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Colombia in the International Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons

(New York, July 9, 2001)

Statement by the Vice-President and Minister of Defense, Mr. Gustavo Bell Lemus 


Mr. President:

I am particularly pleased to address you, together with the other members of the Bureau, Madame Louise Frechette, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and all the distinguished delegates present in this Assembly to share with you the honor for the Government of Colombia in having a compatriot in whom the best traits of our national character are present, presiding over this Conference, a milestone in the process towards the eradication of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects.

Since Colombia presented to the General Assembly the initiative to convene an International Conference on the Illicit Arms Trade, which was unanimously adopted by resolution 46/36 H of 1991, a number of countries, in particular those most affected by this scourge, succeeded in keeping the initiative alive. Today, we are meeting with the aim of dedicating our efforts to the search for common and global solutions to the desolation and suffering caused by this problem, confident that the international community will join in the efforts being made in our battle against a scourge, that constitutes a grave threat to peace and security.

The international debate on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is taking place amid the many conflicts being waged throughout the world. It is therefore essential to combat the illicit trade in the instruments used to feed violence and exacerbate these conflicts. Furthermore, by its clandestine nature, this trade provides the weapons that generally increase the war-making capacity of those whose aim is to undermine the stability of many nations and impede the search for peaceful solutions.

While small arms and light weapons are not the principal cause of conflicts, their ready availability and illicit trade contribute significantly to expanding conflicts and generating greater violence and instability.

Mr. President:

In my country, the fight against individuals and organizations that trade in war material is one of our foremost national priorities. Bands of arms traffickers, many of them part of international networks, are regularly broken up by the authorities. However, the huge number of small arms and light weapons, explosives, munitions, anti-personnel mines, grenades, cannon, bombs and booby traps seized or confiscated, represent only a portion of the arms illegally brought into the country.

Small arms and light weapons, given their size and low cost, are generally the most widely used in this illicit trade that feeds criminal activities, internal conflicts and the so-called "low intensity wars". These arms require simple technologies, in comparison with those used to manufacture the heavy weapons on which the international community has centered its efforts to achieve transparency and to prevent the proliferation of their technology.

The impact of small arms and light weapons, however, depends not only on the characteristics or quantity of the arms accumulated or transferred, but on the repercussions which their unregulated circulation and illicit trade have on the peace and stability of the countries and regions affected by these problems. The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons cannot therefore be treated with indifference, since it constitutes one of the most difficult problems being faced by the international community.

The types of small arms that are introduced into countries through clandestine and illicit channels are diverse and range from pistols and revolvers to arms manufactured to military specifications, which are not included in the categories listed in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. The countries of origin and transit of illegal weapons are also diverse.

It is for these reasons that, based on the principle of shared responsibility, we are convinced of the urgent need for international cooperation to develop and coordinate joint strategies to prevent and combat this scourge.

A number of countries have strict laws and regulations that govern the arms trade as well as a regime to regulate and monitor weapons for the exclusive use of military and law enforcement forces and to impose severe restrictions on the carrying and ownership of arms by the civilian population. Such legal provisions are generally designed to give the State the monopoly of force and control over weapons, so that any weapon that circulates or which is introduced into the country in contravention of these laws or regulations is illegal. However, the fulfillment of these obligations can be seriously impeded when arms are illegally introduced and thus remain outside the control of the State authorities.

The various initiatives undertaken by States and regional and subregional organizations reflect the growing concern of the international community at the grave consequences which the proliferation and illicit trade in small arms and light weapons have for peace, security and social and economic development. However, this concern has not been reflected in the establishment of a global regime to prevent the unrestricted circulation of these arms, the corruption of those who take advantage of this situation to make profits, and access to arms by groups and individuals who trade in terror. All of this, with a view to preventing these same weapons from continuing to seriously jeopardize the lives and freedoms of citizens.

In the Americas, we have given this problem our highest priority. Thus we have negotiated and swiftly adopted the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials. With the entry into force of this Convention, the countries of the hemisphere are contributing with their efforts to prevent crimes from being committed with firearms, munitions and explosives, through promulgation of the legislative measures needed to characterize as crimes the manufacture and illicit trade in these weapons as well as participation in, association with and conspiracy to commit such crimes.

Nevertheless, since the illicit trade in arms is a phenomenon of global proportions, the step taken by our countries requires the cooperation of the international community as a whole to achieve the total eradication of this trade.

Mr. President:

The draft Programme of Action that is now under consideration by the States Members of the United Nations takes into account the proposals made by many delegations and the positions taken on those proposals. However, there are still some differences of opinion between countries, which are understandably the result of their own circumstances and experiences with small arms and light weapons, either as producers and suppliers of these weapons, as countries of transit in their international trade, as countries affected by their illicit trade or also, as is sometimes the case, a combination of these factors. Nevertheless, whatever the position adopted by delegations, we must bear in mind that the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons poses a common threat to international peace and security and that in order to prevent and combat it there must be coordination of global efforts to eliminate the conditions that have driven this trade for many years.

The Programme of Action must therefore establish the follow-up mechanisms to ensure compliance as well as the mechanisms needed to regulate and monitor the links in the chain of the trade in small arms and light weapons, from the stage of production to their distribution and sale.

To finalize, Mr. President, allow me to quote from the Report of the Secretary-General to the Millenium Assembly of the United Nations:

"The death toll from small arms dwarfs that of all other weapons systems -and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In terms of the carnage they cause, small arms, indeed, could well be described as "weapons of mass destruction"..."

"Small arms proliferation is not merely a security issue; it is also an issue of human rights and of development. The proliferation of small arms sustains and exacerbates armed conflicts. It endangers peacekeepers and humanitarian workers. It undermines respect for international humanitarian law. It threatens legitimate but weak governments and it benefits terrorists as well as the perpetrators of organized crime."

It is therefore evident, that the outcome of this Conference and, in particular, the conclusions and decisions that emanate from it, will represent a very important step towards international peace and stability, towards the development and well-being of our peoples, towards international solidarity and cooperation, towards the strengthening of multilateral action and the strengthening of the capacity of the United Nations as interpreter of the aspirations of the international community, and towards the establishment of new forms of partnership with civil society.

Thank you very much Mr. President.


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