STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR MITSURO DONOWAKI
OF THE PANEL OF GOVERNMENTAL EXPERTS
ON SMALL ARMS
AT THE FIRST COMMITTEE
OF THE 52ND SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK
21 OCTOBER 1997
ON THE REPORT OF THE PANEL OF GOVERNMENTAL EXPERTS
ON SMALL ARMS
I am grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to speak in the capacity of the chairman of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms which was established in April last year by the Secretary-General in accordance with Resolution 50/70 B of 12 December 1995 in order to assist him in preparing a report on small arms and light weapons. The report which was adopted unanimously by the Panel in July this year has now been submitted by the Secretary-General to this Session of the General Assembly as document A/52/298.
First of all, I should like to express my sincere appreciation to all the members of the Panel who were nominated by the Secretary-General on the basis of equitable geographical representation for their exemplary hard-work and dedication in fulfilling the mandates entrusted upon the Panel. Naturally, my appreciation also goes to the Secretariat, including the Secretary and the Consultant of the Panel, for supporting diverse activities of the Panel and facilitating the carrying out of its tasks.
Small arms and light weapons are the weapons now increasingly being used as primary instruments of violence in the conflicts dealt with by the United Nations, almost all of which being internal conflicts in recent years causing large numbers of deaths and displacement of citizens. Even in the regions where such conflicts already came to an end, the easy availability of such weapons are causing alarming rise in criminal activities, seriously hampering social, economic and political reorientation of the nations involved.
In all such regions of conflicts dealt with by the United Nations, the question of how to prevent and reduce the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of small arms and light weapons is a matter of highest priority today. Indeed, this is one of today's most serious challenges the international community is confronted with. Also, this is quite a new challenge in the sense that not much attention has been paid in the past, while a number of significant initiatives were taken in the fields of weapons of mass destruction and larger conventional weapons in the last several years.
At the same time, the intractable nature of this new challenge has to be recognized, because small arms and light weapons are the types of weapons that are relatively easy to produce and obtain, and handy to use, maintain, and transport for those combatants engaged in civil conflicts, or even for any individuals and criminals for that matter. Therefore, these are the types of weapons hard to be placed under effective governmental controls even in developed countries. Consequently, these are the types of weapons prone to be traded in an illicit or clandestine manner. Due to such characteristics of these weapons, their excessive and destabilizing accumulation in the regions of conflicts is unfortunately a foregone fact that has already taken place.
It was against such background that the Small Arms Panel was requested to prepare a report, first on the types of such weapons actually being used in conflicts dealt with by the United Nations, second on the nature and causes of the excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of such weapons, including their illicit production and trade, and third on the ways and means to prevent and reduce such accumulation and transfer. These are the subject matters on which few studies were made in the past by the United Nations or even by the research communities, although there were some excellent studies and deliberations conducted recently by the United Nations on the question of the illicit transfer of conventional weapons in general.
Indeed, what the Small Arms Panel was asked was to do a pioneering work, breaking entirely new grounds. Accordingly, what the Panel could achieve within its limited time and resources may not have been more than just a modest first step forward. However, I should like to report to you that the Panel exerted its utmost efforts in coming up with a report which, I am convinced, should represent the best available wisdom of our times. In coming up with this report, the Panel not only took into account the views and proposals submitted by Member States to the Secretary-General in response to Resolution 50/70 B, but also a wide range of other relevant information and materials collected by the Secretariat.
In addition, in between its official sessions, the Panel held three regional workshops in order to receive direct inputs from the regions of the world most affected by the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of small arms and light weapons. These regional workshops were financed out of voluntary contributions from the governments of some of the members of the Panel. In all these three workshops, pertinent and sobering appeals from regional participants were submitted to the Panel, and they are attached as annexes to the Panel's report.
Furthermore, during the course of its three official sessions and three regional workshops, the Panel heard presentations from some six dozen scholars, experts and other invitees. The Panel was particularly grateful to the briefing it received from Mr. James Hayes, the Chairman of the Expert Group on Firearms Regulation of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. This was because the Panel, while eager to learn about the works being carried out by other bodies of the United Nations, wanted to avoid as much as possible the duplication of works.
As to the contents of the report of the Small Arms Panel, I do not intend to bother you with too much details because many of the delegates must have been studying it in view of the importance and widely held interest in the subject matters. What I should like to do here today is to present my own views as the chairman of the Panel on the structure and the thrust of the recommendations part of the report.
According to Resolution 50/70 B, the Panel was asked to prepare a report on the ways and means to "prevent and reduce" the excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons "with particular attention to the role of the United Nations in this field and to the complementary role of regional organizations." Therefore, the concluding part of the report of the Small Arms Panel consists of two sets of recommendations. The recommendations listed in paragraph 79 are mostly the measures that may have to be taken in order to "reduce" the excessive and destabilizing accumulations and transfers of small arms and light weapons in specific regions of the world where such accumulation and transfer have already taken place. The recommendations in paragraph 80 are mostly the measures that may have to be taken in order to "prevent" such accumulations and transfers from occurring in future.
Of course, the Panel members were aware that the distinction between "reduction" and "prevention" cannot always be neat and clear-cut. For example, the measures to demobilize former combatants in a region where a conflict came to an end may be for the purpose of "reduction," but at the same time can serve for the purpose of "prevention" of the recurrence of the situation. Also, the measures for curbing illicit trafficking of such weapons may be for the purpose of "prevention," but at the same time can serve for the purpose of "reduction" particularly in the regions of on-going or recent conflicts.
However, the Panel found it convenient to group together one set of recommendations under the heading of "reduction" and another set of recommendations under the heading of "prevention."
The measures for "reduction" by nature require immediate attention because they are related to some specific regions of the world where conflicts dealt with by the United Nations are taking place or have taken place, and where the excessive and destabilizing accumulations and transfers are already a reality causing deaths, displacement, the rise in criminality and so forth. On the other hand, the measures for "prevention" by nature requires concerted efforts by all nations looking to the future, because the weapons in question are being produced, held in stockpiles, used and traded on a global scale not limited to any specific regions.
Also, it was pointed out by some members of the Panel that the measures for "reduction" should not make a distinction between the small arms and light weapons manufactured to military specifications and those not manufactured to military specifications because the reduction of all the small arms and light weapons causing troubles should be the question to be addressed. On the other hand, it was generally assumed by the Panel members that the measures for "prevention" should be applied primarily to the small arms and light weapons manufactured to military specifications, because in this case the question has to be addressed on a global basis and the issue of civilian firearms regulation is currently being taken up by the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
On the specific recommendations under the heading of "reduction," I should like to stress the importance of mobilizing all-out efforts of the donor nations in order to reduce the excessive and destabilizing accumulations and transfers of such weapons. Of course, the nations involved in the regions of conflicts should do all they can do first, and in some instances very encouraging achievements are being made. The recommendations contained in subparagraph (g) of paragraph 79, as well as in subparagraph (d) of paragraph 80, are indeed meant for those nations. However, we are all aware that the task is too great for them to do by themselves alone. People living in these regions would not easily turn in their weapons unless their security is adequately guaranteed by their governments. Most of the governments in these regions badly need well trained police, customs, border control officials as well as equipment for carrying out their functions. Furthermore, the establishment of adequate internal security will require a society with fair opportunities for jobs, economic development, social and political justice and so forth.
It was for these reasons that the Panel found the new approach initiated by the United Nations in Mali and surrounding West African nations to be of significant importance as is indicated in subparagraph (a) of paragraph 79. The so-called "proportional and integrated approach to security and development, including the identification of appropriate assistance for the internal security forces" was first recommended in the Secretary-General's Sahara-Sahel Advisory Mission Report of 1995. During the course of last year, based on this recommendation, the Department of Political Affairs, the UNDP and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research started to coordinate their efforts, obtained the cooperation of some of the donor nations including Japan, endorsed this new approach and are now taking steps to implement it.
This new approach initiated by the United Nations with respect to Mali and surrounding West African nations, according to the unanimous view of the members of the Small Arms Panel, should not only be the right and correct approach but also should be pursued vigorously by arousing greater awareness of the international community as a whole including the donor community. Moreover, this new approach should be applied to all other regions of the world where the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of small arms and light weapons is causing real and serious problems.
In this connection, it is encouraging to note that the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) established a special Task Force on Conflict, Peace and Development Co-operation in 1995 and has been formulating DAC Guidelines on Conflict, Peace and Development Co-operation since 1996. Thus, the momentum is already emerging, but how to turn this into a major, decisive action may be a task that the international community as a whole has to come to grips with and decide.
The recommendation contained in subparagraph (b) is basically along the same line of thought as I just explained. What was in mind in particular was some of the weapons turn-in initiatives taken locally in some specific regions with significant successes. Ways should be found to make the donor nations aware of such encouraging initiatives so that adequate financial and other support will be channeled to them.
Subparagraph (c) is based on the "Call on Afghanistan" submitted to the Panel by the participants at the regional workshop held in Kathmandu in May this year. The Panel was particularly appreciative of the participation in and contribution to the workshop by Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, the Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, of India, and by Mr. Naik A. Niazi, the Secretary General of Pakistan Security and Development Association, Islamabad, and former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan.
In coming up with the recommendations contained in subparagraph (d) the Panel benefited greatly from the presence of a Canadian expert among its members, and through him received valuable inputs from the Canadian government based on its extensive past experiences and lessons learnt in connection with the peace-keeping operations of the United Nations.
Subparagraph (e) of paragraph 79, as well as subparagraphs (g) and (h) of paragraph 80 represent the realization of the Panel that there is a need for much more intensified, closer cooperation among police, security and customs officials and related regional and international organizations on a regional as well as global basis in order to both "reduce" and "prevent" the problems related to small arms and light weapons.
Subparagraph (f) represents the finding of the Panel on the question of the so-called "regional register" of arms. Unlike the seven categories of larger conventional weapons covered by the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, what is needed of the small arms and light weapons already proliferating in the regions of past and on-going conflicts is their immediate reduction. Also, unlike larger conventional weapons, they are hard to be accounted for particularly in the regions of such conflicts. Therefore, the concept of a regional register may well be pursued through the establishment of regional networks for information sharing among regional governments and authorities.
As I stated earlier, the recommendations of the Panel for preventive purposes are slightly different from those for reduction purposes because the production, stockpiling, trading and transfers of such weapons have to be dealt with more or less on a global basis. As far as their illicit trade is concerned, the Panel found the 1991 Report of the Group of Experts on the Study on Ways and Means of Promoting Transparency in International Transfers of Conventional Arms (A/46/301) and the "Guidelines for International Arms Transfers in the Context of General Assembly Resolution 46/36 H of 6 December 1991" adopted last year by the Disarmament Commission to be of great relevance. The Panel found the definition of illicit arms trade made in the 1991 Report and the 1996 UNDC Guidelines hard to be revised or improved, although the definition in both documents apply not only to small arms but also to conventional arms in general. The Panel also found the need to re-emphasize the recommendations to Member States contained in both documents. Subparagraphs (a) to (c) of paragraph 80 are the results of such a way of thinking of the Panel.
The recommendations contained in subparagraphs (e) and (f) represent the unique findings of the Panel about the disposal of the surplus of such weapons as well as the safeguarding of such weapons against loss through theft and corruption. Member States are recommended to take appropriate measures. Although the Panel did not go so far in its recommendations, some sort of concerted efforts instead of individual efforts might deserve consideration.
Subparagraph (i) of paragraph 80 was included because the Panel was aware of the initiative taken by the President of Mali for the establishment among West African nations of a Moratorium on Import, Export, and Manufacture of Light Weapons.
Subparagraph (j) of paragraph 80 will hardly require an explanation in view of the important initiative now being undertaken in the Organization of American States for the conclusion of a convention.
In subparagraph (k) the Panel decided to recommend the United Nations to consider the possibility of an international conference on illicit arms trade in all its aspects. It may be recalled that the 1991 Group of Experts recommended that "the United Nations has a role to play in combating illicit arms trade : to facilitate the holding of meetings and seminars at the national, regional and international levels in an appropriate manner with a view to increasing awareness of the destructive and destabilizing effects of the illicit arms trade and to increase the understanding of other countries' procedures in order to facilitate cooperation."
As one of such efforts undertaken by the United Nations, the 1996 UNDC Guidelines was adopted although it does not have a legally binding force. On a regional basis, the OAS is already considering the possibility of a hemispheric legally-binding convention. It may be still premature to consider an international conference for the purpose of concluding a universal convention of illicit arms trade, but it might be high time to hold an international conference in order to keep up the momentum that already exists and in order to sort out issues by considering all the aspects of illicit arms trade. On this question, many of the members of the Small Arms Panel felt that the views of Member States might be sought first before deciding on whether or not to have such a conference.
In subparagraphs (l) and (m) three rather important specific studies are recommended to be initiated by the United Nations. The first one on a reliable system of marking weapons might well address the question of the feasibility of a computerized ballistic "fingerprinting" system of all the small arms and light weapons manufactured to military specifications.
The second study on a database of authorized manufacturers and dealers of small arms and light weapons is based on the realization that by defining the boundaries of legal trading of such arms the room for illicit trafficking should become considerably narrower. While in some Member States the manufacture and trading of such arms are fairly strictly controlled through licensing and other mechanisms, this is not always the case in some other Member States, thus leaving enough room for illicit traffickers to carry out their activities. Cooperation of all the Member States would be needed eventually, but an initial attempt might be made by establishing a database with available information. The feasibility of any meaningful efforts in this direction will certainly deserve a study by qualified experts.
The third study on the problems of ammunition and explosives requires special attention. It is known that the mass production of modern reliable and effective ammunition requires highly developed and precise industrial tools. If ways and means to control the supply of such ammunitions are to be found, the dangers of small arms and ammunitions may be substantially reduced and prevented. Also, violence perpetrated through Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) has recently exacerbated conflicts and caused severe destruction and death. An early coming into force of the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection is being awaited. Are there any other ways to restrict the availability of dangerous explosives? Certainly, these problems of ammunitions and explosives in all their aspects deserve a study by competent experts.
In concluding my statement as the chairman of the Small Arms Panel, I wish to reiterate the important and urgent nature of the problems of small arms and light weapons. I am convinced that the Panel's report, although it may be just a modest first step forward, represents the best wisdom available today. Therefore, it is my earnest wish that the Committee will consider the report carefully and will take appropriate actions.