Statement by H.E. Mr. Arun Shourie, Minister of
State for Disinvestment, Planning, Statistics & Programme
Implementation and Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances at
the High Level Segment of the UN Conference on Illicit Trade in
Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects in New York, July
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies,
We congratulate Ambassador Reyes of Colombia on his
unanimous election as the President of the Conference and are
confident that his vast experience and skills will guide us to a
successful result. We also extend our felicitations, to you
Ambassador Donawaki as Chairman of the high-level segment and
applaud the significant role you have played in bringing this issue
to the fore of the international agenda.
A great deal is expected of this Conference:
governments and NGOs have been working towards it for five years and
more. If it ends merely in ambivalent generalizations, if it does
not lead to, at the least, a commencement of negotiations on
specifics, a significant opportunity would have been lost. Indeed,
we might even have contributed to exacerbating the problem: our
inability to agree on a robust action plan, and to follow that up
with concerted action, will give heart to terrorists, international
criminal gangs and unscrupulous arms brokers: they will know that
they can go on with their diabolic business as usual.
So we do hope, Mr. Chairman, that the Conference
will build on, and not detract from the draft Programme of Action
that is before us.
The problem that illicit small arms and light
weapons constitute is well known. During the past decade these
weapons have been the weapons of choice in 46 out of 49 major
conflicts. They have claimed on an average, 300,000 lives. 90
percent of those killed have been civilians, and 80 percent of the
killed have been women and children.
In India, we are particularly aware of the
lethality of these weapons; in the past twenty years about 35,000
innocent persons have been killed by terrorists -- all using illicit
small arms and explosives. The seizures of illicit arms and
explosives by our security agencies -and surely these represent but
a fraction of the quantities to which the terrorists have had access
-- would be enough to equip a few divisions of a regular army: the
numbers themselves demonstrate the magnitude of haemorrhage of
illicit arms with which law-abiding societies are faced.
Nor are the effects limited to the deaths caused by
organised terror and violence. Innocents also suffer because of gun
inflicted homicides and random acts of violence: these by themselves
account for two hundred thousand deaths every year.
No country or region has been spared the
destructive consequences of proliferation of small arms and
explosives. Open, plural and liberal societies are particularly
vulnerable to their destablising effects in the hands of terrorists
and insurgents. Entire communities are torn asunder. Democratic
processes -- elections, for instance -- are perverted. Groups and
agencies whose very nature is the antithesis of openness, of
democracy, of plurality, are the ones that wrest dominance.
In a word, the problem is as grave as can be. And
we need to act on it "with the urgency of a man whose hair are on
The first step in tackling the problem is to
sharpen our focus. It is true that of the 500 million small arms and
light weapons currently held the world over, the illicit ones held
by criminals, terrorists and armed insurgents and secessionists
amount to around 5 million -- that is, about one percent. But five
million is no small number by itself. And these are the ones that
today inflict the most devastating effects on societies and
countries. Similarly, while three-fourths of the small arms trade is
legal, illicit trade in weapons and ammunition accounts for about
one and a half billion dollars a year. We should focus on these
illicit weapons, on this illicit trade.
Second, we should move to prevent further additions
to the existing stockpile of illicit weapons. For this purpose the
international community should develop a comprehensive tracing
system. This in turn would entail marking weapons, comprehensively,
at the production stage, detailed record-keeping and a ready
willingness to share information. A collective approach alone will
guarantee traceability and promote transparency. It will also give
the signal that is required: that all of us are determined to join
hands to roll back this menace.
Third, while transferring weapons, States must
exercise due care and a sense of responsibility. Transfers to
non-state actors or unauthorized entities are the catalyst for
violence. Such transfers also run the greatest risk of unauthorized
retransfers, thus breeding further destruction. An international
norm against such transfers is therefore essential and timely.
Fourth, every study shows that the twin problems of
the illicit trade in small arms and terrorism are inextricably
intertwined with another lethal pair: the traffic in drugs and money
laundering. The work of this Conference, therefore, will be greatly
helped by, and should in turn facilitate international initiatives,
that are underway on these related problems.
Fifth, an indispensable element of this programme
must be the reconstruction of societies where conflicts have abated.
In the years of violence that would have preceded, institutions and
trust would have been shattered. People will give up arms more
readily when they once again feel safe enough to trust their life
and limb in the hands of State institutions. We must collectively
strive to wean the fractured society away from the culture of
violence to a culture of peace -- through recovery of illicit
weapons, and by generating security through new institutional
frameworks based on democracy, justice, equity and order in which
economic and social development can be sustained. Such action
requires international cooperation involving governments,
non-governmental organizations and civil society at large -- it
requires international cooperation of an even more comprehensive
kind than the specific problem we are here to consider.
Arms are the means of delivery; it is ammunition
and explosives that kill. In the view of my delegation, therefore,
it is important that the measures we develop cover not just weapons
but ammunition and explosives as well. Anything short of this will
be so incomplete as to end up being self-defeating.
Last year, at the Millennium Summit, we resolved
"to take concerted action to end illicit traffic in small arms and
light weapons, especially by making arms transfers more transparent
and supporting regional disarmament measures". It is time we
translated that resolve into a comprehensive Programme of Action.
The Preparatory Committee, under the able Chairmanship of Ambassador
Dos Santos, has developed a fine foundation for our deliberations in
document L.4/ Rev.1. That well-designed document highlights the
global nature of the problem and its linkages with terrorism,
drug-trafficking and transnational organised crime. It emphasises
the need for a comprehensive approach, covering both national and
international measures; it pinpoints areas where international
understanding, cooperation and legally-binding instruments are
For this Conference to be a step towards
alleviating the problem, the least it must ensure is that, as a
consequence of our deliberations here, negotiations commence on two
or three specific points: on marking and traceability, for instance.
Moreover, since a problem such as this will require
sustained efforts over many years, we must institute close
follow-up, and regular reviews -- so that periodically we take stock
of progress that is made, and devise ways to resolve difficulties
that erupt on the way. To begin, and not stay the course, will
compound cynicism. It will add sinews to evil.
- We know the problem.
- We know what must be done.
- Doing that, the technology for doing it is within our reach.
- What a tragedy it will be, how immense a dereliction of our
responsibility, should we fail to do it.
Let us, therefore, aim not just at approving a
document. Let us ensure substantive discernable