Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged sustained efforts to tackle the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons, which kill more than half a million people each year, with a particularly heavy toll on civilians.
“Our collective responsibility is clear: to prevent the flow of illegal small arms into conflict and post-conflict areas and the hands of warlords, traffickers and criminals,” he said in remarks to the opening of the Second Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
The Programme of Action, which countries adopted by consensus in 2001, contains concrete recommendations for improving national legislation and controls over illicit small arms, fostering regional cooperation and promoting international assistance and cooperation on the issue.
Countries agreed to, among other measures, ensuring that licensed manufacturers apply an appropriate and reliable marking on each small arm and light weapon as an integral part of the production process, and to keeping comprehensive and accurate records for as long as possible on the manufacture, holding and transfer of small arms and light weapons under their jurisdiction.
Mr. Ban told delegates, in a statement delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, that illicit small arms remain the weapons of choice for those who seek to challenge legitimate State power, to spread fear and insecurity, or to pursue criminal goals.
While there has been some progress in tackling the illegal trade in these weapons, including improved legislation and enhanced security by some countries of their depots, more needs to be done, he noted.
“There are no quick solutions – it will take a sustained process that requires the commitment of all,” said Mr. Ban. “The full implementation of the Programme of Action is both an urgent priority and a long-term project that will demand perseverance and resolve.”
He pointed out that many States still lack the capacity to exercise effective control over small arms and light weapons and to stem the flow of illicit weapons across their borders. There is also limited cooperation among States in tracking illicit arms; weapons continue to reach areas and entities under Security Council arms embargoes; and insecure stockpiles continue to be a source of arms for armed groups, terrorists and organized crime.
“There is much work ahead,” Mr. Ban stated, calling on delegates to agree on a strong and forward-looking outcome of the conference, which is being held at UN Headquarters in New York until 7 September.
Addressing the same meeting, the head of the General Assembly said that the 193-member body has regularly underlined the fact that the illicit trade of small arms and lights weapons in all its aspects requires concerted efforts at the national, regional and international levels.
“The uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons in the illicit market continues to have severe consequences and poses a serious threat to peace, reconciliation, security, and sustainable development,” said President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.
He noted that while it is encouraging to see how much progress has been made since the adoption of the Programme of Action, important challenges remain and weapons outside government control continue to cause mayhem in many parts of the world.
“It is key that we continue to work on advancing the implementation of the Programme of Action, so that the results of our intensive work here in the United Nations are felt by those people whose daily lives are affected by the threat of illicit small arms and light weapons,” stated the Assembly President.
Also today, the Small Arms Survey 2012, which provides the latest information on the global authorized trade in small arms, was launched at UN Headquarters.
The flagship publication found that the annual value of authorized international transfers of small arms, light weapons, their parts, accessories, and ammunition is at least $8.5 billion. The new figure, the result of a four-year investigation completed this year, is more than double the previous estimate of approximately $4 billion, released in 2006.
An expansion in the arms trade is partly responsible for the upward revision, according to a news release by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey project. Two important sources of growth are increased spending by United States civilians on small arms and their ammunition, and large-scale government purchases of military firearms and light weapons for international and national armed forces involved in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Survey also calculates the top importers and exporters using the most recent published customs data, but poor transparency in state reporting – among both large and small exporters – keeps a great deal of the authorized trade obscure.
“While state transparency on small arms transfers to and from Europe and North America has been relatively strong, it has lagged in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East,” the Small Arms Survey’s Managing Director, Eric Berman, told reporters at the launch.
According to the Small Arms Survey, there are an estimated 875 million small arms in circulation worldwide, produced by more than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries.