UN guns meeting ends in disarray
Canada proposes new initiative United States opposes further review
Jul. 8, 2006. 01:00 AM
UNITED NATIONS—As a major UN conference to tighten rules for combating the illicit gun trade ended yesterday in disarray, Canada tried to build momentum for a new gathering that would speed up international control of the weapons.
"This was total meltdown," said Anthea Lawson, spokesperson for the International Action Network on Small Arms. "Seldom have diplomats worked so hard for so few results. They've squandered an opportunity to save thousands of lives."
The conference, a five-year review of the UN's 2001 program of action to eradicate the illegal arms trade, was attended by envoys from dozens of countries. But after two weeks of talks, the devil remained in the details.
The conference was held behind closed doors, and diplomats refused to speak to the media. But a leaked copy of Canada's proposal — supported by a number of states — called for a one-week meeting to be held in Geneva in 2007.
It would focus on a set of global principles to govern the transfer of all small arms and light weapons, and develop a strategy to mobilize enough resources to put the 2001 plan of action into effect in countries that lack the money and trained personnel to do so. As well, it would look for ways to reduce the demand for guns used by criminals and militias that routinely violate human rights.
Those are some of the topics gun control advocates hoped would be endorsed at the UN meeting.
But a glance at the documents delegates laboured over for days shows that countries crossed out so many suggestions that the results appear to be weaker than in 2001.
After the meeting, exhausted delegates, many of them looking dejected, strolled through the corridors puzzling over why the meeting went so wrong.
While some muttered that the United States' hard line on gun ownership and international regulation of ammunition was largely to blame, others said that many countries objected to clauses that would restrict their ability to buy or sell small arms.
But Sri Lankan Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam, president of the conference, said he didn't consider the meeting a failure. "It ended without a final document, but a lot of work was done and there was a sense of collective will that we will see the program of action implemented," he said.
It would have been worse, he said, if the conference produced a document that rolled back some of the program, as it appeared to be doing earlier in the week.
The UN program, while voluntary, has sparked tighter laws in many countries.
"The program of action is still in effect and it will continue," Kariyawasam said. "It's unfortunate that there were differences about how to handle the issues."
The U.S. opposed a further UN review meeting. And it is unlikely to support Canada's proposal for a parallel conference in Geneva. The National Rifle Association, which attacked the conference as an infringement on American constitutional rights, also condemned efforts to continue the talks.
Canada, which helped push through a land-mine treaty at a 1999 Ottawa meeting, said in its statement that the international community "must do everything in its power to stop the carnage wrought by the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons, while respecting the legitimate interests of lawful firearms producers, exporters, retailers and users."
But, it said, the Geneva meeting would be funded on a "voluntary basis" and take place only if countries anted up. The plan was hailed by European delegates.