Curb Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons

September 3rd, 2004 - by admin

Friends Committee on National Legislation – 2004-09-03 13:50:39

Legislative Action Message (July 15, 2004)


Even as the search for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in Iraq has proved fruitless, small arms and light weapons (SALW) continue to kill scores of Iraqis every month and an average of 300,000 people worldwide each year, primarily civilians. Such weapons are the primary instrument of killing and human rights violations by violent extremist groups and repressive governments alike.

Sometimes referred to as “the real weapons of mass destruction,” SALW are an ever present threat to the lives, human rights, and personal security of people all over the world.

A new bill in the Senate, the Security and Fair Enforcement in Arms Trafficking Act of 2004 (S 2627), seeks to control the scourge of these weapons in important ways. It reaffirms US policy to conduct rigorous end-use checks to prevent the diversion of small arms and calls for serious progress on the marking and tracing of arms and the regulation of arms brokers.

Especially important is that it calls for a globally binding agreement, such as the proposed Arms Trade Treaty, that would prohibit all arms transfers to countries that engage in gross and consistent violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Please contact your senators and urge them to cosponsor S 2627. Let them know that international cooperation to control the under-regulated flow of small arms around the world is a crucial part of any strategy to reduce the dangers posed by violent extremists.

The current US strategy for addressing these challenges is fundamentally flawed. Providing extensive military aid to all countries that support the US counter-terrorism agenda (even repressive, authoritarian governments that are implicated in serious human rights abuses) makes calls for democracy around the world ring hollow. An international agreement would help keep dangerous weapons, including ones that could be used to destroy commercial passenger jets or other vulnerable targets, out of the wrong hands and help repair the relationship between the US and the international community.

While the threats of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons dominate the news and the policy agenda, small arms and light weapons (SALW) continue to kill an average of 300,000 people each year, primarily civilians.

Sometimes referred to as “the real weapons of mass destruction,” small arms are an ever present threat to global security, as well as to the lives and human rights of people all over the world.

Irresponsible or illegal transfers of arms and ammunition such as assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) have strengthened violent armed groups and oppressive governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, and Liberia, threatening US lives and interests.

These weapons directly contribute to widespread human rights violations and pose a grave threat to the stability and economic development of many countries.

Despite these negative consequences, the US and other countries have yet to effectively address this often legal, global arms proliferation problem. The US appears to be blocking European Union proposals in the UN that would establish globally binding agreements on issues such as arms brokering and marking and tracing of arms. This has slowed efforts to create more enforceable agreements to deal with the many jurisdictional issues that allow arms brokers to illegally transfer arms to Colombia’s FARC or to trace arms that illegally reach al Qaeda.

By not conducting sufficient end-user checks to ensure that US arms transfers are used as intended, and by transferring arms to countries with poor human rights records, the US risks contributing to illegal diversions and seeing US arms used to commit human rights violations.

These policy failures have real consequences for the US beyond the immediate misuse of US weapons, for they undermine US efforts to address the challenges that violent extremist groups pose. Providing arms and funding to foreign militaries has been a significant instrument of U.S. foreign policy for decades, but its prominence has been particularly troubling since September 11, 2001.

In attempting to garner support for its counter-terrorism agenda, the US has funded foreign militaries and waived restrictions on arms transfers at an unprecedented rate, including to many countries whose governments are repressive and whose militaries are implicated in serious human rights abuses. This fuels anti-US sentiment around the world.

International cooperation to regulate the arms trade would be an extremely important alternative to this unwise course in U.S. policy. Cooperative efforts would reduce access to the primary tools of political violence and repression – small arms and light weapons.

Moreover, pursuing a multilateral agreement prohibiting all arms transfers to governments that commit serious human rights abuses would be an important step toward winning the hearts and minds of people throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and elsewhere who suffer under repressive regimes. Such agreements are a more humane and effective method of reducing the dangers posed by violent extremist groups, failed states, and repressive governments than the ineffective, militarized “war on terror.”

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