24 July 2001

Disappointed at small arms agreement, WCC also sees hope for a stronger platform for common action

"A not unexpected, but still very disappointing end," said Ernie Regehr, head of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) delegation to the United Nations (UN) conference on small arms, of the conference's failure to commit to stricter local and international controls on the manufacture, sale, possession and transfer of small arms. "In the end, the interests of the international gun lobby prevailed," he said, adding, "but we should not let that keep us from recognizing the important advances that were made." Regehr is director of Project Ploughshares in Canada and a member of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).

After two weeks of extremely difficult negotiations that ended Saturday, 21 July, governments at the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects reached a consensus on the world's first programme of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms.

Delegates dropped the two most controversial paragraphs, one that referred to domestic regulations and another that would have committed governments to sell small arms only to other governments. In both cases, Regehr, said, the United States was the primary obstacle. "The US refused to allow any reference in the final document that could be interpreted as encouraging stricter domestic gun laws. It's a startling omission." In noting the US argument that preventing sales to non-state actors would limit the options available to the president in certain circumstances, he stated "It is especially disturbing that states vulnerable to insurgent groups and the destabilization tactics of foreign powers were rebuffed as they tried to advance an international principle against foreign governments arming rebel groups."

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'We do mind the dying' - press statement from the newly launched Humanitarian Coalition.
Policy Framework and Guidelines on Small Arms and Light Weapons addopted by WCC/CCIA

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