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15 July 2008

Conference Highlights
Michael Spies, Arms Control Reporter and Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will


Procedural Matters

Iran stated the outcome document must be negotiated, noting the draft outcome text language that had been circulated contained substantive points.

The Chair released draft language on “International cooperation, assistance and national capacity-building: The way forward,” which included recommendations derived from yesterday's discussion on this topic. The text supplements Part I of WP.5, “Draft language for outcome document.”

Thematic discussion on stockpile management and surplus destruction

Discussion over working papers and the outcome document 

Switzerland introduced its discussion paper, WP.3, which highlights challenges and outlines steps states can take to address stockpile problems

Switzerland explained that WP.3 is organized to cover legislation, procedures, and operations that raise awareness of national responsibility and the need for states to renew stockpile management arrangements. The paper also contains “basic ingredients” for effective stockpile management systems.

Russia suggested the BMS focus on illicit trade problems rather than explosions. While Russia agreed that managing stockpiles and surplus of ammunition is important to prevent ammunition from falling into the illegal trade, but argued that WP.3 seems to focus on ammunition in general. Russia stated paragraph 7 dealt with surplus ammunition with reference to the PoA, but not with SALW. Regarding paragraph 1 on ammunition explosions in depots, Russia argued such danger comes from ammunition for heavy weapons and mines, not from SALW ammunition.

Gabon proposed that states like Switzerland should approach states that are in need of assistance, through the UN or regional organizations, in order to help them better manage their stockpiles.

Indonesia welcomed the point in WP.3 that notes any international assistance for stockpile management must emanate from requests based on assessments made by states themselves.

New Zealand agreed with WP.3 that national commitment to improved stockpile management is essential.

The Chair noted that Part III of WP.5, “Draft language for outcome document,” deals with stockpile management and surplus disposal. This document highlights the need for states to establish “effective regulations, standards and procedures for the management of stocks,” which requires resources and technical assistance for multiple elements. Both WP.3 and WP.5 argue that decision-making on stockpile management and surplus disposal—including what percentage of their national stockpiles are surplus—is a national prerogative, and both argue that adequate systems and procedures are essential to these decisions. Both also highlight the cost-effectiveness of stockpile management.

The Latin American and Caribbean countries submitted working document WP.9, which argues the issue “should be approached from the perspective of international assistance and cooperation and national capacity-building.”

Belarus expressed support for the facilitator’s working paper.

General discussion

The European Union argued a key problem with stockpile management is that the PoA does not cover ammunition.

Norway agreed ammunition should be included in work on the PoA. Norway also noted that surplus destruction and stockpile management will contribute to the humanitarian aspects of the PoA.

The League of Arab States said most countries need common legislation and technical assistance to effectively manage their stockpiles.

CARICOM said the most important aspect of this discussion for it is international cooperation and assistance, as the region lacks technical, financial, and human resources to deal with stockpile management. CARICOM argued the region has a different perspective on the problem of stockpile management and surplus disposal as the region does not have large stockpiles of weapons or ammunition. CARICOM asked states with surplus and stockpiles to manage and destroy their weapons appropriately so that they do not enter into illicit circulation.

Australia highlighted the importance of following strict rules and procedures when dealing with stockpiles, such as the “two person rule,” which stipulates that no one person can enter an armory alone.

China urged states to share effective practices and experiences in stockpile management and surplus disposal through bilateral or multilateral channels and to jointly explore ways to solve problems. China also recommended that international technical and financial assistance and training should be enhanced and said international organizations can help coordinate assistance

Germany said the main problem with stockpile management is that states do not have the technical knowledge to know when their inventories are out of date and made several recommendations for improved management:

  • states should review stockpile management practices and request technical assistance if needed;
  • states should improve legislative and regulatory frameworks that govern the safety of stockpiles;
  • state should pay particular attention to systematically identifying surplus or obsolete arms;
  • technical guidelines for stockpile management should be developed within UN;
  • education and training of management staff should receive increased attention; and
  • states should strengthen their support for projects to improve stockpile management 

Italy recommended the development of a new international instrument for stockpile management and destruction and argued that awareness raising on stockpile management procedures is key along with increasing international cooperation and assistance. Italy also suggested states strengthen their export controls, such as through a “no re-transfer clause” and consider allowing exporting countries to make regular visits to relevant deposits to ensure the agreed arms transfer standards are met.

Kenya argued that during the arms procurement process, governments should ensure that the terms of the transfers are determined by their needs, not those of brokers.

The Netherlands said there are two approaches to combating and preventing the illicit trade of SALW: the international community can (and should) develop advanced instruments to mark and trace weapons and can (and should) focus on developing national regional legislation on brokering, while keeping in mind that another approach is to ensure that the source of illicit trade dries up, by ensuring stockpile security and destroying weapons deemed useless to the legal owner.

Israel noted that systematic marking and tracing of weapons makes it easier for states to make stockpile inventories.

New Zealand pointed out that assistance can come in many forms, even sharing experiences person-to-person or over the phone.

Uruguay said mechanisms to demilitarize weapons, to remove and recycle their components is essential to surplus disposal and indicated it needs increased technical and financial assistance in this area.

Paraguay said any approach to this issue should begin with a definition of a “suitable” stockpile.

Senegal argued that “regularizing” sales is not enough if stockpiles are not managed properly.

Thematic discussion on illicit brokering

Discussion over working papers and the outcome document 

Norway said it would like the BMS to call for full implementation of brokering agreements.

Italy called for language in the outcome document to reflect the contribution of the Firearms Protocol toward curbing illicit brokering.

Turkey expressed support for Italy’s request regarding including language on the Firearms Protocol in the outcome document.

Mexico expressed the hope that the outcome document would establish a road map for dealing with the issue of brokering and said it would submit a proposal to the facilitator based on the MERCOSUR working paper.

The United Kingdom said it wanted references in the outcome document made that a common understanding exists on brokering.

The United Kingdom also asked for an acknowledgement that states have much to do in implementing the PoA and for emphasis to be placed on the importance of reporting.

The 2007 report of the Group of Government Experts on further steps to enhance international cooperation in preventing, combating and eradicating illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons

Brian Wood presented the major findings of the 2007 GGE, reporting that progress had been slow since the issue was first identified in 1996, with only 40 states having enacted regulation of brokering. Of existing laws, he said many were weak, describing their verification, compliance, and enforcement as often inadequate. He said positive change was possible with international cooperation, with sub-regional organizations guiding the development of better legislation.

The European Union unreservedly expressed support for the GGE’s recommendations, stating its regret that the UN General Assembly had been unable to support it as well.

Norway said it would have preferred stronger recommendations from the GGE, but would nonetheless like the BMS to endorse them.

Switzerland welcomed the recommendations of the GGE.

Russia said states should take into account the recommendations of GGE as far as possible.

Japan encouraged all states to enact the measures recommended in the GGE report if feasible.

The Netherlands said the recommendations made by the GGE should be implemented with a sense of urgency.

Kenya expressed support for the GGE’s report and recommendations.

Mexico described the GGE as the first step in a process, urging states to arrive at an agreement with clear solutions.

India welcomed the GGE report.

General discussion

A large number of states reported on their national brokering policies, as well as progress made in implementing the PoA, including China, Gabon, Belarus, Lithuania, Algeria, and India.

Kenya and Mexico reported on the operation of regional mechanisms, in their respective sub-regions.

A number of states reported on their international assistance programs related to combating illicit brokering, including France,Switzerland, and Australia.

Australia suggested ten elements for national legislation on curbing illicit brokering.

Benin put forward possible specific solutions on brokering, including establish creating model legislation for presentation to member states, assistance developing accreditation systems, and establishing regional monitoring mechanisms.

China and Japan both offered several specific suggestions for combating illicit brokering. Japan further stated that enactment of national legislation insufficient and that international cooperation was needed.

Congo said it needed assistance on legislation, enforcement, strengthening its judicial framework.

The United Kingdom reiterated its offer to assist states in the drafting of legislation on brokering.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said addressing the issue of brokering requires a uniform, global, legally-binding framework—an international treaty. Pending conclusion of an international instrument, the ICRC urged states to establish and adhere to regional mechanism. The ICRC expressed the view that in authorizing brokering transactions, states must take into account the impact on international humanitarian law.

MERCOSUR, CARICOM, and Colombia reiterated their support for a legally-binding instrument to regulate arms brokering.

Discussion of other issues

The United Kingdom pointed to the Best Practice Guidelines for Exports of SALW adopted by the Wassenaar Arrangement in 2003, stating it uses elements from these guidelines as a standard for exporting arms even to states not participating in the Wassenaar Arrangement.

MERCOSUR urged all states to fully comply with Chapter 2 of the PoA, which covers national, regional, and global measures needed to prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW.

Panama suggested other ways to limit gun ownership, including programs that exchange food coupons for weapons and that educating the public on the dangers of owning a firearm.

Nigeria, the Netherlands, and Yemen referenced the link between the illicit trade in SALW, armed violence, and its devastating effect on development.

Liberia highlighted the link between the illegal trade in SALW and the illegal trade in diamonds in Africa.

The United Kingdom said self-assessment, which should be contained in national reports, should be seen as necessary in order to match needs to resources.

Side Events

A SIPRI study on submission of information on SALW to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms
Michael Spies, Arms Control Reporter

In an lunchtime event, SIPRI presented the results of an assessment of state reporting to the UN Register of Conventional Arms in the period between 2003 and 2006. The presentation focused on issues related to reporting on SALW since its introduction as a “virtual category” and the merits of its formal introduction as an eighth category. SIPRI also described a new 12-month Counter-Illicit Trafficking Mechanism Assessment Project, intended to assess the global movement of SALW toward the purpose of facilitating the possible developing of information sharing and control mechanisms.

Conflict of Interest: Children and Guns in Zones of Instability
Valerie Haentjens, Reaching Critical Will

The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, which is part of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, held a panel discussion about the topic “Conflict of Interest: Children and Guns in Zones of Instability.” Belgium organized the meeting in order to raise awareness of the devastating effects of small arms on children. UNIDIR introduced its research on different aid projects and the reintegration process. A former child soldier explained his story and showed a trailer of a video about his case, which can be watched on www.youtube.com under the headline “War Child Trailer-Emmanuel Jal’s Story.”