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Small Arms Conference
In the end, the success of the conference hinged on whether the rest of the participants would accede to the US demands that the Program of Action contain no references to controls on civilian ownership of weapons nor on restrictions on arms transfers to insurgents. The African states, in particular, took an equally firm line in favor of these measures.
US intransigence so dominated the meeting that the President of the Conference, Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Colombia, took the unusual step of putting his criticism of the US on the public record. He expressed his "disappointment over the conferences inability to agree due to the concerns of one state." Addressing the closing session of the Conference, Reyes said, "The states most afflicted by this global crisis Africa had only agreed with the greatest reluctance to the deletion of proposed language addressing these vital issues... All that can be done, has in fact been done."
The majority - the European Union, war-torn Southern countries, Canada, Japan, and the NGOs - had to satisfy themselves with what few commitments there are in the Program to stemming the uncontrolled flow of arms around the world and understanding that they can take their priorities issues and raise them in other fora, such as the First Committee of the UN General Assembly this autumn.
The NGO coalition, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), took the approach of a glass-half-full-half-empty. While calling the conference "a squandered opportunity," it nevertheless welcomed progress in recognizing the impact of weapons on women, children and the elderly and in commitments to more effectively control arms in areas of tension. Of particular disappointment to IANSA were the absence of commitments to negotiate treaties on arms brokering or marking and tracing weapons, no reference to protecting human rights, and no commitment to greater transparency in arms transfers.
From the start, it was clear the US was framing its position for the domestic gun lobby. The US began the conference on July 9 laying down "red lines" concepts Washington would refuse to accept in any final document. These conditions, especially resistance to any mention of controls on civilian possession, had more to do with the gun lobbys agenda than that of the conference.
Finally, the Africans, who had more to lose than the US if the conference ended in failure, agreed delete both paragraphs. Conmany Wesseh, the Director of the Centre for Democratic Empowerment, an NGO in Liberia, said, "I am not concerned about US domestic laws. I would like to encourage the US policy makers that there is something other than the borders of the United States."
There is even less to be optimistic about when looking at the Program from the perspective of Global Action to Prevent War. A hallmark of the Global Action vision is that ending war requires an integrated approach that recognizes that poverty and militarism must be addressed as part of a single problem. The Program of Action from the Small Arms Conference barely acknowledges this, and those who pursued a minimalist agenda and the US was not alone on this point aggressively worked to keep the issue of the illicit trade in small arms isolated from the global context of the relationship to the legal trade in arms, underdevelopment, poverty, and human rights.
As IANSA pointed out, the phrase "human rights" does not even appear in the Program. Conflict prevention and post-conflict resolution get passing mention. Countries even had to fight to retain references to "international humanitarian law." The specific Global Action priority dealing with small arms - 25% cuts in nations conventional forces - was immaterial to this conference. Discussions of nations armed forces were absolutely off limits.