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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

Group of Governmental Experts' Recommendations on Small Arms

'Group of Governmental Experts presents recommendations to deal with destabilizing effects of small arms,' United Nations (Department for Disarmament Affairs) Press Release DC/2656, 4 August 1999

"International efforts to tackle the destabilizing and excessive accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons - now numbering more than 500 million worldwide - is the subject of a major new report released at the United Nations today.

The report, produced by a group of some two dozen experts from around the world, underscores the fact that while small arms and light weapons do not cause the conflicts in which they are used, they do exacerbate and increase their lethality. 'Virtually every part of the United Nations system is dealing in one way or another with the consequences of the armed conflicts, insecurity, violence, crime, social disruption, displaced peoples and human suffering that are directly or indirectly associated with the wide availability of these weapons', the report points out.

Further, experts note, the insecurity associated with the wide availability of small arms can undermine efforts to promote development and post-conflict reconstruction, as well as the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants.

Among its recommendations, the group calls for the development of practical disarmament measures related to small arms and light weapons collection in Kosovo, given the protracted nature of the crisis there.

The group also underscores the effect of these weapons on children, noting that some 300,000 young people under the age of 16 are estimated to have been exploited as participants in conflicts using these arms. In response, the report says that the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other relevant organizations should focus on the special needs of affected children in post-conflict situations.

Recognizing the important role played by civil society in efforts to raise awareness of small arms and light weapons, as well as its role in proposing solutions, the group calls on the United Nations to further cooperate with non-governmental organizations towards these ends.

An international conference on illicit arms trade in all its aspects, which the General Assembly has said should be convened no later than 2001, is also discussed at length in the report. The group recommends that a study on the feasibility of restricting the manufacture and trade of small arms and light weapons to State-authorized manufacturers and dealers be completed in time to be considered at the conference.

The experts recommend that the conference focus mainly on those weapons that are manufactured to military specifications. They also point out, however, that other types of weapons and ammunition should be considered in dealing with the problems in the most affected regions of the world. These could include, for example, machetes, which were widely used during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) should continue its work within the United Nations system, and should provide Member States with relevant information, according to the report. The next meeting of CASA, scheduled for 21 September, will involve the heads of the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs, Department of Political Affairs, Department of Public Information and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as the UNICEF Executive Director and the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). They will follow-up on recent initiatives and look to the future prospects for further progress.

In preparing its report, the group held three sessions: from 26 to 29 May 1998 (New York), 22 to 26 February 1999 (Geneva) and 21 to 30 July 1999 (New York). It also held three inter-sessional workshops: from 7 to 9 September 1998 (Tokyo), 18 to 21 February 1999 (Geneva) and 31 May to 3 June 1999 (Tokyo).

The group was established by a resolution of the General Assembly in April 1996 to help the Secretary-General prepare a report on: the types of small arms and light weapons actually being used in conflicts being dealt with by the United Nations; the nature and causes of the excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons, including their illicit production and trade; and the ways and means to prevent and reduce the excessive accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons, in particular, as they cause and exacerbate conflict. It issued its first report in 1997, and was subsequently mandated by the General Assembly to report on progress made in the implementation of the recommendations contained in that report, and on further recommended actions.

The group comprises the following members: Maria Angélica Arce de Jeannet (Mexico); Rabah Bekhti (Algeria); François-Xavier Bourges (France); Herbert L. Calhoun (United States); Mitsuro Donawaki (Japan); Carlos dos Santos (Mozambique); Mark E. Gaillard (Canada); Mahmoud Karem (Egypt); Pyotr G. Litavrin (Russian Federation); Bennie J. Lombard (South Africa); Oleg Loptenok (Belarus); Luiz Filipe de Macedo Soares Guimaraes (Brazil); André Mernier (Belgium); Janaka B. Nakkawita (Sri Lanka); Hamid Baeedi-Nejad (Iran); John Nordenfelt (Sweden); Pasi Patokallio (Finland); Spencer Phua (Singapore); Wolfgang Richter (Germany); Yuri Sterk (Bulgaria); Graciela Uribe de Lozano (Colombia); Michael Weston (United Kingdom) and Jiangu Xiang (China). Mr. Donowaki served as the Group's Chairman."

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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