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16 June 2014, Vol.6, No.1

Filling gaps, increasing relevance
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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In 2012, states held their second review of the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA). This meeting, while technically “successful” because of its adoption of a consensus outcome document, did little reviewing let alone advancing of the critical issues related to the illicit trade in small arms. It mostly reaffirmed decades-old commitments, with little awareness of changing contexts or technologies. The fifth biennial meeting of states should seriously consider how it engages with this work in order enhance efficiency and relevance for the real world of ongoing armed conflict and armed violence.

“Small arms and light weapons kill and injure more people on a daily basis worldwide than any other type of technology developed by humans to harm other humans,” noted Daniel Mack of Instituto Sou da Paz in a briefing for Reaching Critical Will published ahead of last year’s First Committee. “Yet the commitment of governments to address SALW issues at the UN has seemingly decreased, and civil society has suffered a similar malaise.”

In a paper published by RCW ahead of this meeting, Mack extensively explores whether the focus on UN processes such as the UNPoA has really led to effective measures for reducing or preventing the illicit trade in arms or armed violence. Based on extensive research and interviews with civil society experts, he concludes that a strategic shift away from international diplomatic efforts to focus on the national level is justified by the real world objectives that should be guiding the work of governments and civil society. “As a framework for action on a national basis, the PoA was and remains an essential guiding document, and many countries could benefit greatly from taking it more seriously.”

As we gather here in the UN once again to look at progress on preventing and curbing the illicit trade in small arms, his broader recommendation that actors need to create rather than simply maintain is of utmost importance. States could call for the establishment of an independent mechanism to assess UNPoA implementation. They could propose and engage in ways to address ammunition—not only its trade or transfer, but its lifecycle from production to destruction. They could discuss ways to address some of the UNPoA’s biggest gaps, including arms and ammunition production, stockpile management, and relevant emerging technologies.

There are many important aspects of small arms and light weapons that require immediate attention. This meeting should be a place for serious discussion on those matters. National experiences and initiatives should inform and help guide the international work on this issue. If the UNPoA process is unable to respond effectively to changing circumstances, ongoing conflict and violence, and new technologies, states and civil society alike must seriously consider other methods and means for addressing those challenges.

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