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Proliferation of illicit small arms leads to culture of violence and impunity – Annan

Proliferation of illicit small arms leads to culture of violence and impunity – Annan

Describing the world as being “awash with small arms,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that every year an estimated $1 billion worth of these weapons are traded illicitly worldwide, exacerbating conflict, sparking refugee flows, undermining the rule of law and spawning a “culture of violence and impunity.”

In his opening address to the UN Small Arms Review Conference, which runs from today until 7 July, Mr. Annan said that “significant progress” had been made in dealing with the problem of illegal guns since a Programme of Action was endorsed by all Member States in 2001 – but important challenges remain.

“The problem remains grave. In a world awash with small arms, a quarter of the estimated $4 billion annual global gun trade is believed to be illicit. Small arms are easy to buy, easy to use, easy to transport and easy to conceal. Their continued proliferation exacerbates conflict, sparks refugee flows, undermines the rule of law and spawns a culture of violence and impunity,” he said.

“The majority of people who die directly from conflicts worldwide – tens of thousands of lives lost each year – and hundreds of daily crime-related deaths can be traced to illicit small arms and light weapons. These weapons may be small, but they cause mass destruction.”

Since the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons was adopted five years ago, nearly 140 countries have reported on its implementation, while a third of all States have made efforts to collect weapons from those not legally entitled to hold them, Mr. Annan said. Other progress included increased cooperation among and within regions to stem the flow of illicit weapons across national borders.

“Clearly, much has been accomplished, and much is currently being done. Yet important challenges remain,” he said, highlighting in particular the urgent need for Member States to introduce or update legislation meeting the standards outlined in the Programme of Action.

“Countries also require better stockpile management and security procedures to reduce weapons pilferage. And we must reach agreement on a realistic and effective approach to end-user certification. Without such certification, any effort to regulate the trade and brokering in small arms and light weapons will be found lacking.”

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who also spoke at the opening of the Conference, echoed the Secretary-General’s remarks, calling for “much more” to be done to curb the illicit trade that also “hinders efforts to promote reconciliation in post-conflict areas.”

“The importance of this Review Conference cannot be overstated. We must maintain the momentum generated by the 2001 Conference. We must ensure that the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons remains high on the agenda of the United Nations.”

He voiced hope that participants would agree on measures to strengthen the implementation of the Programme of Action. “It is only through our joint, tangible and effective efforts on the ground, that we will be able to combat the scourge of illicit trafficking of small arms,” he said.

The Conference opened with the election of its President, Sri Lankan Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam. This was followed by several addresses at the ministerial level, including by Austria on behalf of the European Union, Iran, Mozambique and several other countries. More than 2,000 representatives from governments, international and regional organizations and civil society will take part in the two-week event.