29 August 2012, Vol. 5, No. 3

Cause and effect
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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During the general statements segment of the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) Review Conference (RevCon), several member states have drawn attention to pressing issues related to cause and effect relationships related to small arms and light weapons (SALW). Comments have focused primarily on the relationship between supply and demand of SALW as well as between SALW proliferation and armed violence, instability, and development. This RevCon should ensure that the plans of action for further UNPoA implementation incorporate mechanisms for measuring and analyzing the supply and demand of SALW, the effects of proliferation of SALW, and the impact of the UNPoA on the above.

Most of the UNPoA’s mechanisms address the supply and management side of SALW. Legislation for preventing diversion, stockpile management procedures, marking and tracing requirements, etc., are focused on in order to prevent the weapons from being diverted to the illicit market or illicit users. However, as several delegations pointed out, these mechanisms have proven insufficient for restricting or reducing the supply of weapons. Iran’s delegation criticized over-production and supply of SALW and called for reduction of these activities. The delegation of Bangladesh noted, “During the last two decades, the number of companies and countries manufacturing and exporting small arms and light weapons has magnified manifold.” Tanzania’s delegation demanded that the unacceptable impunity in the manufacture and transfer of SALW must be addressed, as it has led to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people.

On the other hand, many states pointed out that the UNPoA also has not sufficiently dealt with the demand side of the equation. Among others, the Arab Group, Bangladesh, China, Holy See, Iran, and Pakistan called for member states to analyze the demand side, noting that demand manifests in civil conflicts, regional and sub-regional disputes, the rise of organized criminal and terrorist activities, drug and human trafficking, and more. The Iranian delegation argued that as long as the “situations nurturing the illicit trade” in SALW continues, so will the demand for such weapons. In this regard, the Holy See called for more research on the dynamics of conflict and crime in order to analyze these aspects of illicit SALW.

Countless delegations also highlighted the effect of both supply and demand on armed violence, and in turn on stability and development. Several delegations suggested that more research and analysis is needed to fully understand and confront the situation. The Mexican delegation said it is studying links between demand for arms and poverty and insecurity. The Chinese government encouraged member states to investigate both the symptoms and underlying causes of illicit SALW and to “take effective measures and provide active help to countries concerned in promoting economic development, achieving peace and stability, and removing the danger of war and conflict, so as to create conditions for a fundamental solution to the issue of illicit trade in SALW.” In a similar vein, the Dutch delegate said illicit trade in SALW should be approached in an integrated manner addressing good governance, security and justice reform, and providing alternative livelihood initiatives.

These recommendations may seem like a tall order for UNPoA implementation efforts. But it is vitally important for the Review Conference to take up this idea of cause and effect in order enhance its implementation mechanisms as the small arms process moves into its next years.

To this end, the Norwegian delegation encouraged better documentation of the casualties of armed violence and stronger monitoring, measuring, and analysis of armed violence in order to understand the effects of illicit SALW on people across gender and age, communities and states. Likewise, the UK delegation said member states have to look closely at how they measure the impact of the UNPoA in order to make it more effective in the future.

Before the Review Conference, several civil society groups—Action on Armed Violence, Article 36, IKV Pax Christi, and Oxford Research Group—issued a brief encouraging member states to use the RevCon to strengthen casual reporting mechanisms. They argued, “Understanding of the impact of SALW, and therefore an effective response to this impact, is best built on evidence of the patterns of casualties being caused.” Furthermore, “Recording, identification and acknowledgment of the casualties from armed violence is also the starting point for efforts to ensure the rights of victims, and is vital for meeting the needs of individuals and violence-affected communities and societies.”

These groups thus recommend that the Review Conference outcome document include language that underscores “the importance of evidence-based research, casualty recording and measurement, and monitoring of the impact and incidence of armed violence,” as well as “the pressing need to further integrated gender perspectives into relevant aspects of Programme of Action implementation and the importance of including gender and age aggregation in evidence-based research.” They suggest that relevant language could be added to both the declaration and the UNPoA implementation plan.

Many delegations emphasized that this Review Conference will have to undertake a frank assessment of its impacts on preventing and combating the illicit trade in SALW in order to determine how to best move forward with implementation. Critical to all such assessments will be not just information on the supply of weapons but also on the demand, as well as data and analysis on the levels and characteristics of armed violence. The outcome of this Review Conference should ensure that monitoring mechanisms are built in to the implementation plan as a step towards meeting the Programme’s objectives in full.

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