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20 June 2014, Vol. 6, No. 5

Considering the human cost at BMS5
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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As BMS5 moved into negotiations on the latest draft outcome document Thursday afternoon, the perennial challenges impeding progress clearly remain. Lacking clear references to ammunition and victims, the draft also only contains cursory language related to emerging technologies. The language on stockpile management and women’s participation has improved, though on the latter issue more is still needed. Overall, the concern raised in the assessment of the PoA published ahead of BMS5 by Reaching Critical Will and Instituto Sou da Paz remains: that international work on the PoA framework is insufficient to curb and prevent human suffering caused by small arms and light weapons (SALW).

The human cost of small arms is grave. Yet despite the work of many civil society groups such as Action on Armed Violence and member states such as Austria, version 5 of the outcome document does not mention the victims or survivors of gun violence. This is a step back from the 2012 Declaration, which at least noted that the humanitarian impact of small arms and light weapons impedes the provision of assistance to victims of armed conflict.

The document also only contains oblique references to ammunition (referring to “ballistics information” in paragraphs 36 and 47) and only contains a passing reference to emerging technologies. These are the two issues that the RCW/SDP assessment identified as priorities for the international framework on SALW.

For ammunition controls, “The evidence-base, policy recommendations, and even normative blueprints are present; our collective mission is to push them into the realm of political reality,” writes Daniel Mack. Agreements covering ammunition at different states of its life cycle, from manufacture, international transfer, brokering, storage, and disposal and destruction are necessary to adequately confront the humanitarian and developmental challenges posed by SALW.

Meanwhile, emerging technologies such as “smart guns” and 3D printing require the international community’s attention. The PoA process “should provide a normative framework for their development and use, lest they are allowed to start killing and maiming before governments have attempted to preempt or reduce the harm.” Work on emerging technologies could take the form of legally-binding instruments, protocols complementary to the PoA framework, and/or the inclusion of such technologies in the International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS). For now, however, the draft outcome document only notes with concern that developments in SALW manufacturing, technology, and design poses new challenges for effective marking, record-keeping, and tracing.

One critical issue that has received better attention in the draft outcome is women’s participation in policymaking, planning, and implementation processes related to SALW. (See the article on page 6 for further details.)

Similarly, the impact of SALW on socioeconomic development receives some attention in the draft outcome, with paragraph 2 reiterating states’ “grave concern” about the “wide range of humanitarian and socio-economic consequences” of the illicit manufacture, transfer, circulation, excessive accumulation, and uncontrolled spread of SALW. It also notes that illicit SALW “pose a serious threat to peace, reconciliation, safety, security, stability and sustainable development at the individual, local, national, regional and international levels.”

This recognition is welcome, though no language on development exists in the “Way Forward” section of the text. Given that discussions on the post-2015 sustainable development goals are underway, BMS5 is an opportunity for states to consider ways to incorporate SALW into this process and to reflect that process in the PoA framework. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suggested that states should recall the devastating effects of SALW proliferation when they are considering post-conflict reconstruction and the sustainable development goals, noting that SALW “prolongs conflicts, facilitates violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and puts civilians at high risk of death or injury from weapons-related violence.” As the ICRC also pointed out, “The threat to civilians remains even after armed conflicts have ended. Human suffering continues, often for years, after hostilities are over, as the widespread availability of these arms engenders a culture of violence, undermines the rules of law and threatens efforts at reconciliation.”

As all contributors to the Small Arms Monitor have reiterated this past week, the human factor must be at the core of efforts to advance the implementation of the PoA and fill the gaps in its framework. It is unclear whether BMS5 will effectively address the most critical challenges posed by SALW in the time it has left, but civil society continues to call on it to do so.

“Since BMS5 began at 10am on Monday, more than 4000 people—citizens of these member states—have died by small arms and light weapons, and 2-3 times as many have been wounded,” noted Rebecca Peters of IANSA and Surviving Gun Violence during the civil society presentations on Thursday morning. “Please put reducing this carnage ahead of any other considerations during the remaining hours of BMS5.”

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