procedures met all international requirements, and adhered strictly to decisions taken by the Security Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Wassenaar Arrangement. The Programme acknowledged that the multifaceted challenge posed by the illicit trade involved security, conflict prevention and humanitarian dimensions, among other things. Ukraine's substantial inheritance of small arms and light weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a huge 'oversize' in terms of what its armed forces needed. The country often experienced the tragic effects of exploding munitions and weapons, and strongly wished to get rid of them.

SHI ZHONG JUN (China) said that, notwithstanding the great achievements of recent years, many countries still found it difficult to implement the Programme of Action and tracing instrument because they lacked funding as well as technical and human resources. Strengthened international cooperation and assistance should therefore be a priority and dialogue should be enhanced, so as to arrive at ways to facilitate exchanges regarding best practices in law enforcement, training and legislation.

He said States should work together to identify challenges and explore effective solutions in international cooperation and assistance, with a view to increasing specific assistance to programmes in developing countries. The United Nations should help coordinate those activities to ensure that cooperation between States bore fruit. Implementation support systems, such as the development of a database to track supply and demand, would play a positive role, and INTERPOL could help in that regard.

China stood ready to participate in any way possible, he said, adding that in 2005, the country had sponsored, alongside the United Nations, Japan and Switzerland, a workshop on small arms and light weapons. It had also contributed to the trust fund to address related problems in the Americas. Through the Beijing Action Plan targeted at Africa, China would provide financial assistance and training to countries on that continent.

MOHAMMAD IQBAL DEGIA (Barbados), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that, even though the countries of CARICOM did not produce arms or trade in them on a large scale, the region was still afflicted by the problems accompanying the illicit trade in small arms. The trade was linked to other regional problems, such as the illicit trade in drugs, and required a holistic approach. National responsibility and action were important to correct the problems. As the region worked actively to deepen regional economic integration, international cooperation was essential to addressing all regional issues. Despite the severity of the small arms problem, the Caribbean's voice had been marginalized and CARICOM called on the United Nations to reopen its regional office in Barbados.

PHILIP TISSOT, Deputy Head of the Security Policy Group, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, said his country faced several challenges in its capacity as a donor State, and called for greater cooperation among Governments, civil society and international, regional and subregional organizations in meeting those challenges. There was a need for experts in certain fields and for funding from a variety of sources. It was also important to focus on fewer and larger programmes and p