THE HUMANITARIAN CHALLENGE OF SMALL ARMS PROLIFERATION
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.
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