14 July 2008

Conference Highlights
Michael Spies | Arms Control Reporter & Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

Procedural Matters

Election of the Chair

  • States elected Ambassador Dalius Cekuolis of Lithuania to chair the third biennial meeting.

Election of Other Officers

In accordance with previous consultations, states elected the following delegations as vice-chairs:

  • Africa: Egypt, Liberia, Sudan
  • Asia: Japan, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka
  • Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Czech Republic
  • Latin America: Colombia, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Western Europe: Finland, The Netherlands, Switzerland

Adoption of the Agenda

Ambassador Cekuolis explained the program of work, which provided for interactive discussions on select themes, including:

  • International cooperation, assistance, and national capacity-building;
  • Stockpile management and surplus disposal;
  • Illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons; and
  • Marking and tracing.

Prior to the adoption of the agenda, Mexico expressed doubt over the themes selected and expressed surprise that certain themes, such as monitoring and humanitarian issues, were left out despite the known priorities of several delegations. The Mexican delegation faulted the consultation process leading to the formulation of the agenda, noting the consultations resulted in minimal change to the original draft.

  • States adopted the agenda for third biennial meeting by consensus.

Program of Work: Drafting the Final Document

  • The chair will provide draft outcome document language for each thematic topic on the evening immediately following discussion of that item.

Highlights from the discussion on international cooperation, assistance, and national capacity-building

  • Australia said state reports should form the basis of matching states needs to donors, noting, however, that lack of national capacity could hinder the adequate completion of reports.
  • Brazil said international assistance must not be conditioned on national reporting.
  • Japan proposed that a one-page survey be included in national reports in order to facilitate matching needs to available resources.
  • China said the strengthening of international assistance should be a priority, emphasizing the need for increased country-specific programs, development of long-term national plans, and UN coordination of assistance.
  • The United Kingdom suggested regional and sub-regional organizations could be more effective by focusing on smaller projects. The United Kingdom also suggested the creation of regional working groups, which could meet on specific issues and report back to the biennial meetings.
  • Colombia called for action-oriented measures to be reflected in the final document, including in the areas of harmonizing legislation, building national capacity through trainings of officials and strengthening border controls, and strengthening international cooperation and exchange of information.
  • Honduras on behalf of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and Mexico opposed any precondition on assistance.
  • Benin called for the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs to establish a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Programme of Action in West Africa, in coordination with the Economic Community of West African States.
  • South Africa opposed any precondition for assistance and stated capacity-building must form the cornerstone of matching donors to needs.
  • Guyana said national reporting must not become a precondition for assistance.
  • Canada called for the development of national strategies to address the gap in matching needs to resources, with emphasis on the role of regional organization and national reporting.
  • Iran called for the biennial meeting of states to address the issue of barriers to access of technology related to combating the illicit transfers small arms and light weapons.

Summary of the interactive discussion over the UNIDIR study on international cooperation and assistance under the Programme of Action

  • UNIDIR presented findings from its global survey of the implementation of the Programme of Action over its first five years. UNIDIR determined that over this period states allocated $660 million in assistance to support implementation, most of which went to disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs.
  • Japan asked if there was a mismatch between donors and the needs of recipients or whether there is a lack of resources from donor countries. Japan also asked if the priority of recipient countries focusing on eliminating illicit trafficking in small arms or on development. On the first question, UNIDIR responded that both issues were a problem, with the total funds spent on assistance over five years equating to that spent on similar initiatives in one year, adding that 55% of states did not receive assistance in their top five areas of priorities. UNIDIR did not have information on the second question.
  • New Zealand asked how should states best move forward with needs assessments in small states. UNIDIR responded that the way forward was through the creation of national action plans and baseline surveys and for specific needs to be communicated up to the international level.

Highlights from the discussion of other issues:

Stockpile Management

  • Iraq and the Philippines reported on their national implementation of the Programme of Action.

Illicit Brokering 

  • MERCOSUR reiterated its support for an international instrument to regulate arms brokering.
  • The Group of African States called on all member state to consider the issue of illicit brokering a threat to world peace.
  • The Netherlands advocated for a regional approach to cooperation in dealing with illicit brokering.
  • Honduras on behalf of SICA and Mexico called on all states to work toward a process toward establishing a legally-binding instrument on brokering.

International Instrument on Tracing

  • The Philippines called on arms producing states to comply with the tracing instrument.
  • Honduras on behalf of SICA and Mexico reiterated its support for the instrument.

Other Issues

  • The Non-Aligned Movement and the Philippines called on arms producing states to ensure that the supply of small arms and light weapons reached only legitimate users.
  • MERCOSUR stated the non-legally-binding nature of the UN Programme of Action constituted a barrier to its implementation. MERCOSUR also expressed the need for states to address the issues of ammunition and explosives, achieving a culture of peace through strengthened cooperation with civil society and the private sector, and the standardization of end-user certifications.
  • The European Union and New Zealand welcomed the new approach taken by the chair.
  • CARICOM stated the arms producing countries were morally and ethically obligated to play a larger role, citing the external nature of the issue of illicit arms transfers in the region and their connection to drug trafficking.
  • The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs presented its Programme of Action Implementation Support System: PoA-ISS, www.poa-iss.org. This system is intended to serve as a “one stop shop” for anyone working on small arms issues in the UN context. It provides tools for states, international, regional, and non-governmental organizations to implement the PoA, bringing together basic documentation, information on best practices, an advisory network for national contact points, and project proposals.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross articulated the need for states to respect International Humanitarian Law (IHL) when considering arms transfers. The ICRC has developed a practical guide to IHL criteria in arms transfers for use by government officials. The ICRC also argued that increased respect for law will reduce the vulnerability of people and reduce the demand for SALW.
  • UNICEF outlined several action points important to the successful outcome of the BMS, including:
    - promoting a culture of peace;
    - enhancing coordination and integrate recommendations from the Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children into National SALW National Action Plans and development frameworks;
    - implement laws in conformity with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict;
    - ensure DDR programmes pay special attention to the needs of children;
    - prioritize an integrated approach to SALW, recognizing both the demand and supply sides of the small arms nexus; and
    - initiate studies on child injuries and death due to small arms to determine the human cost of SALW violence and to promote violence prevention and rehabilitation of child victims.
  • UN Office for Drugs and Crime indicated it has a comprehensive approach to increasing member states' implementation of the Firearms Protocol.

Side Events

Small Arms Survey
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

The Small Arms Survey, a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, launched its 2008 edition at the conference today. The book, "Risk and Resilience," examines the problem of diversion of small arms in relation to stockpiles, surplus disposal, international transfers, and end-user documentation. It also analyzes the public health approach to armed violence, noting that "the public health approach views armed violence as a phenomenon with identifiable patterns within particular populations," which makes it "able to focus on small groups and to design targeted interventions at the local level."