27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent


Organisers: Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian Government, Malian Red Cross and Malian Government

Participants: Aprox. 200 Mr Thorvald Stoltenberg, President of the Norwegian Red Cross and one of the workshop's two chairpersons, opened the session by saying that most of today's efforts in controlling the proliferation of small arms focus on the illegal trade while not focusing sufficeintly on the legal trade of small arms.

The other chairperson, Adama Diarra, President of the Mali Red Cross pointed out that humanitarian work does not only consist of giving food to the starving, but also putting an end to all the causes of suffering. One such cause is the proliferation of small arms, and should therefore be an issue of concern in Geneva.

Peter Herby, coordinator of Mines-Arms unit, ICRC, presented the ICRC's study on Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Herby pointed out that the whole basis of International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian assistance contains an assumption that lethal weapons are restricted to those who know the rule of the game, i.e. the rules of war.However, recent conflicts have shown that this is not the case any longer.

In the last 10-15 years, the ICRC has experienced a dramatic increase in armed attacks on humanitarian workers in the field, and the number of civilian casualties in war often outnumbers the number of casualties among combatants. One of the ICRC's main conclusions in the study is that IHL is undermined by the unregulated availability of small arms and ammunition. The widespread availability of arms also threatens assistance to the victims of war. In the Geneva Conventions, States are obliged to respect and "ensure respect" for IHL. In light of this and the high human cost, States should limit the availability of small arms and ammunition.

The vice-security chief of the Malian President, colonel Sirakoro Sangare presented the West African Moratorium on Import, Export and Production of Small Arms and Light Weapons. Sangare stressed that the import of small arms, both illegal and legal, is not the only aspect of the problem with small arms in Africa. One has also to pay attention to the recirculation of arms that are already available, as well as the arms that are produced and sold in Africa. In Mali, the government has set up a National Committee which has conducted public awareness campaigns on the problem of the widespread availability of small arms.

The committee has experienced that people are willing to hand over the weapon they posess on two conditions:

1) that local security capacity is strenghtened

2) that the value of the weapon is reimbursed.

Mali today has no means available to meet the first condition, and donor countries are reluctant to provide funding for the security sector. Mali therefore urges the international community to realise that one way of consolidating democracy is to strenghten local security. Related to the second condition, Mali refuses to buy back the arms because this will easily transform the country into a huge arms market. Instead, Mali proposes to exchange the weapons for local development projects. Funding is however needed, and Mali appeals for support from the international community.

State Secretary Wegger Cristian Strommen from the Norwegain government stressed that everyone must take responsibility when discussing the problem of small arms. Most modern conflicts take place in the developing world, but most small arms are manufactured in the developed world. Strommen called on governments in weapon producing states to ensure greater transparency in small arms transfers. Secondly, they should intensify the fight against the illicit transfer of small arms. Governments must address the economics of war.Thirdly, governments should address the problem caused by the 500 million or more small arms already in circulation, and support should be provided to nations seeking to destroy surplus weapons.

Jan Egeland from the Norwegian Red Cross underlined that it was not possible to copy the success in the landmine campaign in the fight against the proliferation of small arms. The problem of small arms is much more complex and even more important. Firstly, we should document, and publicise widely the humanitarian consecuences of the widespread proliferation of small arms. Secondly, encourage governments and international organisations to promote responsible policymaking relating to small arms supply and usage in line with the ICRC's recommendations. Thirdly, we should realise that the legal trade in small arms should be an area of concern because it will sooner or later contribute to undermining peace and facilitating violation of human rights and IHL. Whereas there is detailed regulation of the trade in heavy weapons and nuclear material. and biological and chemical weapons are prohibited, there is little regulation of small arms. Fourthly, we should work for greater transparency on the small arms trade. Fifthly there is a need to focus on the role of arms' brokers and transport agents. And finally, governments, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, NGOs and International Organisations must work together.

In the general disussion after these presentations one of the participants expressed hope that Norway and Norwegian Red Cross will be prepared to lend support to the adoption of a moratorium in Central Africa similar to the one currently in existence in West Africa. Another participant asked how the resolution adopted by the Council of Delegates, which calls on states to halt arms transfer to parties tolerating or commiting serious violations of human rights and IHL, could be implemented by States while avoiding polarising the issue.

A number of speakers stressed that efforts at local, national, regional and international levels are all essential and complementary. Pressure must be brought upon both users and suppliers One participant stressed that in conflict zones, hospitals are best placed to document the effects of small arms proliferation on health. Health personnel should therefore start to document weapon injuries more systematically and should be our natural partners when fighting against the proliferation of small arms.


| top |

© 1999 | French (homepage) |

The International Criminal Court

Volunteering 2000

People On War

Widowhood and armed conflict

Working in partnership

The humanitarian challenge of small arms proliferation

Fight against AIDS in developing countries

Ensuring respect for International Humanitarian Law

The SIrUS Project and reviewing the legality of new weapons

Use and development of SPHERE standards

Health and first aid training