Human rights must be at the center of small arms debate, Zeid tells Council

The widespread availability of small arms and light weapons, and their ammunition, is the common factor in over 250 conflicts witnessed across the globe in the last decade, the United Nations Secretary-General told the Security Council today, pointing to 50,000 deaths along with displacement levels unseen since the Second World War as direct consequences of such violence.

“The recent entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) laid the foundations for a global framework of arms transfer controls, including for small arms and light weapons and ammunition,” said Ban Ki-moon. “A universal ATT, adequately implemented, is critical to removing the tools for armed conflict.”

The Treaty, he said, could stem the misuse and illicit circulation of the thousands of weapons that are often part of the roots of conflict and thereby advance international peace and security, reduce human suffering, and promote co-operation, transparency and responsible action by States.

“I encourage all Member States to accede to the Treaty and to faithfully implement it,” he said, noting that States Parties were required to ensure that their arms exports would not be used to violate arms embargoes, fuel conflict, facilitate terrorism or engage in serious violation of international human rights or humanitarian law.

He underlined his concerns about poor weapons management by States lacking thorough planning and consistent attention to safe storage, handling, transportation and disposal of their arsenals and described how diversion of weaponry, including from government stockpiles, served to fuel conflict, allowing rebels, gangs, criminal organizations, pirates, terrorist groups and insurgents to bolster their firepower.

In his report on the subject, two key elements vital to tackling the worldwide challenge were given particular prominence.

“First, we need to ensure that the use of weapons and ammunition by national security forces conforms with commitments under global treaties and instruments,” Mr. Ban said. “Second, we need further measures to combat the proliferation of illicit weapons.”

States had to enforce arms embargoes and strengthen UN missions tasked with policing small arms, he said, encouraging greater efforts to accelerate exchange of information on arms trafficking and calling for “far more attention” on the issue of ammunition.

“Monitoring ammunition flows can help identify sources, trafficking patterns and diversion points,” said Mr. Ban. “It can remove source material for improvised explosive devices and stem the re-supply of ammunition into crime and conflict areas. Cutting ammunition flows has an immediate impact on the intensity of armed activity. In situations where there is high risk to civilian populations, this should be a priority.”

Also briefing the Security Council today was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein. He said that many people are willing to indulge in “the commerce of death,” adding that those responsible for facilitating and abetting serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are rarely held accountable in any way.

He said the bloodshed and devastation caused by these weapons never fails to elicit unanimous declarations of dismay. But when the international community is called upon to control more effectively the production and trade of small arms and light weaponry, States push for loose definitions, as well as numerous exclusions and loopholes, and enforcement remains weak.

“The reason is clear: the trade in small arms is a multi-billion-dollar business,” he said, underscoring however that the human and economic cost of armed violence also runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars. “These are the weapons of the easy kill: the most portable, most easily accessible, most casual instruments of death.”

“We must place the protection of human life and human rights at the centre of this discussion,” he said. “The ATT’s recent entry into force is a real source of hope, if more Member States ratify it, agree to implement it genuinely, particularly articles 6 and 7, providing for the human rights safeguards that are the treaty’s heart.”

He called on the Security Council to continue to build on resolution 2117 and to continue its strong support for the ATT, mandating UN operations to build ATT implementation capacity into regional and national assistance, hand in hand with capacity-building for human rights and rule of law institutions.

He also echoed a call made by his predecessor as High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, who told the Security Council in August 2014 that where there exist concerns about human rights in States buying large quantities of small arms, a condition of sale should be acceptance of small human rights monitoring teams.

“I too believe this form of innovative thinking deserves further elaboration and urge the States Parties to explore it, along with the distinguished members of the Security Council,” Mr. Zeid said.

13 May 2014

Source: UN News Centre

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