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European Union
 55th session of the United Nations General Assembly




H.E.Mr. Louis MICHEL,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs  of Belgium
on behalf of the European Union

New York,  9th July 2001


Mr Chairman,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the 15 Member States of the European Union.  The Countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the European Union, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the associated countries Cyprus, Malta and Turkey and the countries of the European Free Trade Association, members of the European Economic Area, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway endorse this declaration.

I would first like to congratulate His Excellency Mr REYES, Ambassador, on his election to the chair of this Conference and to assure him of our full cooperation.  I would also like to thank His Excellency Mr DOS SANTOS, Ambassador, for his productive work in the preparatory committees.  We are grateful to him for the draft action programme which has allowed us to focus on the substance of the matter.

Mr Chairman,

Over 500 million small arms and light weapons are currently in circulation throughout the world.  In armed conflicts 8 out of 10 victims are now civilians and many of them are women, children and innocent civilians.
In regions of conflict the access to small arms and light weapons afforded to young people, not to say children has a serious impact in destabilising civil society.

Even if there are no precise statistics and the figures vary, it is clear that we must act now to fight against the scourge of illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects.  Public opinion in our respective countries expects us to take action.  None of our countries can resolve this problem alone.  That is why we need to act together.

Although most of the victims of these weapons suffer as the result of armed conflicts, we must not neglect those who fall victim to criminal or terrorist acts.

Small arms and light weapons are thus mainly a threat to civilians involved through no fault of their own in hostilities or directly targeted in disregard of humanitarian principles.  They also represent a threat to peace-keeping forces and to members of non-governmental organisations, present on the ground, throughout the world.  We owe it to them all to reduce this threat.

Aware of the problems arising from the destabilising accumulation of such weapons, the European Union has adopted several specific measures, including:

— a programme for preventing and combating illicit trafficking in conventional arms (1997);
— a European code of conduct on arms exports (1998);
— a Joint Action on the EU contribution to combating the destabilising accumulation and spread of small arms and light weapons (1998);
— a Council Resolution on small arms and light weapons as part of EU emergency aid and development programmes (1999).

The Union has played an active role in the preparation of the OSCE document on small arms and light weapons.  The document represents an important step in addressing the problem in the OSCE's

sphere of activity, but also constitutes an important contribution to the preparation of the UN Conference.

The Firearms Convention of the Organisation of American States, the Bamako Declaration adopted at the OAU Conference in Mali last year and the Brasilia Declaration are other major contributions to the proceedings of our Conference.

We also welcome the General Assembly's adoption of the Protocol on Firearms.  When it enters into force, it will represent an effective means of combating the illegal production of and trafficking in firearms and will contribute to the common effort against organised crime.

Mr Chairman,

This Conference has been tasked to address illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects.  We must therefore examine the legal aspects directly connected with such illicit trade.  We need measures designed both to prevent trafficking and to reduce the number of weapons put into circulation in this way.  Regional measures need to be taken and are being formulated.  They will have our support.  There are of course other problems which require action on a global level.

Within the European Union there are manufacturers of small arms and light weapons.  This is one of the reasons why the European Union is determined to work in cooperation with other countries to prevent weapons exported by Member States from falling into the wrong hands or contributing to criminal activities.

In recent years the European Union has taken considerable steps in this direction and we have drawn up a series of instruments which apply to all Member States.

The European Union brochure, which has been distributed for the Conference, gives a detailed view of the projects which the European Union and its Member States are financing in various regions of the world affected by this scourge, in particular in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  In this connection we are pleased with our fruitful cooperation with Canada and Japan.

The problems connected with small arms and light weapons are complex and require appropriate solutions.  Here, we want to contribute towards identifying and implementing measures to help solve these problems.  We are of course willing to share our experience with other countries to help them put in place a framework of appropriate measures in keeping with needs, circumstances and priorities specific to each State, region or sub-region.

In this context I would like to draw attention to a recently published report which points out that in its assistance in the small arms field the European Union would like to adopt a more systematic approach with a view to improving the effectiveness and targeting of its projects.

Mr Chairman,

We firmly believe that the Conference represents a unique opportunity to agree on specific measures for combating the harmful effects of the illicit spread of small arms and light weapons.

We cannot resolve these problems without everyone's support, and these efforts will require both a clear objective and sustained, long-term action.  The Conference must not be an end in itself but,

on the contrary, the starting point for an active implementation process.  We therefore urge the Conference to adopt an action programme comprising specific measures on a national, regional and international level.

The European Union considers that the action programme should go further than merely listing the problems connected with the destabilising accumulation and spread of small arms and light weapons.  We should aim to reach agreement on political commitments, principles underlying our action and specific solutions.  In so doing, we will lay the foundations for our future action, which must cover all the significant aspects of combating illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

In our view, it is essential that we achieve concrete results in the following key areas:

– implementation of export controls and export principles;
– international instrument on marking and tracing;
– international instrument on brokering;
– stockpile management;
– management of surpluses and destruction;
– disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants;
– assistance with the implementation of the measures adopted;
– follow-up to the Conference.

Furthermore, strict export controls are crucially important in combating illicit trade in such weapons.  This means not only that there must be effective national administrative structures but also that the principles must be defined governing exports of small arms and light weapons.

Tracing, in particular through appropriate, permanent and indelible marking, is an essential element for effective action by national authorities.  In this connection, the formulation of a legally binding instrument would contribute towards a global solution.

Brokering is a major problem in the context of illicit trade in small arms.  For this reason we consider a legally binding instrument to be necessary here as well.

Nor should transport and financing be forgotten.  On this latter point, possible links between trafficking in arms and other kinds of illicit trade should be examined.

Effective control of stocks, the identification and reduction of surpluses and their destruction are also necessary to reduce the illegal supply of arms.

Exchanges of information and transparency regarding legal movements of small arms and light weapons can be of considerable help in detecting and combating illicit flows.  Countries should therefore be encouraged to make available information on their exports and imports, be it in a regional context or on a global level.

Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration measures should also be included in mandates for peace-keeping operations.  In addition, control and reduction measures should form an integral part of future development programmes.

We support the proposals for assisting with the implementation of the action programme.  There is a wealth of valuable experience to be drawn on from operations conducted by the United Nations.  We propose that contributions in this connection be made by the United Nations' bodies and departments concerned and by the financial institutions of the World Bank group.

In this connection, in view of the humanitarian problems resulting from the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons in many parts of the world, special attention should be paid to assistance for the victims of this scourge, particularly women and children.

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons may have a negative impact on economic and social development, to the extent of even nullifying efforts to pursue and support sustainable development programmes.  The measures taken in the framework covered by this Conference should therefore include national and regional capacity-building measures and good governance measures and measures to promote respect for human rights and humanitarian law.  The important contribution of civil society in general and of non-governmental organisations in particular in preventing and reducing the excessive and destabilising accumulation of weapons should be acknowledged.

It will be necessary to follow up this Conference to ensure that the implementation process is sustained.

We are therefore in favour of a review conference being convened in 2006 and biennial meetings of the participant States taking place until that conference is held, in order to examine the implementation of the action programme.

NGOs and civil society should be able to make an important contribution by continuing studies, conducting investigations on the ground, organising education campaigns for populations, tendering advice to governments on small arms matters and providing humanitarian support to war-torn societies.

Mr Chairman,

The European Union is ready to work with you and with the other delegations in order to carry out the considerable task confronting us.  We must bear in mind that our action may make all the difference for the by far too numerous victims of uncontrolled flows in and the destabilising accumulation of small arms and light weapons.

If we do not lose sight of this simple but vital objective, we believe that it will be possible to reach agreement on the specific measures needed to deal with this scourge.

Mr Chairman, Heads of Delegations, I would therefore like to end this declaration by reminding you that you can count on the effective and determined support of the Union and its members in order to make this Conference the first concrete step towards a world free of illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons.


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