Humanitarian imperatives of the UNPoA

March 20 2012, 6:57 PM  by Ray Acheson

During the first two days of discussion, the potentially positive effects on armed violence of a rigorously implemented UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) were made clear by member states. Many states still view the UNPoA as the best instrument for combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW) and thereby reducing the impacts that the misuse and accumulation of arms have on socioeconomic development, poverty, health, security, and peace. However, there are still divergent views on how best to address the intertwined issues of development and small arms control.

by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and FreedomDuring Tuesday’s deliberations, the delegations of Armenia, Bangladesh, Belize, Egypt, Norway, and Switzerland, among others, all noted the humanitarian impact of the illicit trade in small arms. They also, in various ways, cited the relevance of the UNPoA for dealing with the causes and/or consequences of armed conflict.

The Egyptian delegation reiterated the Arab Group’s call for addressing the underlying causes of conflict, “including poverty, epidemics and marginalization”. In this connection, the Egyptian delegation also called for the international community to increase its efforts to “assist capacity building in the implementation of the UNPoA financially and technically.”

Egypt is not the only country that sees implementation of the UNPoA as a direct response to dealing with the causes of conflict. The Swiss delegation called on states to consider how SALW projects “could take into account the multi-faceted nature of SALW issues and ways to tie them into larger development frameworks.” Ambassador Fasel noted that UN member states have recognized that “development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing” (A/60/1), and that the 112 states that support the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development “recognize the interrelation between violence and development and the need to tackle the risks and effects of armed violence and underdevelopment in a holistic way.”

However, not all states see the UNPoA and development as being so interlinked. The Nigerian and South African delegations argued that donor countries should not expect recipient countries to use development funds for implementation of the UNPoA, as not all states see it as a development issue. South Africa said UNPoA assistance needs to be sustainable and come from dedicated funding. Nigeria’s delegate called on states to delink the concept of cooperation and assistance from aid and not to treat it as a “patron-client relationship”.

That said, these states—and many others—do view the UNPoA as important for dealing with the humanitarian consequences of the illicit trade in small arms. In this context, the Norwegian delegation highlighted the importance of victim assistance in both the UNPoA and the soon-to-be-negotiated Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Norway also sees the UNPoA as a preventative tool. Arguing that the prime motivation behind the UNPoA is human security, Norway said that by fully implementing the UNPoA and addressing some of its short-comings, “we may prevent future armed aggressions”.

Keeping the human security imperatives at the fore will be vital to ensure that the UNPoA is effective as a tool that can address the causes and consequences of armed violence and that can even help prevent armed conflict. As Hector Guerra of IANSA writes in the article on survivors in this edition of the Small Arms Monitor, “An appreciation of the experience and expertise of survivors of gun violence will have important consequences for the way in which successful long term strategies are formulated to help combat the global small arms crisis.”