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PRESS BRIEFING ON PLANS TO LIMIT ILLICIT TRADE IN SMALL ARMS

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

4 August 1999

The proposed United Nations conference on illicit arms trade should focus mainly on small arms and light weapons manufactured to military specifications, according to a panel of experts in a report released at United Nations Headquarters today and presented at a press briefing.

The experts recommended that the objective of the conference, scheduled for not later than the year 2001, should be to develop and strengthen international efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade of those weapons. The conference was called for by the General Assembly last year in its resolution 53/77 E. Towards that end, the group, drawn from around the world and chaired by Mitsuro Donowaki of Japan, said the conference should, among other things, develop agreed international measures to prevent and combat the illicit trafficking and manufacture of small arms and light weapons. Political will should also be mobilized for that purpose. The group recommended the involvement of civil society in the work of the preparatory committee expected to be established later.

In their report, the experts quoted estimates indicating that there was an accumulation of more than 500 million small arms and light weapons worldwide, and that their existence "is closely related to the increased incidence of internal conflicts and high levels of crime and violence".

The group said such weapons had been or were the primary or sole tools of violence in several of the armed conflicts dealt with by the United Nations, particularly where fighting involved irregular troops among the warring parties.

Of particular concern, according to the group, was the fact that hundreds of thousands of children had been among the victims, and that by 1999 more than 300,000 of them under the age of 16 were estimated to have been exploited as participants in armed conflict using those arms. Briefing correspondents on the report, Mr. Donowaki said the report was presented to the Secretary-General yesterday. He had told the Secretary-General that from now on the important thing was to work for the success of the United Nations conference. The Secretary-General had mentioned the importance of cooperation with civil society in activities connected with the conference.

Outlining the highlights of the report, he noted the complementarity of the group's work and negotiations under way in Vienna on a draft Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition and Other Related Materials, Supplementary to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.

He drew attention to the group's observation -- the first in such reports, he said -- that arms brokers played a key role in the illicit arms supply networks which involved legal arms purchases or transfers which were later diverted to unauthorized recipients.

Mr. Donowaki said the report made 11 recommendations to the United Nations, among which was a call to the Security Council to effectively implement its arms embargoes. The United Nations was urged to extend the proportional and integrated approach to security and development initiated and pursued by it in West Africa. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other relevant organizations were also urged to pay special attention to the needs of children in post-conflict situations. Mr. Donowaki referred to the need for United Nations action -- not dealt with previously, he also said -- to control ammunition and explosives in peacekeeping and post-conflict activities.

Mr. Donowaki said the group had recommended that the United Nation should begin work on marking small arms and light weapons to reduce the possibilities of removal of their identification by criminals and arms traffickers. The group recommended that the markings should identify the country of manufacture and also include information on the manufacturer and serial number.

The group called for the early completion of a study on the feasibility of restricting the manufacture and trade of small arms and light weapons to manufacturers and dealers authorized by States which was requested by the General Assembly in its resolution A/53/77 E of 4 December 1998. It urged States to exercise the utmost restraint in transfers of small arms and light weapons and ammunition to conflict areas. They were also to introduce laws, regulations and administrative procedures to effectively control the production of such weapons, and their export, import, transit or retransfer.

Furthermore, they were encouraged to integrate actions to control ammunition into prevention and reduction measures. Campaigns should be promoted with the cooperation of civil society, including non-governmental organizations, to raise awareness on the dangers associated with the proliferation of small arms and weapons and illicit arms trafficking.

Responding to questions, Mr. Donowaki said the approach of the group to the subject matter before it was different from the ongoing negotiations in Vienna where they had to deal with domestic registration of small arms and civilian transfers. His panel, therefore, did not question the uncontrolled activities in any country. The importance of the problem was being recognized.

A correspondent observed that there were growing discussions on whether it would be possible to achieve an instrument to control illicit arms trafficking. The correspondent asked whether the issue had been discussed and, if so, what the thinking was. Mr. Donowaki said that the group had not necessarily excluded that possibility, but the reality was that it would not be easy to conclude such an instrument at the year 2001 conference. On the other hand, the Vienna negotiators were doing exactly that. His panel had urged the strengthening of existing laws. It would be up to the conference to take a decision on that.

Jayantha Dhanapala, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, replying to a question, said that hopefully a preparatory committee on the conference would be established by the forthcoming General Assembly session. That committee would have to study the question of what the final product of the conference should be -- whether it would be a politically binding declaration, or the initiation of a treaty-making process. It was perhaps premature to try to find out what would happen in the year 2001, he added.

He said the parallel process going on in Vienna involved discussions on a protocol to ban firearms. The preparatory committee would eventually have to decide whether a legally binding instrument or a politically binding declaration should be the objective of the 2001 conference.

Introducing Mr. Donowaki earlier, Mr. Dhanapala said the United Nations had played a leading role in the question of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and their widespread misuse in conflicts which had caused so many deaths all over the world. Paying tribute to Mr. Donowaki, he said his panel worked over a period of two years and comprised 23 experts. He paid a tribute to the Government of Japan which helped to finance the workshops held in between the actual meetings of the panel of experts.

He referred to two other reports which had been prepared for the upcoming session of the General Assembly. He recalled resolutions of the Assembly's fifty-third session on the subject of small arms and light weapons, some of which requested submission of reports by the Secretary-General. Resolution 53/77 E particularly asked that the Secretary-General initiate a study on the feasibility of restricting the manufacture and trade of small arms and light weapons to manufacturers and dealers authorized by States alone. That report had been issued already in document A/54/60. It followed a meeting of experts who had recommended that a study could be conducted, encompassing the manufacture, transfer of parts and components of small arms and light weapons, as well as the licensing and co-production of such weapons. He believed the report would be acted upon by the General Assembly, and he expected it to look into the question of actually commissioning such a study.

He also said that there had been a resolution at an earlier session of the General Assembly -- 52/38 J -- which requested a separate study on ammunition and explosives. It was, in a sense, a companion report to that of Mr.Donowaki's panel. That report talked about the importance of ammunition and explosives as a separate issue from the actual arms themselves. Finally, he said a report was also expected under resolution A/53/77 T on illicit trafficking in small arms, by which the Secretary-General was charged with undertaking broad-based consultations on the magnitude of the scope of the issue; the possible measures that could be taken to combat it, and the role of the United Nations in that effort.

Mr. Dhanapala also drew attention to the exhibition on small arms mounted by UNICEF with funding by the Government of Andorra in the Visitors Section of the Headquarters Building.

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