Something to think about...(Be warned, it's a long read.)
U.N. coming for your guns
Private groups, governments team up to restrict use, ownership of firearms
By Sarah Foster
© 1999 WorldNetDaily.com
American gun owners and advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association are suddenly finding that when it comes to firearms legislation, they had better pay attention to what's happening not only in Congress and their state legislatures, but at the United Nations, where the Second Amendment is being quietly dismantled behind closed doors.
Since the end of the Cold War, the disarmament community has brought small arms and light weapons within its sphere of interest, placing them and their "proliferation" on a par with such long-standing concerns as nuclear missiles and bio-chemical weapons. Though the terms tend to be used interchangeably, the United Nations defines small arms as weapons designed for personal use, while light weapons are those designed for several persons operating as a crew. Together, they account for virtually every kind of firearm from revolvers, pistols, rifles, carbines and light machine guns all the way to heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, mortars up to 100 mm caliber, and land mines.
On Sept. 24, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, of Ghana, called on members of the Security Council to "tackle one of the key challenges in preventing conflict in the next century" -- the proliferation and "easy availability" of small arms and light weapons, which Annan identified as the "primary tools of violence" in conflicts throughout the world.
It was the first time the council had met to discuss the subject, and Annan praised the United Nations as a whole for playing "a leading role in putting the issue of small arms firmly on the international agenda."
"Even in societies not beset by civil war, the easy availability of small arms has in many cases contributed to violence and political instability," he said. "Controlling that easy availability is a prerequisite for a successful peace-building process."
Talk is one thing, but the Security Council then unanimously adopted the "Report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms," which had been released Aug. 19 to the General Assembly. The 26-member group's various recommendations, two dozen in all, add up to a comprehensive program for worldwide gun control, and call for a total ban on private ownership of "assault rifles." A few of the recommendations:
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan condemns the "easy availability" of small arms, calling them the "primary tools of violence" in the world.
All small arms and light weapons which are not under legal civilian possession and which are not required for the purposes of national defense and internal security, should be collected and destroyed by States as expeditiously as possible.
All States should determine in their national laws and regulations which arms are permitted for civilian possession and the conditions under which they can be used.
All States should ensure that they have in place adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to exercise effective control over the legal possession of small arms and light weapons and over their transfer in order ... to prevent illicit trafficking.
States are encouraged to integrate measures to control ammunition ... into prevention and reduction measures relating to small arms and light weapons.
States should work towards ... appropriate national legislation, regulations and licensing requirements that define conditions under which firearms can be acquired, used and traded by private persons. In particular, they should consider the prohibition of unrestricted trade and private ownership of small arms and light weapons specifically designed for military purposes, such as automatic guns (e.g., assault rifles and machine-guns).
The report notes with approval countries like China that have acted to "strengthen legal or regulatory controls." China reported that some 300,000 "illicit" guns were seized and destroyed last year by officials acting in response to "new and more stringent national regulations that have come into force ... on the control on guns within the country and on arms exports." France, too, in 1998 "acted to reinforce governmental control over military and civilian arms and ammunition, and introduced more rigorous measures regulating the holding of arms by civilians." And the United States gave assurances that the federal government has taken "a number of relevant national measures." All United States citizens, wherever located, and any person subject to United States law, must now register in order to engage in arms brokering activities. ..." That is, prior written approval from the State Department is required.
Contacted for comment, a State Department official who requested anonymity denied that the report spelled out gun control programs being imposed on this country via the United Nations, despite the fact that a State Department senior foreign affairs specialist, Herbert Calhoun, had served as a member of the group and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- representing the United States on the Security Council -- had endorsed the report.
"The United Nations will not dictate domestic gun control for any nation," the official told WorldNetDaily. "They can make recommendations and nations can act on those recommendations as they see fit, but we will never have the United Nations telling countries what they should do."
Questioned about specific recommendations, he replied, "Those are just recommendations -- and surprisingly, a number of countries, including the U.S., take them up on those recommendations. In fact, we support all 24 of those recommendations."
World 'awash' with small arms
The current surge of activity at the United Nations against small arms was signaled in January 1995 by then-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his "Supplement to an Agenda for Peace," a position paper on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
The world, he said, was "awash" with small arms that were responsible for "most of the deaths in current conflicts." Traffic in these weapons is "very difficult to monitor, let alone intercept." Boutros-Ghali urged that since progress had been made in the area of weapons of mass destruction and major weapons systems, "parallel progress in conventional arms, particularly in respect to light weapons," was needed.
In response to Boutros-Ghali's call, in 1997 Secretary General Kofi Annan upgraded the United Nations' disarmament office to departmental status as the Department of Disarmament Affairs, citing his intention to place greater emphasis on small arms and light weapons. The Department for Disarmament affairs is headed by Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka.
The new department continues to work on the traditional issues of nuclear missile systems, test ban treaties and the like -- but there's now a special website for small arms issues.
This activity at the international level quickly drew the attention of the National Rifle Association, which has posted a warning in a fact sheet on its website.
"While the actions of the U.N. do not have direct impact on U.S. law unless passed as a treaty by the U.N. General Assembly and ratified by the U.S. Senate, ... the U.N. can do a great deal to interfere with gun owners' rights by lending an appearance of legitimacy to oppressive anti-gun measures. It is clear that one of the goals of this effort is to demonize civilian ownership of guns and make strict regulation of firearms appear as the only acceptable alternative."
An 'unholy alliance'
Attorney Thomas Mason, who represents the National Rifle Association at meetings of the United Nations, told WorldNetDaily how this effort to radically reduce private gun ownership is being furthered not only by U.N. bureaucrats and delegates, but with the help of non-governmental organizations -- "NGOs" as they're called -- that have been granted special consultative status to observe the proceedings and, when invited, present information and exert considerable influence on delegates and staff.
"A dynamic for worldwide gun control efforts has developed in the international arena over the past five years -- an unholy alliance between NGOs, small to medium-size governments and the United Nations," said Mason. "People have no idea that the United Nations is a totally closed process. There is no public records law or open meetings law. As a member of the public you do not have an automatic right to attend committee meetings. To get in the door you have to be an accredited NGO."
There are over 1,000 non-governmental accredited organizations dealing with the numerous issues with which the United Nations concerns itself: education, health, land use and the environment, and guns. The National Rifle Association received accreditation in 1995, and is one of only two pro-gun NGOs to have been certified. The other is the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia.
"We sought NGO status to monitor the activities of the U.N. in terms of issues that are important to our membership, more so than to become an active lobbying force there," explained Patrick O'Malley, deputy director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "That's primarily the role we continue to act in today -- that of observer, monitoring any number of initiatives that they're working on in places as far flung as Geneva, Vienna, Cairo."
"But make no mistake," he added, "We are working actively to ensure that the discussions on specific gun control-connected issues do not in any way pose a threat to our domestic sovereignty or the public policy process that we have here in the United States -- that's the goal of many of the [anti-gun] groups -- to seek a global harmonization -- as they call it -- of domestic gun control laws.
"And when they speak of 'harmonization,' they don't talk about other countries coming to our level where we [in the United States] have a basic right to own a firearm; they're talking about taking the United States to the standard of many other countries where firearms ownership is essentially completely banned.
"There are some highly extremist proposals out there," O'Malley continued, "proposals that range from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Proposals have been put forward that every single round of ammunition manufactured be trackable by satellite so that we can establish a protocol for monitoring what they call 'flows' of small arms and ammunition into areas of conflict."
First landmines, next small arms
This diverse mix of non-governmental organizations -- most with anti-gun agendas -- national governments, and U.N. leaders has been holding workshops and conferences throughout the world on firearms-related issues.
"Workshops in the international arena are essentially meetings to deliberate issues," said Mason. "When a government or NGO sponsors a workshop, it's much more serious than the ordinary person might think. That's where the thinking and talking is done and decisions are made."
One such meeting will be held today at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to discuss the draft of a field guide on light weapons designed for use by humanitarian and relief personnel working in arms control programs in hot spots around the world.
The two-hour technical workshop is sponsored by the Program on Development and Security -- called SAND -- of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a private graduate school in Monterey, California, and the Bonn International Center for Conversion in Germany. The two "think tanks" are well connected to the United Nations through their work on the international weapons trade and its perceived impact on communities and peace-keeping efforts around the world. Dr. Edward J. Laurance, executive director of the SAND program at the Monterey institute and co-author of the field manual, also serves as a consultant to the United Nations Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms and the U.N. Register on Conventional Weapons.
Although it's not unusual for independent groups to give presentations at the United Nations, today's meeting will be chaired by Jayantha Dhanapala, under-secretary general for disarmament affairs. The session and its choice of host are a testimony to the growing influence of NGOs at the United Nations, and highlight the increased attention paid by that body to the "proliferation" of personal firearms throughout the world and their possession by "civilians." The significance of Dhanapala's role heading up the event is well-appreciated by Laurance.
"All NGOs and governments are invited to look at the first draft of our field manual," he told WorldNetDaily. "We're unveiling it at the workshop and getting feedback. But the important thing for us is that the workshop is hosted by the under-secretary general for disarmament."
Laurance sees an even greater role for organizations like SAND and the Bonn International Center in the U.N. decision-making process as that body opens its doors to "civil society."
"Civil society -- that's sort of a buzz word -- meaning NGOs, academic experts, the public at large," he explained. "The U.N. increasingly asks people like me and others as consultants. Increasingly, conferences are held cooperatively with the NGO community, and NGOs are being used to provide information and ideas."
Laurance called attention to the success of NGOs in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. After six years of campaigning, 129 governments in 1997 signed a treaty banning the production and use of land mines. The United States is not one of them.
If such a campaign worked with landmines, what about personal firearms?
"If you followed the Land Mine Treaty, that's a perfect example of where NGOs were used," he explained. "There was a group of so-called like-minded states that really wanted the treaty and a bunch of others that were on the fence. So the NGOs were used to get the countries that were on the fence to jump in and sign the treaty."
Laurance credits the environmental movement for developing the process domestically and at the international level.
"The environmental groups showed the way," he said. "They had the information and they made it available. We've made that point with the small arms and light weapons issue: that civil society has information, particularly at the local level. It's civil society that's being hurt by these weapons. Civil society can tell governments what weapons are doing the damage and why, and where they come from."
"Many governments understand this," he continued. "The United States is a special case because of the whole gun control issue, and the United States has a very special challenge: They have to constantly worry that what they do in this area internationally doesn't have any domestic effects."
Besides his work in academia and with the United Nations, Laurance and the SAND program are active participants in a newly-formed, globe-spanning coalition of national and international peace, disarmament, humanitarian and anti-gun groups called the International Action Network on Small Arms -- which he helped found. It is the kind of far-flung association that would have been all but impossible to organize and direct in the days before the Internet and e-mail.
'Flame for peace' gun bonfire
"Perhaps the way forward for the peace movement will be the high-tech route, using modern technology to lead campaigns of the 21st century," according to Tamar Gabelnick of the Federation of American Scientists, and a founder of IANSA. In an article describing the new group, Gabelnick wrote, "IANSA will act as a coordinator and facilitator for groups worldwide working to prevent the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. A small secretariat will be complemented in its role as an information warehouse and facilitator of 'mini-campaigns" by heavy reliance on the web and e-mail. This format will help to harmonize the activities of a diverse group of organizations while allowing the flexibility necessary to address the components of this multi-faceted issue."
Recalling Mason's remarks about the "unholy alliance," funding for the new group has come largely from five agencies of small to medium-size governments: The Belgian Ministry for Development Cooperation; the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the United Kingdom Department for International Development; and the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After several organizing meetings beginning in December 1997, IANSA was formally launched May 11 of this year at The Hague during the Appeal for Peace Conference, which reportedly drew an estimated 7,000 delegates from around the world to celebrate the centennial of The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899. To celebrate the formation of the new coalition, organizers destroyed a collection of firearms donated by governments in a "Flame for Peace" bonfire in the city center.
Four months after its debut, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke glowingly of the new organization for its role in directing public attention to the issue of firearms.
"The momentum for combating small arms proliferation has also come from civil society, which has been increasingly active on this issue," Annan said in his Sept. 24 address to the Security Council. "The establishment early this year of the International Action Network on Small Arms has helped to sharpen public focus on small arms, which has helped us gain the public support necessary for success."
"IANSA is a coalition of non-governmental organizations that was established to organize international efforts for controlling the global trade in firearms -- that's its main purpose," said Michael Klare, one of its founders. Klare teaches Peace and Conflict Studies at Hampshire College in Massachusetts and is co-director of the Project on Light Weapons of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
"It's not designed to become a large organization on its own," he continued. "People feel very strongly about not creating a new bureaucracy. We don't have officers at this point because the understanding is that the members of IANSA are organizations themselves and only those organizations can set their own policy."
E.J. Hogendoorn of Human Rights Watch and, like Klare, one of IANSA's founders, views it more as a campaign.
"It's a very encompassing campaign by different groups that bring different agendas to the campaign, but all of them center around the misuse of light weapons and small arms," said Hogendoorn. "So, for example, Human Rights Watch -- we're not a gun control organization per se, and traditionally most of our work has been on human rights concerns. But we do care about people selling weapons to human rights abusers."
Like Human Rights Watch, most members of IANSA are not gun control organizations per se, nor are they involved in domestic gun-related issues -- but the measures developed to control gun trafficking at the international level will necessarily require backup by domestic measures. Membership in IANSA is open to non-governmental organizations, community groups and professional associations that support at least some of the group's policy ojectives and "do not oppose or advocate opposition to those objectives which they do not explicitly support." Organizers have developed a list of gun control measures IANSA supports, including:
Reducing the availability of weapons to civilians in all societies.
Providing resources to develop the capacity in national and local governments to achieve effective controls over small arms possession and use.
Promoting safe storage practices for small arms on the part of citizens and states.
Systematic collection and destruction of weapons that are illegally held by civilians.
Collection and verifiable destruction of surplus weapons as part of U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Promoting programs to encourage citizens to surrender illegal, unsafe or unwanted firearms.
Banning the advertisement and promotion of small arms to civilians.
International gun control treaty coming?
At least 200 organizations have signed on with IANSA as supporters or active participants, including Human Rights Watch, the Federation of American Scientists, Pax Christi, World Council of Churches, Amnesty International, Gun Free South Africa, Viva Rio, the leading anti-gun group in Rio de Janiero, the Arias Foundation in Costa Rio, and the British American Security Information Council -- or Basic, which has offices in London and Washington.
The lobbying efforts of IANSA and "like-minded" governments has begun paying off. A conference is in the works to be held in 2001 that will cover all aspects of small arms -- and some kind of a firearms protocol or treaty will probably be on the agenda.
According to the National Rifle Association's Tom Mason: "Proposals are being floated of an international treaty banning civilian possession of military-style firearms -- though it's impossible to distinguish military from civilian; other proposals are calling for the destruction of all surplus military firearms, calling for the registration and regulation internationally of all manufacturing and shipping of firearms -- there's a whole series of very radical proposals.
"They will have their first meeting to prepare for the conference on February 28," Mason said.
"We will be there," he promised.
Stephan Archer contributed to this report.
Sarah Foster is a staff reporter for WorldNetDaily.