The following are excerpts from Deliberations at the US First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), October 2000
Copyright 2000 M2 Communications Ltd.
October 12, 2000
LENGTH: 6881 words
Expert group finds renewed importance for UN Conventional Arms Register Disarmament Committee told, as general debate continued
The United Nations Register of Conventional Arms – which covers the legal trade in conventional armaments – was a practical, yet unique instrument in the family of confidence-building measures, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) was told this morning, as it continued its general debate. Introducing the report of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on the Register of Conventional Arms, the Group’s Chairman said that the Group had emerged from its analysis of the decade-old mechanism with a renewed sense of its importance. The Group’s faith in the Register’s potential to help prevent the destabilizing accumulation of arms, ease tensions and promote restraint in arms transfers had remained intact. Although early expansion of the Register had not yet been achieved, additional degrees of transparency remained firmly inscribed on its agenda. On the issue of small arms, a representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told the Committee that the widespread possession of such arms had stimulated the “circle of “violence”;, with children accounting for one-quarter of the world’s war casualties. The link between small arms and “child soldiering”; was direct and obvious. The fact that modern small arms were widespread, cheap, very lightweight and easy to handle had encouraged children’s involvement in conflict. It must be ensured that children did not have access to those “fatal tools”. In that respect, arms embargoes should be fully implemented and monitored, and violations should be criminalized. The representative of Gabon said that a link had been established between the illicit transfer of small arms stemming in part from the illegal exploitation of precious stones like diamonds – and the persistence of conflicts in Africa. The 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects should examine questions relating to international cooperation and focus on the need for governments to control both the national and the international flows of small arms. Thailand’s representative welcomed the convening of the Conference on small arms, but warned that the right of States to self-defence must also be considered, in accordance with the United Nations Charter. Ending the illicit trafficking in those weapons, especially in areas of conflict and tension, was a critical disarmament goal, but related consultations should not contravene the legitimate right of self-defence. World security was not only threatened by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the representative of Kyrgyzstan warned. The harmful effects of the armed conflicts, international terrorism, drug smuggling and the illicit trafficking in small arms had challenged world stability and security. National borders did not confine those threats and no individual country could cope on its own with those challenges. Such struggles must be confronted on the national, regional and international levels.
ELMIRA IBRAIMOVA (Kyrgyzstan) said that world security was not only threatened by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction… The harmful effects of armed conflicts, international terrorism, drug smuggling and the illicit trafficking in small arms had all challenged world stability and security. National borders did not confine those threats, and no individual country could cope on its own with those challenges. The struggle against terrorism, for example, should be conducted on the national, regional and international levels. She said that the invasions of international terrorists into the southern part of Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and August of this year had shown that such organizations were intent on perpetrating their criminal activities in the territories of the States of Central Asia. Those actions were part of a global international terrorism plan that had, as its express purpose, the destabilization of the wider region. An important step towards strengthening regional security had been the summit of the heads of States and the creation of the “Shanghai Five and the “Bishkek Group” of law enforcement bodies and special services, which coordinated country action aimed at preventing international terrorism, extremism, separatism, the illegal drug trade, weapons smuggling, illegal migration, and other kinds of criminal activity. The Central Asian region had experienced the harmful effects of the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the presence of militant groups in the region, she said. In that regard, she was looking forward to the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. That Conference should consolidate and further strengthen international cooperation in preventing the tremendous suffering due to illicit arms trafficking.
MEHERET GETAHOUN (Ethiopia) said that …sustained international efforts should be made towards strengthening international, regional and subregional cooperation to combat and eliminate the illicit circulation and proliferation of small arms and light weapons, he said. Of paramount importance was the need to provide more assistance and complement the efforts of countries and regions affected by that illicit trade. His country was optimistic that the 2001 Conference on small arms would be a useful forum for the discussion and adoption of concrete measures to combat that problem. Ethiopia also attached great importance to the role of the Organization of African Unity in promoting regional cooperation to address the problem. He said that many parts of Africa, including the Horn of Africa, were plagued by mines. In addition to their deadly impact, landmines also had caused a major economic, social and humanitarian setback in those countries. Ethiopia was one of the countries most affected by landmines. Millions of mines were scattered in different parts of the country, causing enormous hardship. The Government was working on demining activities. However, financial and technical support was critically needed. The lack of adequate rehabilitation assistance for the population affected by the mines was also of grave concern.
UKYAW THU (Myanmar) said that it was vitally important to make every effort to realize the commitments made at the Millennium Summit concerning weapons of mass destruction and illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons.
OTHMAN JERANDI (Tunisia) said that …he supported the efforts of regional and international organizations on small arms and light weapons… The measures adopted at the last Organization of African Unity (OAU) Summit demonstrated the determination of African countries to tackle the scourge of such weapons. He supported the 2001 United Nations Conference on small arms. The international community must work together to guarantee the success of that Conference.
ADO VAHER, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that today small arms and light weapons had become the main instruments of violence in conflicts. They were now responsible for no less than 90 per cent of war casualties. Since 1990, more than 3 million people had been killed by small arms and light weapons, 80 per cent of them innocent civilians, with children accounting for 25 per cent of all casualties. That meant that the deaths of 750,000 children were directly caused by small arms and light weapons. He recalled the statement made by the Secretary-General in his Millennium Report that the proliferation of small arms was not merely a security issue, but an issue of human rights and of development. The spread of those weapons had sustained and exacerbated armed conflicts and had endangered peacekeepers and humanitarian workers – undermining respect for international humanitarian law, the Secretary-General had said. There was a growing awareness today of the “cruel reality” in which children, often under the age of 10, were used as child soldiers. He said that the link between small arms and “child soldiering”; was direct and obvious. The fact that modern small arms were widespread, cheap, very lightweight and easy to handle had encouraged children’s involvement in conflict. Even for children in societies at peace, those weapons had threatened children’s security. The widespread possession of firearms had fostered a culture of violence, which was often stimulated by a glorification of weapons by the entertainment industry. There was thus an urgent need for public education and awareness programmes aimed at promoting peace. Children should not have access to those “fatal tools” he said. They should also be taught to resolve conflict in non-violent ways. The United Nations Children’s Fund supported such initiatives in several countries, including Albania. The ready flow of small arms and light weapons – ongoing even in places where Security Council weapons embargoes were in place – had fueled and prolonged conflict. In many of the current conflicts, diamonds, oil, narcotics and timber were traded for small arms and light weapons. The situation had to change. Arms embargoes should be fully and effectively implemented and monitored, and violations should be criminalized. Continuing, he said that such measures required the commitment and legal support of the affected States, the producing countries, as well as third States. Arms embargoes should be imposed in situations where civilians were deliberately targeted or where the parties were known to be involved in gross violations of human rights, including child-soldiering. Also important was the development by the corporate sector of appropriate codes of conduct to prevent groups from selling diamonds on other resources to finance the purchase of arms, which had been done by the Diamond Manufacturers Association in Antwerp in July. In crisis environments, where small arms were a reality of everyday life, worried parents kept the children inside, away from the street and away from school, he said. Parents lost their mobility and often their means of income when collecting firewood, working the land, going to the market or even visiting health centres became dangerous activities. That could have severe effects on the psycho-social development of children, as well as on the economic development and well being of families and societies. Also troubling, he said, was the increased availability of small arms in camp situations. Small arms and light weapons had also threatened humanitarian workers, as UNICEF and its sister organizations had sadly witnessed. Over the last several years, violence against humanitarian and peacekeeping personnel who provided protection to children and civilians had increased steeply. When those workers faced gunpoint and worse, humanitarian assistance was delayed or suspended and costs rose considerably. Moreover, in those environments, providing protection to children became very difficult. When facilities were closed down, food distribution stalled, and assistance cut off, the most vulnerable – the children – were the hardest hit. He said that the impact of small arms and light weapons often continued long after the conflict had formally ended. The widespread availability of those weapons was an obstacle for post-conflict reconstruction. That had also destabilized societies, by creating an environment for criminal and contraband activities. In some countries, violence sustained by the availability of small arms did not diminish in the post-conflict setting. Former soldiers might see crime as the only means of income. In those situations, the authorities often did not have the capacity to restore the rule of law. Practical disarmament, demobilization and reintegration measures should be included in all peace agreements and implemented with special attention to child soldiers, he said. The United Nations Children’s Fund was currently involved in the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation process of child soldiers – both boys and girls – in Sierra Leone. Weapons should be removed from the hands of civilians. Fuelled by insecurity, fear and instability, individuals might acquire arms to defend themselves, their families and their property, thereby stimulating the circle of violence. The “weapons for development programmes” which were undertaken by regional organizations and United Nations agencies, was a promising approach. In order for those to be successful, however, the voices of women and children must be heard. He said that UNICEF attached great importance to the 2001 United Nations Conference on small arms. That would provide a crucial forum to address the problem of proliferation and its humanitarian and developmental impact. The agency called upon Member States to ensure, in particular, that children received specific attention in that process. Among the priority issues here: reducing the legal trade of small arms and eliminating arms sales to regions of conflict; monitoring and enforcing arms embargoes; and strengthening mechanisms for the prevention and control of the illicit trade in and stockpiling of small arms.
FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said …the scope of the 2001 Conference on small arms must address the illicit trade in small arms only.
MOHAMED AL-HASSAN (Oman) said that…the illicit trafficking in small arms had become one of the most important issues on the global disarmament agenda, he said. Ending the illicit trafficking in those weapons, especially in areas of conflict and tension, was a critical disarmament goal. In that respect, he welcomed the call by the General Assembly to convene an international Conference next year to consider the illicit trade in those weapons. He would reconfirm the need for such consultations to take place in accordance with the United Nations Charter, thereby not contravening the legitimate right of self-defence of countries, or compromising the sovereignty of States.
ALFRED MOUNGARA-MPOUSSOTSI (Gabon) said that…it was also an imperative necessity to fight against small arms and light weapons. In most African conflicts, small arms were the most commonly used weapons, he said. Moreover, a link had been established among the illicit transfer of small arms, the illegal exploitation of precious stones, particularly diamonds, and the persistence of conflicts in Africa. “Is it any surprise, therefore, that the home of the tensions existing on our continent are located in zones that are rich in precious stones?”, he asked. That was why Gabon felt that the 2001 Conference would be the occasion to examine the best way to control the production, and sale of those weapons. The work programme of the Conference should include questions relating to international cooperation. It should also focus on the need for governments to control the national trade and international movements of small arms.
ASDA JAYANAMA (Thailand) said that his country was not a producer of landmines, but a victim…As a mine-infected country, Thailand reiterated its commitment to the Ottawa Convention and urged all countries to sign the Convention or, at the very least, abide by its spirit. He stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to the problem, including the destruction of stockpiles, demining, mine awareness programmes, and victim rehabilitation. Such an approach depended on international, as well as regional efforts. Sufficient technical and financial support was vital to implementing the commitments to the Ottawa Convention undertaken by the mine-affected countries. Due recognition had now been given to the question of small arms, which fueled conflict and contributed to political instability. Concerted global action was needed to counter that threat. At the same time, the right of States to self-defence must also be considered, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The development of regional initiatives on small arms was welcome. In the Asia-Pacific region, the issue was being discussed in the context of transnational crime. Such examinations were modest, but important beginnings. He hoped the forthcoming United Nations Conference would foster greater regional and international cooperation on that issue.
ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said that …while his country shared the concern of the international community over the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel landmines, it maintained the view that States had the legitimate right to the use of such weapons for defence of their national independence and territorial integrity. His country also supported the 2001 Conference on small arms. Efforts to resolve the issue of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons should, however, take into account the right of States to have and transfer those weapons for self-defence and protection of sovereignty.
MARIANO GROSSI (Argentina), Chairman of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on the Register of Conventional Arms, introduced the report on the continuing operation and further development of the Register (document A/55/281)… Preparatory discussions for the next phase in the gradual improvement of the Register had indicated that there were zones where the Register approached the realm of small arms and light weapons, he said. A “loophole” had been identified and action would have to be taken. High hopes were placed on next year’s conference on the illicit trade in those weapons. The experts’ deliberations had shown that there was great concern in vast areas of the world about the effects of transfers of systems which lay somewhere in between small and medium-size weapons and the categories covered by the Register.