The first Review Conference for the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects is due to take place in July 2006. This is a major international event. It provides the first formal international opportunity to review and strengthen the UN Programme of Action (PoA) since it was agreed in July 2001.
This Discussion Paper identifies and discusses emerging issues and priorities for the 2006 Review Conference for the PoA. It particularly focuses on identifying realistic and potentially negotiable objectives for the 2006 Review Conference.
The 2006 Review Conference should:
- Review progress made towards implementing the PoA;
- Consider further measures to strengthen and promote effective implementation of the PoA;
- Consider further commitments and programmes that may be needed for effective international action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW in all its aspects.
In principle, the 2006 Review Conference could aim to revise and strengthen the existing PoA document itself. There would be strong arguments for doing this, if there were reasonable prospects that consensus could be achieved on a revised and developed text. However, experience shows that it is difficult to revise and develop the main body of an international agreement once it has been agreed. There is a risk that the resulting revised document is no stronger, or perhaps weaker, than the original.
Fortunately, there are also other mechanisms available for developing or reinforcing the PoA at the 2006 Review Conference, which do not involve negotiating changes to the existing PoA document. For example, the Review Conference can express any further agreements achieved on PoA norms, commitments, programmes or processes in its Conference Statements, or through additional agreed annexes or supplementary documents. These provide a more flexible, and relatively low risk, opportunity to develop and strengthen the PoA process.
Through such statements, annexes or initiatives, the Review Conference should aim to achieve progress in the following areas.
A. Establish or reinforce international co-operative programmes and mechanisms to promote implementation of key existing commitments of the PoA, including:
- stockpile management and security
- weapons collection;
- weapons destruction;
- safe and secure destruction of ammunition and munitions;
- national controls on SALW production and transfers.
B. Ensure effective quick start for the implementation of the new international instrument to enable tracing of illicit SALW, and establish customised mechanisms to facilitate international co-operation and assistance, enable technical review, and resolve problems that may arise.
C. Launch negotiations towards an international instrument to control SALW brokering activities, preferably through the establishment of an Open-Ended Working Group.
D. Clarify and elaborate existing PoA commitments relating to:
- International guidelines for national decisions on whether to authorise SALW transfers;
- Good practices relating to controls on SALW production and transfers;
- The application of PoA commitments to SALW ammunition;
- Links between SALW and development and humanitarian programmes.
E. Establish principles and guidelines for the effective and timely development and dissemination of best practice guidelines for implementing aspects of the PoA; and launch processes for the development of such guidelines.
F. Address key gaps in the existing Programme of Action, including:
- Restrictions on SALW transfers to non-state actors;
- International guidelines relating to national controls on civilian possession of SALW;
- Restrictions on transfers of particular types of SALW, such as MANPADS;
- International information exchange and transparency arrangements for SALW;
- Norms and programmes to address demand issues, and linkages between security sector reform and SALW controls;
- Norms to address gender, ethnicity and age issues in SALW policies and programmes.
The 2006 Review Conference agenda is therefore packed, and careful preparations are needed if it is to be a success. Only one preparatory conference (Prep Com) is currently planned, due to take place for two weeks in January 2006. A second preparatory conference is needed, to take place in the spring of 2006. Further, much work needs to be done at informal meetings and workshops from now until July 2006, to prepare for effective and focused discussions on proposals at the PrepComs and Review Conference. The Biting the Bullet Project and its partners plan to facilitate and contribute to such meetings and discussions, hopefully alongside many others.
Those governments that are concerned to promote effective implementation and development of the PoA have a responsibility to devote the necessary resources to preparing for the 2006 Review Conference, including sponsoring consultation meetings. Those governments that, unfortunately, are not yet substantially committed to promoting effective implementation of the PoA have a similar responsibility not to raise unnecessary objections and obstacles, or to play the ‘procedural delay’ games that plagued the preparations for 2001.
In conclusion, the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms remains the framework for comprehensive international efforts to co-operate to prevent, combat and eradicate illicit trafficking, proliferation and misuse of SALW. Unfortunately only a limited number of countries and regions have so far demonstrated serious commitment to implementing their PoA commitments. To help to rectify this situation, the 2006 Review Conference needs to be used effectively to achieve agreements as outlined above. These goals are important. An effective Review Conference will help to save many lives.