QUNO Brings a Demand Perspective to the Review Conference
June 28, 2006
The QUNO delegation gathered together on Sunday evening at Quaker House in New York to coordinate activities and review the prospects for the United Nations 2006 Small Arms Review Conference. Fadi Abi Allam of the Permanent Peace Movement in Lebanon, Folade Mutota from the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development in Trinidad and Tobago, Nadira Mallik from the South Asia Partnership in Bangladesh, and Rukia Subow of the Pastoralist Peace and Development Initiative in Kenya joined David Atwood, David Jackman, Sophie Buxton, and Marin O’Brien of the Quaker United Nations Offices (Geneva and New York) to make-up the team. QUNO had worked with all delegation participants on demand for small arms in various regional workshops in the past and welcomed this opportunity to renew such partnerships.
QUNO had the opportunity to highlight its demand work during a lunchtime side event, “Reducing Small Arms Demand: Priorities for the Review Conference and After”, on Tuesday. Members of the QUNO delegation provided practical lessons from programmes that link conflict resolution, development, gender, and culture with the effective reduction of the demand for weapons. They presented their insights to a room full of interested delegates and NGO representatives.
David Jackman set the tone by outlining the evolution of understanding of small arms demand issues and emphasizing the relationship of these to the implementation of the Programme of Action that States are here to review. He noted ways in which demand issues can be furthered at this Review Conference, drawing particular attention to key paragraphs in the draft Outcome Document. (For details of QUNO’s response to the draft see “Taking a Step Forward at the UN Review Conference: Balancing Supply and Demand Aspects of Small Arms Programming” - PDF, 100 KB.) David set the context for the following contributions by highlighting the centrality of community level work in addressing small arms demand.
Rukia Subrow took us away from the frustrations of NGOs being confined to the fourth floor balcony above the General Assembly Hall to difficulties of a different kind in rural Kenya. She introduced us to a society where livestock form the backbone of the economy and the need for protection of valuable resources fuels demand for small arms. In this context community level development activity is key to tackling the scourge of small arms, through a combination of awareness raising activities, support for alternative livelihoods, local resource management and weapon collection and destruction. The key to the success of such initiatives is that they stem from the community, and are implemented in partnership with local police and government authorities.
Folade Mutota elaborated on the link between development and small arms by drawing attention to the fact that poverty does not directly lead to people acquiring arms, but it is one contributing factor. Another contributing factor is the construction of different gender identities. Speaking from her experience in the Caribbean, she emphasized the need to focus on how individuals are socialized in their communities in order to reduce demand for small arms. One illustration she provided was a newspaper headline “238 Murders in 238 Days”—over 95% involving young men. Furthermore, the mark that such large scale violence leaves on the collective psyche has long term implications for the perceptions of security, resulting in the use of arms in a wide variety of conflict management situations.
Nadira Mallik described the effects of a climate of fear on prospects for development in the context of South East Asia. Such an environment deters investment and encourages a dependency on the use of small arms to ensure personal security. Ineffective police forces and weak governance structures exacerbate the problem. She highlighted the links between the illicit trade in small arms, the narcotics trade and human trafficking, bringing us back to the Programme of Action by correcting misperceptions that the issue of demand for small arms is a ‘new’ issue within the UN framework.
Fadi Abi Allam focused on the recent survey amongst youth in the Middle East, entitled “Public Perceptions of Small Arms and Light Weapons and Community Security.” The results demonstrate the ambiguous relationship young people have with weapons: on the one hand there is an understanding that the presence of guns in society in fact lessens security, while at the same time there is a huge desire to acquire arms, partly to address fears of future threats. Acquisition of small arms is also shown to be a means of self-assertion, linked with success and social status. Mistrust of government officials further contributes to perceptions of insecurity and fuels the demand for weapons. Fadi called for improved networks of civil society, governments and regional organizations as a means of dealing with this lack of confidence, and suggested that the inclusion of NGOs in National Focal Points addressing small arms issues could improve implementation of international agreements on small arms.
The event was just one of many organized by NGOs alongside the formal UN Review Conference. The QUNO delegation has also been very much involved in the activities of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA)—for more details see regular newsletters at www.iansa.org. Meanwhile, in the UN General Assembly Hall, high level speeches continue, and it is expected to be at least another day before substantive negotiations start on the content of the Outcome Document from the conference. As we write, a new version of the President-Designate’s draft Outcome Document has just been released, and diplomats and NGOs alike face a busy night of analyzing and preparing responses to this text. Further updates will follow on this process and other specific QUNO activities. Check back on Friday.
By Sophie Buxton and Marin O’Brien
^ Back to Index of Dispatches