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Small Arms, Big Problems

Conference Ends Without Final Agreement

NEW YORK, JULY 17, 2006 (Zenit) - A recent United Nations conference reviewed progress on controlling trade in small arms but the countries didn't agree on a concluding document.

Held in New York from June 26 to July 7, the purpose of the meeting was to review the 2001 Program of Action on illicit trade in small arms.

Five years ago, the accepted plan established norms and programs on a number of issues, including preventing and combating the illicit production and trafficking of small arms and light weapons; ensuring effective controls regarding the legal production of those weapons; and norms regulating the holding, transfer and destruction of arms.

In his June 26 speech to the conference, U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, stated that a quarter of the $4 billion annual global gun trade is believed to be illicit.

"These weapons may be small, but they cause mass destruction," he said, noting they are responsible for tens of thousands of lives lost each year.

Conference president, Prasad Kariyawasam, of Sri Lanka, said that in spite of the lack of a final document countries would continue to "confront the scourge of the illicit trade in small arms," according to an official press release dated July 7.

A representative of one of the non-governmental organizations active on the issue, Rebecca Peters of the London-based International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), accused governments of letting a few states, "hold them all hostage and to derail any plans which might have brought any improvements in this global crisis."

Her comments were reported by Reuters on July 7.

IANSA identified the main players blocking agreement as Cuba, India, Iran, Pakistan and Russia.

The start of the conference saw the publication of a study on the issue of small arms by the Geneva-based "Graduate Institute of International Studies." Details of the study, "Small Arms Survey 2006: Unfinished Business," were contained in a June 26 press release by conference organizers.

Limited progress

Establishing transparency among weapons-exporting nations "was key to moving the process forward," said Keith Krause, program director of the Institute's research on small arms.

He said about 77% of the world's weapons were in the hands of 20 states. China, the Russian Federation and North Korea had the world's largest estimated firearms arsenals, standing at 41 million, 30 million and 14 million firearms, respectively. The United States, with 3 million firearms, ranked twelfth.

According to Krause "the balance sheet is not that good after four or five years." He said he saw few states making significant improvements in transparency. For example, Bulgaria, Iran, Israel and North Korea, termed by Krause as significant, though not huge, exporters of weapons, had chosen not to contribute any information to the Institute at all.

But some progress is being made. In Cambodia, more than 131,000 weapons have been removed from circulation, amounting to at least 60% of the weapons circulating outside official government stocks. Ukraine has also agreed to destroy nearly 2 million in surplus weapons and improve the security of other stocks.

Studies cited by the Institute show that in Bogota, Colombia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the cost of armed violence stands at between $40 million and $90 million per year, including $10 million of lost productivity due to deaths of working-aged men in Brazil, and $4 million in Bogota.

Human rights

The arms trade in general continues to raise concerns. On June 11, Amnesty International issued a report criticizing China for selling arms to countries that abuse human rights. The report is titled "People's Republic of China: Sustaining conflict and human rights abuses; The flow of arms accelerates."

Amnesty International noted that China is emerging as one of the world's major arms exporters. Moreover, its arms sales are an integral part of the trade it is developing with countries. "Over the last 20 years China has supplied a range of military, security and police equipment to countries with a record of gross human rights violations," accused the report.

Although international concern has focused on the transfer of nuclear or long-range missile technology to countries such as Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, Amnesty International argued that the export of conventional weapons and small arms, "has been contributing to human rights violations including in brutal armed conflicts."

In addition, China is the only major arms exporting power that has not entered into any multilateral agreement which sets out criteria, including respect for human rights, to guide arms export licensing decisions.

Among the cases the report cites is Sudan. ...

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