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Open Debate on small arms

(New York, January 19, 2004)

Statement by Ambassador Luis Guillermo Giraldo, Permanent Representative of Colombia 



Mr. President,

I want to congratulate you for assuming during this month the Presidency of the Security Council and for organizing this debate. For a sister country like Colombia it is satisfactory to see Chile presiding the United Nations organ in charge of the difficult task of maintaining international peace and security.

Allow me, Mr. President, to begin my statement with some thoughts on the topic under our consideration. One of the worst tragedies that a considerable part of human kind is living, and seem condemn to live, comes from the use, abuse, trade and trafficking on small arms and light weapons. Besides all so-called low intensity conflicts are fed, maintained, expanded, deepened and degraded because of the incapacity to efficiently combat the illicit trade on these weapons. Possibilities for a negotiated solution of conflicts, as well, are negatively affected by the continuous flow of these war and death instruments. Even peace agreements already signed have failed because of the parties' rearmament, made possible due to the world traffic on these arms. Scandalized or not, the world watches infamous arms traffickers with huge fortunes photographed in entertainment magazines with total impunity regarding their grave crimes against humanity.

We talk a lot at the United Nations about solving and preventing conflicts. An elemental and effective way, not only to solve and prevent the wrongly called low intensity conflicts, but also to make them virtually impossible, is through the combat of the illicit trade on small arms and light weapons, as well as a more effective control of the licit trade on these arms. This Organization has begun a process on these matters that, although slow, my country appreciates. However, we should question ourselves if the tasks that we undertake are enough and effective to eliminate this scourge. Millions of deaths, injured and disabled people that these weapons produce in their massive destruction, year after year, require from us more action, more commitment, and more imagination to face this problem. Could this Security Council deal with this issue under Chapter VII the same way that it did with resolution 1373 to fight terrorism, taking into account that the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is a similar or even bigger threat to international peace and security?

I finish here, Mr. President, my initial thought and begin my comments on the report under our consideration. The Secretary General's 12 recommendations could be divided between those that can be implemented directly by the Security Council (peace-building, conflict prevention, arms embargoes and monitoring systems) and those that should be implemented by Member States and the Security Council can only call upon or encourage them to implement.

For my delegations it is particularly meaningful that the Secretary General reported "significant progress" or "encouraging indications" on most of the recommendations that should be implemented by Member States, while on those which should be implemented directly by the Security Council progress is not as significant and indications are not as encouraging.

As a matter of fact, at the General Assembly Member States will begin this year to negotiate an international instrument to enable States to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons (Recommendation 1). States are also committed to provide technical and financial support to the Interpol Weapons and Explosives Tracking System, an on this task we commend the financing provided by the United States of America (Recommendation 2). Member States have also enhanced transparency in armaments through an increased participation in the Register of Conventional Arms and the Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures of the United Nations (Recommendation 12).

However, a lack of compliance with arms embargoes by Member States is registered (Recommendation 5) due to inadequate legislation, lack of enforcement or technical capacity limitations. There is also no meaningful progress on legislation to ensure effective control over the import, export and transit of small arms and light weapons, neither regarding the use of authenticated end-user certificates (Recommendation 9). This was proven during the First Biennial Meeting of States on the implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action, which took place last year. Only 98 States presented reports where it is reflected that 78 of them have export-import control laws and only 39 meet end-user certificate requirements. Even more worrisome is the situation regarding brokering activities: only 16 countries have domestic regulations covering this area.

Allow me here, Mr. President, to make a parenthesis to emphasized that efforts to control exports should not be based on criteria that take into account only the views and interests of the producing and exporting countries, leaving aside the interest of the importing countries and of the countries affected by the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. Criteria like the respect for human rights, the existence of internal conflicts and the unbalance between defense and development expenditures, though legitimate and even commendable, are by its nature subjective, no objective criteria. Furthermore such criteria, applied by the exporting country, violates the right of each State to import and retain small arms and light weapons for its self-defense and security needs, in accordance to Article 51 of the UN Charter that recognize the inherent right of self-defense. Such criteria also tend to violate the principle of non-intervention and to decide unilaterally what should be the security and defense needs and priorities of the importing country. This is a typical case in which a good intention by the exporting State (to control small arms exports and minimize the risk of diversion of these weapons into the illegal trade), ends up creating a big damage (prevent importing and affected States from acquiring, for their legal forces, the small arms and light weapons they require to fight criminals and terrorists that have plenty of illegal small arms and light weapons to destabilize a country).

Therefore, Mr. President, we consider more fair and efficient the establishment of strong national end-user regimes, and even developing an end-user certificate system at the regional and global levels, as well as an information exchange and verification mechanism.

Mr. President,

Regarding the recommendations which implementation depends directly on the Security Council, he register even less progress than in those that have to be implemented by the States. The Council just noted the proposal of the Secretariat to create the small arms advisory service on the basis of extrabudgetary resources (Recommendation 3). It did not enhanced its interaction with the General Assembly on issues relating to small arms, so as to promote long-term strategies within the framework of conflict prevention and peace-building (Recommendation 4). Neither did it register major progress on regard to the links between the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and the illicit exploitation of natural resources, and none progress at all on the links with the trade in illegal drugs (Recommendation 6).

On Recommendation 7, related to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, some important efforts by the Security Council were registered. Nevertheless, these efforts are insufficient due to the lack of compliance with Recommendation 8 on financing these programs with the budget for peace-keeping operations. Financing of these programs with voluntary funds, which tend to be very limited, put in grave danger disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in post-conflict zones, as well as peace consolidation. Furthermore, it leaves in those zones a huge quantity or arms and ammunitions that are transferred to other zones and countries in conflict.

The Security Council should also give more attention to Recommendation 10, regarding arms embargoes in situations under its consideration, particularly against non-state agents. More attention should also be given to restrict the supply of ammunition for guns that are already widely available for non-state actors in countries or regions engaged in or emerging from armed conflicts. On this topic we should take into account the observation made by the Panel of Experts on Somalia. Since most armed groups in that country require steady access to ammunition rather than arms, that were already available throughout the country, the Panel recommended that the front-line and neighboring States be urged to establish sanctions assistance offices on their territories with the help of regional and sub-regional organizations. This recommendation is valid for all conflicts where there is a destabilizing accumulation and uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons, as well as their ammunitions. Neighboring countries have the responsibility to avoid their territory be used to send small arms and ammunitions to non-state armed actors in countries in conflict. United Nations should call upon those countries to comply with their obligations on this regard and make sure they implement them.

Mr. President:

Allow me to conclude noting that in the past decade the use of small arms and light weapons caused the deaths of millions of people, seriously wounded or permanently disabled six million people, and contributed to the forced displacement of 20 million people. Countries under conflict, almost all of them developing countries, earmark more than 10% of their annual gross domestic product for treating the victims of these conflicts and for trying to control approximately 200 million illicit small arms and light weapons that circulate in the world.

Because of these grave humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences of this scourge, and because of the serious threat which it poses to international peace, security and stability, it is of vital importance to have controls and rules on the trade of small arms and light weapons at the national, regional and world levels. As the Security Council has already stated, arms-exporting countries are obliged to exercise the highest degree of responsibility in small arms and light weapons transactions, and all countries should prevent the illegal diversion and re-export of these arms.

The Secretary General was right when he said that small arms and light weapons, which annually caused millions of deaths around the world, are the real mass destruction weapons. Also the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia was right when he said in his speech to this Council on August 2, 2001, that "It is an irony that most of the conflicts in which small arms and light weapons are used, take place in the developing world and that most of these arms are produced in the developed world. This terrible irony requires the application to the world trade in such weapons of a principle that has already been accepted in the fight against the traffic in illicit drugs, which is the principle of shared responsibility.


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