|UN declares war on small
NEW YORK - Alarmed at the widespread
proliferation of small arms, United Nations Secretary
General Kofi Annan has asked the Security Council to
find ways to enable countries to trace more than 255
million illicit light weapons freely available on the
"The spread of illicit small arms
and light weapons is a global threat to human security
and human rights," Annan said in a report. Warning of
the dangers of proliferation, he said that there were an
estimated 639 million small arms in the world today,
nearly 60 percent of them legally held by civilians.
Annan wants the Security Council to help member
states monitor the remaining 40 percent, or 255 million
small arms, which are traded illegally in the black
market. "These arms fuel, intensify and contribute to
the prolongation of conflicts," he warned. "As a
conflict is prolonged, the need for more arms and
ammunition grows, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle."
The report said that at least 500,000 people
died every year from small arms and light weapons. Of
the estimated four million war-related deaths during the
1990s, about 90 percent of those killed were civilians,
and 80 percent were women and children, "mostly victims
of the misuse of small arms and light weapons".
In July 2001, the United Nations hosted the
Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light
Weapons, which discussed national, regional and global
strategies to stem the flow of weapons. Among the
proposals is a voluntary obligation on the part of arms
manufacturers to mark every single piece of military
equipment - particularly rifles and handguns - with
embedded serial numbers.
Jayantha Dhanapala, UN
undersecretary general for disarmament affairs, said
that one of the most promising areas was the UN's
"weapons for development" program, which rewards
communities, rather than individuals, for turning in
weapons. "It was felt that to offer individual cash
incentives to people illicitly holding weapons would
have an inflationary impact, besides sending out the
wrong message," Dhanapala said.
A pilot project
is being assessed in the Albanian village of Gramsh,
where the number of homicides fell from 40 in the year
preceding the project to one in the six months after it
began. It asks local citizens to identify and implement
development projects, which should generate enough
employment and income to become sustainable.
Dhanapala said that the United Nations was also
implementing a weapons-for-development project in Niger
In Sri Lanka, illicit arms have
become widely available due to the 19-year-old military
conflict. Most were smuggled in from foreign countries
or recycled from other conflict areas through
sophisticated networks. As well, an estimated 25,000 to
30,000 soldiers have deserted the Sri Lankan armed
forces, many keeping their weapons, some of which have
been used to commit crimes, while others have been sold
illegally for profit.
Dhanapala said that these
weapons had been linked to a sharp increase in crime,
armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking, contributing
to growing levels of insecurity and political stability
in the country.