United Nations Headquarters, New York


The indiscriminate proliferation and sale of millions of illegal small arms and light weapons, including handguns, machine guns, rifles, hand grenades and other light weapons have caused havoc, misery and death annually to over half a million people in developing and industrial countries. An estimated 500 million such weapons are manufactured in many countries and eventually sold to drug dealers, terrorists and other violent groups causing economic and social collapse in many regions, especially Africa, Asia and Latin America, closing schools, businesses and destroying infrastructure. There are an estimated 350 million small arms in the U. S. alone. Governments, businesses, civil society and NGOs are attempting partnerships to address and combat this illicit criminal trade.


The United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons In All Its Aspects was convened at United Nations Headquarters, New York, July 9 -20, 2001. Louise Frechette, Deputy Secretary General, opening the conference, noted that the enormous proliferation of small arms is creating a culture of violence and crime in mny countries and regions. Camilo Reyes Rodriguez of Colombia, President of the Conference, said the international community is addressing one of the most urgent problems of world peace and security at this time.


During the Plenary the majority of governments and groups of governments, such as the European Union, EU, the Organization of American States OAS, the African Union, AU, the Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, the Southern African Development Community, the East African Community, as well as many individual nations support the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime draft Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms.


There is also general support for the 1996 UN Disarmament Commission guidelines on international arms transfers. Among the regional initiatives were the InterAmerican Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Related Matter. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, document on Small Arms was approved in November 2000. The AU urged support for the Bamako Declaration that could create effective control of small arms in Africa. MERCOSUR, the Southern Common Market of Latin America, is also making an effort to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. The U.S. supported the Program of Action with the exception of the prevention of civilian possession of small arms for self defense and sport.


The conference agenda addressed the issues of marking, tracing, regulation of arms brokers and shipping agents, controls on the manufacture and regulations for exports and imports, restraint and responsibility of governments, legal transfers, security of stockpiles, disposal and destruction of weapons, and transparency of military data. Many current initiatives are underway by individual states (Sierra Leone, Ghana, Thailand, Indonesia, the UK, Spain, Bulgaria, and others) that are supporting disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of combatants into the economy.


The Program of Action, adopted without a vote, includes national, regional and global initiatives. National legislation, regulations and administrative procedures, for the production, export, import, transit or retransfer of small arms, should be accompanied by national coordination agencies to create policy for monitoring, tracing, trafficking, brokering, trade, collection and destruction of weapons, public educaton, as well as effective DDR programs. Regional, and subregional, initiatives should include negotiations for prevention and control of the illicit trade, as well as trans-border customs and cooperation between states. Global measures would encourage the World Customs Organization to aid in cooperation for the regional use of the Interpol, the International Police Organization. Implementation for international cooperation and assistance should be supplemented at all levels with intergovermental organizations, financial institutions, civil society and NGOs, as well as legally binding instruments for tracing and exchange of information. A follow up conference in 2006 will review implemention.


The voice of the people was heard in the briefings offered by the International Action Network on Small Arms, IANSA, which is a global network of non-governmental organizations, NGOs, that has a large constituency of 200 NGOs and other organizations worldwide. IANSA has organized many groups for the Small Arms Conference. Monday July 16 statements by NGOs, and other organizations, were presented to the delegations in Conference Room 4 with over 40 groups participating. Many urged the governments to address humanitarian and health concerns, human rights violations, especially for women, children, the disabled, the elderly and the vulnerable. Others urged reduction of military budgets to enhance social issues, the economies and the environment. Thirteen Firearms Community Groups supported the right to small arms and light weapons for civilians. Three groups supported controls of small arms, while others spoke about implementation and follow up to the conference. Mary Leigh Blek of the Million Mom March, USA, got rousing cheers from the NGOs in the balcony, as did Dr. Vyacheslav Sharov, Russian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, IPPNW Russia. Dr. Natalie Goldring, National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives and Professor at the University of Maryland, urged the adoption of strong and extensive transparency measures accompanied by a global transparency regime for exchange of information on marking, tracing, brokering and relevant issues. Loretta Bondi, Advocacy Director, The Fund for Peace, spoke of a Model Convention on Arms Brokering that would result in an effective implementation of the Program of Action.


The UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms, CASA, was established in 1998 for informaton exchange with various UN departments and agencies. The UN Development Program, UNDP, cooperates with the Department of Disarmament Affairs, DDA, UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, the Department of PeaceKeeping Operations, DPKO, the International Labor Organization, ILO, and many countries to combat small arms and light weapons in the field. Working with governments, NGOs, national and local communities and PeaceKeepers, the UNDP “Weapons for Development” programs have collected tens of thousands of illicit military style weapons, while promoting development activites and coordinating disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, DDR. These ‘Weapons for Development” programs have had a major impact on reducing tensions to promote economic development and local businesses in various countries. Albania, Congo-Brazzaville, the Solomon Islands, Niger and Mali are some examples.


During an Eminent Persons meeting with NGOs, consensus seemed to focus on national legislation and regional cooperation to address marking, tracing, brokering and especially the follow up mechanisms with a conference in 2006 for review and oversight. A code of conduct between businesses and governments for rules and standards, crime prevention and follow up, has been organized by an international manufacturing group. Industry has the technical expertise to help create a system of partnership with states and NGOs that should be successful. A UN Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons was suggested that could be a result from the review conference in 2006. A convention could coordinate all the issues for action orientated implementation, follow up and verification, with cost effective regional cooperative monitoring for governments, the private sector, financial institutions and civil society.


* Nancy E. W. Colton, United Nations Representative, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Board of Directors, NGO Committee on Disarmament, Inc.