An estimated 500 million small arms are in circulation globally. Carried by children as young as six, such weapons fuel wars, increase crime and banditry, undermine development programmes and frustrate attempts to build peace.
Fortunately, the international community is beginning to develop ideas on how to tackle the problems associated with the proliferation and misuse of small arms. For example, the Organisation of American States has agreed a convention against illicit firearms trafficking; the West African states and members of the ECOWAS regional forum have agreed a three year moratorium on the production, export and import of small arms; EU countries have agreed a joint action on small arms and, together with SADC countries, have developed an action programme on light arms and illicit trafficking in Southern Africa.
However, as Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy commented, civil society activism is the major factor in ensuring that governments actually take up the responsibilities that they have acknowledged are theirs. Indeed, the NGO community is taking steps to ensure that those measures advocated by governments are viewed in an objective light: in October 1998, 180 representatives from 100 NGOs from around the world met in Brussels to develop the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) which aims to challenge the limits of international action.
At the meeting (co-hosted by Amnesty International, BASIC, GRIP, International Alert, Oxfam, Pax Christi and Saferworld) participants agreed a comprehensive set of policy objectives to stem the supply of, and reduce the demand for, small arms including: establishing codes of conduct on arms exports; tackling illicit arms trafficking; re-integrating ex-combatants; capacity-building; tackling impunity; poverty reduction; and reversing cultures of violence.
As Loretta Bondi of Human Rights Watch points out we cannot expect one overarching instrument to tackle the problems associated with small arms along the lines of the ban on landmines. Various policies, instruments and capacities have to be developed simultaneously – precisely what IANSA seeks to do. An IANSA Founding Document setting out the objectives and structure of the Network will be published in April.
Olara Otunnu, the UN Secretary-Generals Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict said at the meeting Small arms are causing misery and destruction all over the world. Creative methods are needed to link up national and international action. The development of IANSA is a vital step towards tackling the greatest humanitarian challenge of the next century.
IANSA will be formally launched in the Hague on 11 May during the Hague Appeal for Peace week. Please refer to the later section on upcoming conferences (see page 38 of PDF) for details of the IANSA Plenary and workshops at this meeting.
For details, contact:
Tel: (+44) 171 580 8886
Fax: (+44) 171 631 1444