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Saferworld disappointment at UN Small Arms Review Conference failure

The UN Programme of Action on small arms (PoA) Review Conference (26 June to 7 July 2006) ended in abject failure after states were unable to agree an outcome document. The Review Conference was intended to promote and further advance international action to deal with the scourge of illicit small arms. The document would have been the blueprint to take forward the work carried out on small arms since the initial UN PoA was adopted in 2001.

Heading into the Conference, there was some optimism that progress would be made across a range of issues that had either been ignored or that had received inadequate attention at the original conference five years ago. For example, it was hoped that states would address the links between small arms and development, would begin to consider the needs of survivors of gun violence, and would make progress on agreeing global standards for international transfers of small arms.

However, despite widespread agreement on virtually all the main issues, the wishes of the majority were repeatedly held hostage by a difficult few. On the issue of small arms transfer controls, for example, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Russia were instrumental in confounding attempts to make any real progress. In such an environment, it soon became apparent that any agreement would be a considerable compromise, but even this proved beyond states as at the eleventh hour the whole Conference collapsed.

The Conference ultimately foundered on the unwillingness of the US to countenance any kind of follow-on procedures. The US maintained that the follow-on mechanisms established by the original PoA had been ineffectual, and on this basis declared itself unwilling to endorse further global arrangements, however it was largely unwilling to enter meaningful debate about how new, improved mechanisms might be structured.

The 2001 PoA remains in force, and work is ongoing at the national and regional levels to deal with small arms problems, yet there is no doubt that the failure of the Review Conference is a significant setback to the momentum that had been in place internationally.

Thought is now being given to ways to revive the global small arms process, with the first opportunity being the UN First Committee (which deals with disarmament and international security) in October 2006.

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