2001 UN conference on the illicit trade in small arms & light weapons in all its aspects

The need to act
Small arms and light weapons are an integral part of the spiraling culture of violence in our world. Through war, crime, domestic violence and suicides, more than 10,000 lives are lost each week to armed violence. The easy availability of small arms and light weapons exacerbates and prolongs armed conflicts, disrupts economic and social development, promotes crime and a culture of violence, and produces an extraordinary worldwide burden of cumulative personal tragedies and public crises.

It is a matter of urgent public responsibility that the international community now act to tackle the problems of the proliferation, accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons, and to address their debilitating social, economic, political and humanitarian impacts.

A first attempt by governments
From July 9-20, 2001 the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects took place in New York. It was the first gathering of the world's governments to address the issue. It also provided an important opportunity for states and civil society to highlight the humanitarian toll of small arms and light weapons. Ultimately, delegates reached a final consensus agreement on a Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UN PoA.doc) after two weeks of difficult negotiations. However many governments and NGOs were disappointed that critical elements needed for the solution of the problem were either not included in the Programme or were watered down to the point of irrelevance. These included in particular:

  • The linkage of small arms to human rights violations Excessive and destabilizing accumulations of both legal and illicit small arms
  • Transparency
  • A commitment to negotiate legally binding instruments on arms brokering and on the marking and tracing of weapons
  • National regulation of civilian possession of military weapons Export and re-export control criteria, and
  • The supply of arms to governments only.

  • Despite these failings, the conference can be deemed a success for the mere fact that it occurred at all. High-level international attention was given to the issue, states were forced to go on record with their views of the causes and consequences of the problem, and NGOs and civil society, within umbrella organizations such as the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), came together and formed partnerships that will surely be critical for future deliberations on the matter.

    The role of the churches
    The World Council of Churches (WCC) actively encourages Christians and their churches to help end the proliferation of small arms, and contribute to building a culture of peace.

    Together with IANSA, the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs played an active role in the UN Conference and sent a delegation to be present at the meetings themselves in New York, adding an ecumenical voice to the international arena with stories of hope and pain.

    As we embark on a Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010), the WCC calls on the churches "to emphasize their readiness to live without the protection of armaments;" (Fifth WCC Assembly, Nairobi 1975) and do those things that make for peace with justice.

    Regional ecumenical consultations

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

    Wait for the homework, Mozambican Bishop tells NGOs

    Oral intervention on reduction of demand for small arms and the role of faith communities

    Churches use story, symbol and dance to protest the use of and trade in small arms


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