Report on the Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons Within the Commonwealth

Author:Commonwealth Secretariat
Pages:123-133
SUMMARY

Introduction. Small arms and light weapons as a commonwealth priority. United nations programme of action. Recent initiatives and developments. States' existing obligations under international law. Common approaches to addressing salw problems. Considering the role of the commonwealth secretariat. Action by Law Ministers.

 
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Executive summary
  1. The widespread availability, unregulated transfer and misuse of small arms and light weapons (SALW) gravely undermine key Commonwealth priorities in human rights, development, conflict prevention and strengthening democracy. Many Commonwealth governments are adversely affected by the uncontrolled flow and misuse of these weapons.

  2. Concerns about excessive and destabilising accumulation of weapons have been consistently raised by Commonwealth Heads of Government, including in the 2003 Abuja Communiqu where Heads of Government voiced their concern about the "proliferation of small arms, ammunition, and light weapons, which had contributed to the intensity and duration of armed conflicts as well as to international terrorism".

  3. SALW have also been a priority for member states through their participation in the United Nations. In 2001 a Programme of Action (PoA) was adopted with recommendations for action at the national, regional and global levels.

  4. While the PoA provides a framework from which member states can take action to control SALW, a number of national, regional and international agreements and initiatives have also been launched to address these problems. From these initiatives, common approaches have emerged including: the need to make changes to domestic criminal laws and other legislation; the need for the development of minimum standards; ensuring harmonisation of legislation in geographic regions; and co-operation among states.

  5. The Secretariat is strategically poised to play a significant role in further advancing the progress that has been made and to ensure that states can follow through with the commitments they have made to control the transfer and use of SALW. Law Ministers are invited to consider the role the Secretariat could play in the following areas:

* assisting with the drafting of model criminal legislative provisions;

* developing draft model legislative provisions and regulations for marking, tracing and brokering SALW;

* preparing a summary of the obligations that its member states already possess under international law that apply to transfers and uses of SALW;

* capacity building to ensure the effective implementation of initiatives;

* liaising with other organisations to facilitate funds that can be used on a state or regional level in support of the development of programmes focused on capacity building within key public sectors;

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* monitoring international developments in the area of SALW controls in order to provide member countries with information and updates on major initiatives of interest and best practices.

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Report on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons within the commonwealth
Introduction

"Even in societies not beset by civil war, the easy availability of small arms has in many cases contributed to violence and political instability. These, in turn, have damaged development prospects and imperilled human security in every way." - UN Secretary General Koffi Annan

  1. Small arms and light weapons (SALW) have been described as the new weapons of mass destruction. It is estimated that the use of SALW causes the death of up to a half million people every year, at least half of them in the context of military conflict, mostly internal conflict and civil war, the rest in other kinds of gun-related violence. Their widespread availability, unregulated transfer and misuse gravely undermine key Commonwealth priorities, including human rights, democracy, people-centred development, and conflict prevention and resolution in many Commonwealth countries. The need to address these impacts and to work towards disarmament and effective arms control has been consistently expressed as a priority for governments of the Commonwealth. As more regional and international initiatives are developed and implemented, the Secretariat is strategically poised to play a significant role in advancing the progress that has been made, to help ensure that states effectively implement their various commitments and to facilitate with the development of common approaches to achieve progress to control the transfer and use of SALW.

  2. This paper will provide a brief overview of the concerns raised by SALW and the need to address these concerns as a Commonwealth priority. It will also document the important developments made in recent years to control their transfer and use and recommend ways that the Secretariat can constructively play a role in further advancing the progress that has been made to date.

Small arms and light weapons as a commonwealth priority
  1. Illicit trafficking, proliferation and misuse of SALW is now widely recognised to be a major source of insecurity and human suffering across much of the world. Commonwealth Heads of Government have consistently expressed concern at the continued destabilising accumulation and proliferation of small arms, ammunition and light weapons, which contribute to the intensity and duration of armed conflicts as well as to international terrorism. They have also highlighted the fact that many Commonwealth governments are adversely affected by the uncontrolled flow and misuse of these weapons. Concern has been expressed that the spread of small arms threatens national, regional and global security and impedes basic social and economic development. Heads of Government have also noted that the challenges posed by the proliferation of small arms involve security, humanitarian, health and development dimensions.

  2. The need to develop effective arms controls has been a longstanding Commonwealth priority. In the 1991 Harare Declaration, Commonwealth countries pledged to "support United Nations and other international institutions in the world's search for peace, disarmament and effective arms control."

  3. Concern about the excessive and destabilising accumulation of weapons and the need for urgent action was expressed in the 1999 Durban Communiqu. Again, in 2003, Heads of Government voiced their concern in the Abuja Communiqu about the "proliferation of small arms, ammunition, and light weapons, which had contributed to the intensity and duration of armed conflicts as well as to international terrorism", and noted that many member state governments werePage 126 adversely affected by the uncontrolled flows of these weapons. Member countries were urged to support initiatives at the global and regional level to curb and prevent their illicit production, trafficking and misuse. At that same meeting, the Aso Rock Commonwealth Declaration on Development and Democracy: Partnership for Peace and Prosperity committed members to support "efforts to curb the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons".

  4. The need to take action on SALW also remains high on the global agenda. The United Nations General Assembly regularly focuses on the impacts of SALW and has passed numerous resolutions on the issue. For example, in 2004, the General Assembly reaffirmed "the importance of ongoing efforts at the regional and sub-regional levels...and invite[d] all Member States that have not yet done so to examine the possibility of developing and adopting regional and sub-regional measures, as appropriate, to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects".1

  5. In 2003 the General Assembly invited "all member States ...to enact or improve national legislation, regulations and procedures to exercise effective control over the transfer of arms, military equipment and dual-use goods and technology, while ensuring that such legislation, regulations and procedures are consistent with the obligations of States parties under international treaties."2

  6. The United Nations Security Council has also made SALW a priority area, expressing grave concern at the negative impacts of SALW, for example on civilians in situations of armed conflict, particularly on vulnerable groups such as women and children.3 In the most recent Presidential statement on small arms, the Security Council encouraged "the arms-exporting countries to exercise the highest degree of responsibility in small arms and light weapons transactions according to their existing responsibilities under relevant international law" and urged Member States "to establish the necessary legislative or other measures, including the use of authenticated end-user certificates, to ensure effective control over the export and transit of small arms and light weapons".4

  7. As a final example, the Agenda for Humanitarian Action adopted by the 191 States Parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent placed the reduction of human suffering resulting from the uncontrolled availability and misuse of weapons as one of its key goals, highlighting the need for States to respect international humanitarian law as a means of strengthening the controls on the availability of weapons.5

United nations programme of action
  1. SALW have also been a priority for Commonwealth members through their...

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