U.N. review conference on illegal trade of small arms ends in failure
UNITED NATIONS – A two-week U.N. conference reviewing efforts to fight the illegal weapons trade ended in failure Friday, with nations too divided on too many contentious issues to agree on the best way to combat a scourge that fuels conflict worldwide.After days of negotiations, delegates gave up their bid to agree on an “outcome document” meant to reflect their consensus on the most serious threats and the best way to fight the illegal trade in small arms, worth about $1 billion a year.”It’s a squandered opportunity,” said Anthea Lawson, spokeswoman with the International Action Network on Small Arms. “It’s preposterous especially when there was so much will from so many countries to do something.”The conference was reviewing progress made toward achieving a 2001 program of action to curb the illicit sale of pistols, assault rifles, machine guns and other light weapons.The global trade in small arms is worth about $4 billion a year, of which a fourth is considered illegal, according to the annual Small Arms Survey, an authoritative report on such weapons. The arms cause 60 percent to 90 percent of all deaths in conflicts every year.The event was largely done in by the need for all nations to agree on every element of the final document, rather than to approve proposals by an up-or-down vote.The collapse reflected just how contentious the discussion of the small arms trade has become. Many nations refuse to disclose the extent of their small-arms trade, and are unwilling to discuss restrictions on ammunition and national gun ownership, selling weapons to non-state actors and tracing weapons back to their original seller.Cuba, India, Iran, and Pakistan were among the nations that spoke out against an NGO proposal for governments to agree to a set of global principles on the arms trade. At its heart is a promise to make sure they don’t sell weapons to buyers who could then pass them on illegally.And there was widespread support for a call to hold a similar conference five years from now. The United States, however, opposed.”You had a few governments that were holding out and not compromising, said Nicholas Marsh, with the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, and an adviser to the Norwegian delegation.Despite the failure, delegates planned to raise many of the same issues in the U.N. disarmament committee – where consensus is not needed for agreement – to begin preparing a treaty that would make law out of many of the global principles supported by non-governmental groups.Some delegates said the meeting was doomed from the start. It took six days to get through speeches by nations, then the conference suspended work for the July 4 holiday. Negotiations on the final text only began Wednesday.”Whether we would have been able to agree on the document – I don’t think so,” said Prasad Kariyawasam, Sri Lanka’s U.N. ambassador and president of the conference. “I think at this point it was that views among parties with regard to how to follow up did not converge.”
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