RESPONSE: US/UN: Sign the petition for small arms controls


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-24-2001-02
ISSUES: Military, Police violence,

24 July 2001 
Gen. Colin Powell 
US Secretary of State 

Dear General Powell, 

Every minute, one human life is snuffed out because of small arms. At the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, John Bolton, the US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, stated that the US will block the proposed UN plan of action to curb small arms controls. His reason was that if the UN plan went ahead, it would undermine the US contitutional right for individuals to bear arms. His alternative was to strengthen existing arms embargoes and the development of more stringent national policies against the illicit small arms trade on the part of member states. It is urgent and necessary that we ask, “Is this response adequate?” 

Annually 90% of the 500,000 deaths from use of small arms will be civilians. UN statistics show that 40-60% of the over 500 million small arms in circulation are illicit and have been employed in 46 of the 49 major conflicts conducted since 1990. Such light, managable – and exceedingly available – weapons make them the weapons of choice for child soldiers. Numbering around 300,000, these children present us with one of the greatest tragedies of our times. These weapons remain long after conflicts are over, wreaking havoc in the fabric of the societies where they exist. The shock waves of small arms transfers during the Cold War continue, mostly within the ‘Global South’. 

It is of great concern that the UN conference focus was on illicit trade only – as the ‘licit trade’ results in small arms moving from military and police use into civilian hands over time. While the UN Charter states that the UN has no jurisdiction over any state’s national legislation, the question of not violating national sovereignty must be treated in such a way as to allow for effective restrictions to be implemented to prevent civilian use of these weapons. The Coordinating Action on Small Arms has a recommended plan of action aimed at facilitating tighter regulation of the legal small arms industry, increasing export controls, enabling the tracking of illicit arms through a uniform marking system, and creating more stringent controls over access to small arms for military personnel and civilians alike. This strategy, however, is stymied by the US which opposes UN controls on the transfer of small arms to non-state actors and maintains that limits on the domestic small arms industry are unacceptable. 

As the US is the world’s biggest weapons producer, it surely has the greatest moral responsibility to ensure responsible use of these weapons. There has been some momentum towards broad international cooperation to curb the small arms trade, but Washington’s reluctance to nurture this could prove very costly in lives. The huge lobbying power of the National Riflemen’s Association influences how the US behaves at international fora on small arms control. Even with around one million guns in the hands of students and the tragically high homicide rate in US schools, the NRA maintains its influence. Outside the USA, we can see what a vast obstacle the NRA presents in achieving positive movement towards small arms controls. 

Apart from the direct wounding and killing by small arms and the impact this has on the public health sector, their prevalence exacts an enormous price. Conflict zones do not attract investors, and the socio-economic cycle of poverty, misery and violence is perpetuated. Millions of refugees flee from regions of intimidation and violence. The operations of humanitarian agencies can be subverted by the spread of small arms, paramilitaries and terrorists. 

The Western Australian Branch of Medical Association for Prevention of War is deeply concerned at the US stance as expressed at the UN small arms conference. Our members appeal to you, as a humane man, to advocate effective and cooperative action by your powerful country to rein in the global prevalence of small arms. 

Yours sincerely, 
Judy Blyth 
MAPW (Western Australia) 
PO Box 1093 
Western AUSTRALIA 6904 

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-24-2001-02
Countries : World,
Issues : Military, Police violence,