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Small Arms: the impact of the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons on international peace and security

UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL

High Level Meeting

Statement by the Hon Julie Bishop MP, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs 

26 September 2013

 

I thank the Secretary-General for his briefing and report, which have laid the foundation for today’s discussion.

I also thank the ICRC Vice-President for her briefing, and for the invaluable work her organisation undertakes.

Australia’s region – the Indo-Pacific – has experienced the devastating effects of the illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons.

Thirteen years ago, our friends in Solomon Islands faced the very real prospect of becoming a failed state, after long simmering tensions boiled over into ethnic conflict.  Militants raided police armouries, high-powered firearms – coupled with other weapons that flowed across porous borders – exacerbated the conflict.  The results were devastating – a coup,  widespread killings, breakdown in governance, law and order, and years of economic contraction.

Australia led the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) with fellow Pacific Islands Forum members, at Solomon Islands’ request to restore law and order. That meant getting guns out of the community – quickly. During a three week amnesty, more than 4000 firearms were surrendered or confiscated by RAMSI. This early and decisive action underpinned the peace that was built and maintained over the next ten years.

Small arms and light weapons have had similar effects elsewhere in our region – in Timor-Leste, and in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. As members of the Council, we are reminded all too frequently of the threat that the proliferation and misuse of these weapons can pose to civilians, to states, and to international peace and security – including in Mali and the Sahel, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

These weapons pose a grave threat to civilians, to peacekeepers, to humanitarian workers and to civil society organisations.  Their proliferation and misuse can undermine the rule of law and human rights, and destroy efforts to rebuild broken societies.

We have all learned valuable lessons on how this threat can be overcome.  While states have the primary responsibility to prevent the illicit transfer and misuse of these weapons, many will need support to do so.  Peacekeeping and political missions can play a key role, as we saw in Solomon Islands.  This has also been the experience in Côte d’Ivoire, where a small but dedicated arms embargo monitoring unit in the UN mission has made a real impact in supporting the government to combat illicit arms flows.

Assistance to states to manage their own weapons – those held by their security forces – will often be the starting point.  For states emerging from conflict, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programs for former combatants must be carefully designed and implemented, and weapons accounted for.  Security sector reform must include effective weapons management. Such transition processes must be inclusive, with women’s participation crucial.  Existing controls – including national regulations and arms embargoes – must be fully implemented. Regional organisations will often be able to play a pivotal role.

The international community has demonstrated renewed resolve to combat the threat posed by small arms and light weapons. The adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty this year was a landmark achievement, which will help stop destabilising arms flows to conflict regions and to illicit users. It will prevent human rights abusers and those who violate the laws of war from being supplied with arms.

The Council, by adopting Resolution 2117 today, is demonstrating it has an important role to play in addressing these challenges.

This resolution will strengthen implementation of the Council’s arms embargoes. It supports peacekeepers’ efforts  to limit the impact of these weapons on post-conflict societies.  Most importantly, the resolution demonstrates the fundamental importance this Council places on protecting civilians, and for full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights.

This international momentum must be maintained. The Council has taken too long to adopt its first resolution on small arms.  And I should note that Australia has built on the earlier work of others – including Argentina some years ago – to get to this point. The Council should consider these issues more systemically, return to this subject with greater frequency, and ensure that our commitments today are not forgotten tomorrow.

26 September 2013

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