7 Mar 2001 – Third Prepcomm for SALW Conference

BRIEFING FOR PREPCOM III FOR THE ILLICIT TRADE IN SALW IN ALL ITS ASPECTS

7-Mar-01

I am honoured and delighted to be asked to brief this distinguished gathering on the relationship of the trade in SALW to the work and mandate of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. I hope that, in tandem with my colleagues from other UN agencies, I can provide some insight into the humanitarian impact of small arms, and what can and is being done to address it.

Forty six of the forty nine conflicts which have begun since 1990 involve small arms and light weapons alone. These simple pieces of machinery, often available for as little as $20, move from conflict area to conflict area. And wherever they are found, children suffer. They suffer as orphans, forced into a precarious early adulthood as their parents are taken from them. They suffer the mental and physical trauma of abduction at gunpoint – a trauma that may only foreshadow the suffering to come. They see the damage that these weapons do to others, children and adults alike. They suffer the physical wounds of bullets or shrapnel. Most monstrous of all, they suffer as agents of others' suffering – using these simple, portable instruments of death to wreak havoc at adults' behest.

Yet children also suffer in a more indirect fashion. It is certain that the easy availability of cheap, durable small arms and light weapons creates armed conflict. And armed conflict creates an appalling environment for children. Its disruption may separate them from their families. It may force them into temporary shelters, where they are dependent on others' charity for survival, and endangered by even the most treatable of diseases. It may condemn them to a stunted future by denying them adequate food, health care or education. Its impoverishment may drive them to living on the streets, easy prey for armed factions and sexual oppressors. Above all, it makes children the innocent victims of their elders' principles or greed.

I am not an operational actor. Unlike the UN agencies here today who do so much for those affected by war, I cannot brief you on the work of programs or country teams. My role is advocacy alone. Throughout my mandate as Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict I have emphasised the linkages between a vast range of issues and the plight of war-affected children. Disparities in wealth, education in hatred, the pursuit of political or financial goals – all play a part in creating armed conflict. Yet it is the instruments of death which turn disagreement into war. In every forum I address – whether it is the Security Council or a gathering of Junior High School students – I emphasise the link between small arms and war-affected children. I have seen the terrible consequences of this link in Kosovo, Colombia, Sierra Leone and Sudan. And in my advocacy I have consistently urged others to recognise this link and act upon it.

This action takes two broad forms. First, I have pressed for the establishment of new norms. I have engaged with regional and sub-regional organizations to ensure the protection of the rights and welfare of war-affected children, an engagement which sometimes bears fruit with an acknowledgment of the small arms link. At the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in November 1999 I emphasised the effects of the small arms trade on children; a year later I was present at the launching of the OSCE's Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, with its explicit mention of the harm these weapons do to the most vulnerable.

Second, I have pressed for the application of existing norms. In 1997 the States members of ECOWAS agreed a moratorium on the importation, exportation and manufacture of small arms in West Africa. At Accra in April 2000 I urged that the Declaration and Plan of Action issuing from the Conference on War-Affected Children in West Africa embed this excellent initiative. And in every area of conflict, I have pressed states to combine their energies in Neighbourhood Initiatives, applying existing norms to ending the cross-border activities, particularly including the illicit trade in small arms, which do so much to victimize children.

Now I am urging a third kind of action. Throughout my advocacy I have been hampered by the lack of reliable data on war-affected children. Our figures are estimates; the links between issues are often circumstantial, rather than based on solid research. This is as true of the issue of the small arms trade as it is of child soldiers. Our hearts tell us that there must be a link between the volume of the small arms trade and the suffering of war-affected children, but our advocacy is undermined by the absence of chapter and verse. How many children are killed or injured by these weapons? Are these weapons legally or illegally obtained? What is the nature of the link between child soldiers and small arms? My office, in partnership with UNICEF, is developing a network of institutions which can undertake the research necessary to provide substantive answers to these and other questions. I hope that its work can inform the struggle to control the small arms trade for years to come, and so make a major contribution to ensuring that children have no place in war.