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  Report on the United Nations Conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons

“United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in 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” New York, 26 June – 7 July 2006

From 26 June to 7 July 2006, the United Nations held a two-week conference in New York to review efforts to fight the illicit trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) established in the 2001 Program of Action (PoA).  The “United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in 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” was led by appointed Conference President Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, and addressed further implementation of the Program of Action, as well as additional concerns and aspirations of Member States.

In the General Assembly opening meeting on 25 June, G.A. President Jan Eliasson acknowledged that although weapons themselves do not inevitably lead to aggression, they can exacerbate existing conflict and create cultures of violence.  Approximately 1,000 people are killed each day by small arms, and the instability caused by violence often forces civilians to flee their homes and leads to an increased number of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).  The United Nations and civil society organizations are particularly concerned with the proliferation and easy accessibility of Small Arms and Light Weapons, which constitute a $4 billion-per-year industry, and $1 billion of which results from illicit trade (Small Arms Survey).

The overall goal of this conference was to agree on an outcome document that all Member States would support.  Throughout the conference, countries and civil society groups provided a number of suggestions for regulating SALW, including marking and tracking weapons and ammunition, and augmenting national policies to prevent illicit arms trade.  There was also much discussion about developing an “International Arms Trade Treaty” with global standards for international transfers that would prevent weapons from getting into the hands of corrupt officials, brokers, or traffickers who would use them to commit human rights violations.  In his statement at the General Assembly opening meeting, Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized that the U.N. does not advocate a global ban on arms that would infringe upon law-abiding citizens’ right to bear arms.  The exclusive purpose of the conference was to address the illegal trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons.  Nevertheless, emotions ran high during this conference, and nations as well as non-governmental organizations had difficulty reaching a consensus.  With only two days for negotiations, United Nations Member States could not agree on a single outcome document, and despite widespread support for a follow-up SALW conference, no meeting for future review was established.  Many governments were in favor of stronger provisions for transfer controls, but because a General Assembly outcome document requires the unanimous ratification of all Member States, consensus was effectively unachievable.

Many nations and organizations still strive for more effective arms control, and perceptible progress has been made since the original Small Arms and Light Weapons Review Conference in 2001.  Civil society has, for instance, implemented programs at grassroots levels to collect weapons in exchange for valuable farming and household tools.  These arms are then either destroyed or made into striking and inspirational pieces of art.  Researchers are currently exploring the link between arms, security, and development as well, and legislative action is being taken to control arms on local, national, and regional levels.  For example, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is working to establish a binding treaty on SALW that will go into effect once it is ratified by all nine Member States.  The treaty is progressive and forward-looking in that it encourages transparency in the arms trade, registration and regulation of weapons among civilians, strengthening border controls, as well as marking and tracing arms.  The work of ECOWAS and non-government organizations provide encouraging examples for other nations and groups, and strong steps forward in controlling arms.  The illicit trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons is still a global issue, however, and advocates for further mechanisms of control will continue to seek an international resolution.

Anglican United Nations Office
Juliana MacPherson- Intern

Published by the Anglican Communion Office ©2002 Anglican Consultative Council