The Impact of Small Arms - statement at the UN security council, September 2013
The Vice-President of the ICRC, Ms. Christine Beerli addressed the UN Security Council on September 26 concerning the impact of the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons on international peace and security. Here is the transcript of her statement.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As Vice-President of the ICRC, I am honoured to be addressing the Security Council on the impact of the illicit transfer, accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.
In its operations to protect and assist the victims of armed conflicts and other situations of violence worldwide, the ICRC is a first-hand witness to the devastating cost to civilians of easy access to and misuse of small arms and light weapons. These are the weapons of choice when men, women and children are deliberately targeted, raped, and forced out of their homes, and their property is destroyed.
It is crucial for the international community to do far more to address in a comprehensive manner the terrible and long-lasting human costs of the widespread availability and misuse of small arms and light weapons.
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons prolongs conflicts, facilitates violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and puts civilians at high risk of death or injury from weapons-related violence. The threat to civilians remains even after armed conflicts have ended. The indirect impact includes disease, starvation and abuse, which increase when humanitarian organizations are the object of attack and are forced to suspend operations or leave a country. Human suffering continues, often for years, after hostilities are over, as the widespread availability of these arms engenders a culture of violence, undermines the rule of law and threatens efforts at reconciliation.
It is imperative that States do much more to address the impact of the poorly controlled availability, and the misuse, of small arms and light weapons. At three International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent over the last ten years, States party to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 have recognized that their obligation "to ensure respect" for international humanitarian law requires adequate measures to control the availability of weapons. To uphold this obligation, we call upon the Security Council to ensure that small arms and light weapons and their ammunition do not end up in the hands of those who may be expected to use them in violation of international humanitarian law or human rights law.
In particular, we urge the Security Council to call upon all United Nations member States to promptly sign, ratify and implement the Arms Trade Treaty. The treaty is a historic achievement. It establishes a global norm to prevent arms transfers when there is a manifest risk that war crimes or serious violations of human rights will be committed. In parallel, States must continue to comply with similar or stricter rules under regional instruments regulating arms transfers to which they are party. Unfortunately, a look at a number of current armed conflicts reveals an evident gap between the transfer criteria expressed in these instruments and the practice of some States.
The problem of small arms and light weapons must be addressed in a holistic manner. This requires the development of a comprehensive strategy, which includes reducing the vulnerability of people and communities at risk from small-arms violence, helping victims, providing training in international humanitarian law and human rights law for weapon bearers, and violence-prevention strategies specific to the context.
Within this approach, effective protection from the misuse of arms requires improved respect for the law, including international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict. Enhanced respect for the law can increase people’s safety and security and thereby contribute to reducing the demand for weapons in response to danger. In the light of this, continuous capacity-building efforts are required to ensure that military, police and security forces, and other weapon bearers, use weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. In this regard, the ICRC can provide practical support to States in the training of government forces. It also promotes respect for international humanitarian law by non-State armed groups.
It is crucial for the international community to do far more to address in a comprehensive manner the terrible and long-lasting human costs of the widespread availability and misuse of small arms and light weapons. The safety and well-being of millions of people around the world depend on this.