Thousands of weapons went up in smoke in ceremonies around the world on Monday when the United Nations opened atwo-week conference aimed at reducing the flow of arms into conflict zones. Authorities in Cambodia, Sierra Leone,Brazil and South Africa set fire to pyres of illicit guns and light weapons to highlight the illegal trade in smallarms that is blamed for half a million deaths every year.
But the lofty goals of the UN conference in New York have been scaled back after pressure from major gun-producingcountries such as the United States, China and Russia, whose delegates have been working behind the scenes to blockagreement on a program of action. The outcome of the conference will be a non-binding declaration by the 120 statesin attendance that many participants fear will be too weak to have any real impact.
The Guardian, a British newspaper, is reporting that President Bush ordered the U.S. delegation to block themain proposals because he fears inflaming the US gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, one of the mostpowerful vested interests in the country.
On Monday, John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, bluntly told the delegates that "TheUnited States will not join consensus on a final document that contains measures contrary to our constitutional rightto keep and bear arms." He also said the United States, the largest supplier of arms worldwide, would not supportmoves to outlaw any arming of rebel groups, nor would it help fund a campaign by human rights groups to raiseawareness of the trade. He also said the U.S. would not support a ban on private ownership of military weapons,including assault rifles and grenade launchers.
More than 500 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation, and more than half are illicit. But unlikechemical, biological and nuclear weapons, no treaty regulates the manufacture, sale and use of small arms, which areblamed for the deaths of more people.
- Laura Lumpe, author of ??Running Guns: The Global Market in Small Arms, is an arms control expertwith the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers and consultant with Amnesty USA on military security and policeissues
- Mereso Agina, national secretary of Mandaleo ya Wanawake, a national association of more than 5 millionwomen in Kenya who are increasingly affected by both urban and rural manifestations of gun violence.
- Cesar Villaneuva, a community organizer/activist with Pax Christi Philipinas and the Coalition for Peace.He lives in Bacolod City–the central part of the Philippines. This area is currently suffering under armedinsurgency (Communist Party Philippines + armed private security forces). He is an educator, teaching developmentstudies to students in the 4th year at university.
- Adele Kirsten, director of Gunfree South Africa, a national organization working to reduce gun violence inSouth Africa. Previously she was active in the movements to abolish Apartheid, the death penalty and conscription inSouth Africa.
- Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers
- International Action Network on Small Arms
- Pax Christi Philipinas
- Gunfree South Africa