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DPI/NGO Briefing

A Preview of the 2006 Conference to Review the Progress of Action to
Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms
and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects
8 June 2006

Summary

The DPI/NGO Section held its regular weekly NGO briefing on 8 June 2006 on “A Preview of the 2006 Conference to Review the Progress of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.”

A film entitled ”Gunrunners”, produced by PBS for their Frontline documentary series, on the topic of small arms trafficking in West Africa started the proceedings.  Following the film was the viewing of the new public service announcement by a UN Messenger of Peace, Michael Douglas, to bring attention to the efforts in collecting and destroying illegal weapons.   

H.E. Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, Permanent representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations; Mr. Antonio Evora, Political Affairs Officer, Conventional Arms Branch, Department of Disarmament Affairs; and Mr. Mark Marge, UN Office Coordinator, International Action Network on Small Arms, spoke about the progress of the implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action to eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.   

Ambassador Kariyawasam started by introducing The Programme of Action and the Review Conference due to take place from 26 June to 7 July in New York. He clarified that the Programme of Action was a politically binding agreement to curb the illicit trade and stressed that contrary to some beliefs, it did not aim to curb legal arms trade. Ambassador Kariyawasam noted that during the regional meetings leading up to the Review Conference diverse interests and views among the Member States on how to handle this issue had made it difficult to create a common outcome document. This document is expected to provide the basis for negotiations on how to fully implement the Programme of Action. The Ambassador pointed put the importance of civil society groups’ involvement in this effort, noting that there were 210 NGOs registered to participate in the meeting thus far. He also mentioned that there was a lot of misunderstanding of what the Programme of Action was trying to achieve and said that he had received 79,000 postcards from mainly the U.S., criticizing him for attempting to take guns away from American people. 

Mr. Evora began by reviewing the negative impacts the illegal trade of small arms had on people worldwide: small arms kill people on a massive scale and not just during wars, leading to the deaths of many innocent civilians; illegal trade of small arms hinders the humanitarian assistance of the UN; illegal trade interferes with commerce and banking as it creates a high risk environment that is not attractive to foreign investors and insurance companies.  Mr. Evora then mentioned some of the measures that Member States should take to combat illicit trading of small arms and light weapons as outlined in the Programme of Action.  These steps include the collection and destruction of illicit weapons; the adoption of appropriate regulations and legislation to control manufacturing and trade of weapons so that weapons are not diverted into the illegal market; proper maintenance of weapons records; and the cooperation of enforcement officers to assist in tracing weapons. 

Mr. Marge focused on how humans are affected by the illicit trade of small weapons and light arms. He stressed that the human cost was very high as up to 1,000 people were killed by small arms every day. Another example given was that the annual cost of gun violence in Latin America was USD140 billion (12 percent of the annual GDP of the region), while the profit from gun trade and sales was only USD 4 billion (USD 1 billion of this profit comes from illicit trade). He also explained that poor regulations of gun control in any region affected the global community. This needed to be addressed by all sides and viewed as a global issue.  Mr. Marge also expressed his view that one weakness of the Programme of Action was its focus on illicit arms trade only since it gives off the impression that only illicit guns needed to be regulated.  He explained that this impression was false and misleading since most guns originated legally. Mr. Marge suggested that perhaps a better way to curb arms would be one analogous to the implementation of traffic laws.  Traffic laws are used to prevent illicit drivers but apply to all drivers. Other suggestions from Mr. Marge for improvement of the Programme of Action included: the creation of global principles for gun transfer; government regulation of guns owned by civilians; measures needed to be taken to end the vicious cycle of poverty and violence; assistance for survivors of gun violence needed to be provided. 

The question and answer period was an exchange of comments and views surrounding this important issue.  Clarified during this period was the role of the UN Programme of Action in combating illicit trade of small arms and light weapons. While the UN has a role in negotiating international politically binding agreements, the implementation and creation of laws to carry out those measures was entirely up to the Member States.  At the present phase, the Programme of Action was a call for action but could not implement the necessary actions. However, the Programme of Action could lead to punitive measures, such as embargos, that would be determined by the Security Council.  The Programme of Action focused on the supply side of the issue, and did not touch on the demand side of the issue.                                                                            

The briefing was attended by about 150 representatives of NGOs, UN and Permanent Mission staff.

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