The UN Security Council at its ministerial level meeting this week voiced grave concern at the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons, which perpetuate conflict and instability worldwide and cause significant loss of life.
In a resolution adopted by a vote of 14 in favour, with Russia abstaining, the Council welcomed efforts made to tackle this scourge and urged the further strengthening of co-operation and information sharing to combat the problem.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council that from bringing instability to the Sahel region of Africa to fuelling lawlessness in Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, and Iraq and on the high seas, small arms have wreaked havoc on lives and nations as well as undermined development efforts.
“Small arms are a source of crises, conflict and criminality.”
“The uncontrolled availability of guns and bullets threatens peace processes and fragile reconciliation efforts. It leads to a vast range of human rights violations, including killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture and forced recruitment of children by armed groups.
“It exacerbates inter-community violence and organised crime. And it undermines our work for social justice, the rule of law and the Millennium Development Goals,” he said in reference to the anti-poverty targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015.
“The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded.”
The Secretary-General called on States to commit to building a safer, more secure world for all, and in particular to sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. Adopted by the General Assembly in April the treaty regulates the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships.
The “landmark” treaty obligates States to regulate international arms transfers, including prohibiting shipments to governments that fail to use them in conformity with the UN Charter.
“The treaty will also help address weapons diversion from government stockpiles – a growing and disturbing source of arms for pirates, rebels and warlords.”
The treaty, which needs 50 ratifications to enter into force, has so far been signed by 110 States and ratified by seven.
Ban added that innovations such as weapon-tracking technologies and personalisation of firearms can help. “Arms embargoes are also vital. Yet unscrupulous brokers are adept at evading such strictures.”
In this context he said the various monitoring groups of Security Council sanctions committees need more and better information.
“Small arms remain a big concern. The challenge lies at the intersection of human rights, security, development, crime, international trade, public health and counter-terrorism. Member States, the UN system, regional organisations and civil society have made progress, but much remains to be done.”
In addition to ministers and representatives of the Council’s 15 members, the meeting also heard from Christine Beerli, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who described small arms as the “weapons of choice” in conflicts. They deliberately target civilians and property and prolong conflicts and violate international humanitarian and human rights law, she said.