Discussions on plan of action begin at UN conference on small arms

Discussions on plan of action begin at UN conference on small arms

As the United Nations conference on small arms entered its second day today at UN Headquarters in New York, high-level officials from all parts of the world continued to exchange views on how to tackle the threat posed to human security by the spread of light weapons and their illegal trade.

This afternoon, negotiations began in earnest on a concrete draft programme of action. The talks on the draft, which were held in open session today, will move behind closed doors tomorrow afternoon, while the ministerial segment is scheduled to run each morning for the remainder of the week. A total of 146 participants have signed up to take part in that segment.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged widespread support for the goals of the Conference. In an op-ed article in the International Herald Tribune, he recalled the success of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and said the fight against "equally deadly and even more pervasive" illegal small arms and light weapons should be the next focus of urgent worldwide attention.

Seeking to clarify the purpose of the forum, Mr. Annan stressed that it "is not meant to infringe on national sovereignty, limit the right of states to defend themselves, interfere with their responsibility to provide security, or subvert the right of peoples to self-determination, nor is it meant to take guns away from their legal owners." The targets of the Conference, he observed, "are unscrupulous arms dealers, corrupt officials, drug trafficking syndicates, terrorists and others who bring death and mayhem into streets, schools and towns throughout the world."

Citing stark statistics from the Small Arms Survey 2001, the Secretary-General observed that those weapons are implicated in well over 1,000 deaths every single day, the vast majority of them women and children.

The Survey, a project of the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, was formally launched today at a press briefing in New York. "We are very happy to present this first edition in a very timely manner so that it coincides with the United Nations Conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons," Raimund Kunz, Head of the Delegation of the Observer for Switzerland to the UN, told the press.

According to the Survey, at least 550 million firearms are in circulation around the world. Small arms comprise less than 10 per cent of the total legal trade in conventional arms, yet cause up to 90 per cent of casualties in armed conflicts.

"With 1,300 people killed daily - half a million annually - it is no exaggeration to call small arms and light weapons the real weapons of mass destruction," said Keith Krause, the Survey Programme Director. "They exacerbate conflicts, cause much human suffering, and undermine economic development across the globe."