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International humanitarian law on small-arms agenda

07-12-2000 News Release 00/47

Two major regional organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), have adopted plans for combatting the spread of small arms and light weapons and have committed themselves to integrating into them measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. The 55 countries of the OSCE (all European countries, Canada, the United States, and five Central Asian countries) have adopted the " OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons " , which will take into account a country's record of compliance with international norms on the conduct of hostilities before allowing small arms to be exported to it. At a ministerial meeting held in Mali on 1 December, the 53 member States of the OAU adopted an " African Common Position " on small arms and light weapons. This stressed the importance for compliance with humanitarian law of the struggle against the illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of small arms.

" We are very encouraged that both the OSCE and the OAU have now made commitments to address humanitarian concerns arising from small arms exports, and specifically to focus on compliance with international humanitarian law " said ICRC Mines-Arms Unit coordinator Peter Herby. " We hope that steps will now be taken to implement such measures at the national level, and that norms based on respect for humanitarian law will be among the results of the UN global conference on small arms next year. "

The ICRC had previously urged the OSCE, OAU, and other regional organizations to consider the implications in humanitarian terms of the proliferation and availability of small arms. According to a study entitled " Arms availability and the situation of civilians in armed conflict " , published by the ICRC last year, unregulated arms availability can facilitate violations of international humanitarian law, increase civilian suffering and impede assistance to victims.