Small arms and light weapons which end up on battlefields, urban streets and elsewhere are a big problem for the world, according to the UN body organising a two-week conference, which started in New York this week.
Small arms fire kills over half a million people each year, UN Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti told the gathering.
She said while those pulling the trigger ranged from soldiers and police officers through to civilians – sometimes acting in self-defence – most are members of armed groups, terrorist organisations, criminal gangs or national security forces abusing their power.
“Regulating small arms is a unique challenge,” Viotti said in a message on behalf of the UN Secretary-General.
“It is not simply a question of addressing government stockpiles. Out of some 900 million small arms in the world, three-quarters are in civilian hands – the majority unlicensed.”
The senior UN official said controlling and regulating the flow of small arms and light weapons requires action beyond national security institutions.
This includes initiatives such as providing alternative livelihoods to former combatants or working with grassroots organisations and community violence reduction programmes.
Viotti said small arms control is also a prerequisite for stability and conflict prevention, critical to maintaining peace and achieving sustainable development.
She pointed out small arms and light weapons are a factor in large scale human rights abuses and forced displacement of civilians.
“Only through sustainable development will we be able to build just, peaceful and inclusive societies and achieve lasting peace,” she said.
She stressed addressing the root causes of violence and conflict was integral to reaching these goals.
The conference at the UN follows a 2001 Programme of Action which saw countries commit to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
Nations have met every six years to review progress on implementation, with this year’s conference marking the third gathering.
The organisers behind RevCon3, as the conference is known, point to new concerns such as increased links between transnational organised crime, illicit small arms trafficking and terrorism and the use of emerging technologies such as 3-D printing in the underground trafficking business.