High Level Meeting Small Arms: the impact of the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons on international peace and security

the impact of the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons on international peace and security

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

26 September 2013

I thank theSecretary-General for his briefing and report, which have laid the foundationfor today's discussion.

I also thank the ICRCVice-President for her briefing, and for the invaluable work her organisation undertakes.

Australia's region – theIndo-Pacific – has experienced the devastating effects of the illicit transferof small arms and light weapons.

Thirteen yearsago, our friends in Solomon Islandsfaced the very real prospect of becoming a failed state, after long simmeringtensions boiled over into ethnic conflict.Militants raided police armouries, high-poweredfirearms – coupled with other weapons that flowed across porous borders –exacerbated the conflict.The resultswere devastating – a coup,widespreadkillings, breakdown in governance, law and order, and years of economiccontraction.

Australia led the RegionalAssistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) with fellow Pacific Islands Forummembers, at Solomon Islands'request to restore law and order. That meant getting guns out of the community- quickly. During a three week amnesty, more than 4000 firearms weresurrendered or confiscated by RAMSI. This early and decisive action underpinnedthe peace that was built and maintained over the next ten years.

Small arms andlight weapons have had similar effects elsewhere in our region - in Timor-Leste,and in Bougainville,Papua New Guinea.As members of the Council, we are reminded all too frequently of the threatthat the proliferation and misuse of these weapons can pose to civilians, tostates, and to international peace and security - including in Mali and theSahel, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central AfricanRepublic.

These weapons posea grave threat to civilians, to peacekeepers, to humanitarian workers and to civilsociety organisations.Theirproliferation and misuse can undermine the rule of law and human rights, and destroyefforts to rebuild broken societies.

We have alllearned valuable lessons on how this threat can be overcome.While states have the primary responsibility toprevent the illicit transfer and misuse of these weapons, many will need supportto do so.Peacekeeping and politicalmissions can play a key role, as we saw in SolomonIslands.This hasalso been the experience in Côte d'Ivoire,where a small but dedicated arms embargo monitoring unit in the UN mission hasmade a real impact in supporting the government to combat illicit armsflows.

Assistance to statesto manage their own weapons – those held by their security forces – will oftenbe the starting point.For statesemerging from conflict, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR)programs for former combatants must be carefully designed and implemented, andweapons accounted for.Security sectorreform must include effective weapons management.Such transition processes must be inclusive,with women's participation crucial.Existing controls – including national regulations and arms embargoes –must be fully implemented. Regional organisations will often be able to play apivotal role.

The internationalcommunity has demonstrated renewed resolve to combat the threat posed by smallarms and light weapons. The adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty this year was alandmark achievement, which will help stop destabilising arms flows to conflictregions and to illicit users. It will prevent human rights abusers and thosewho violate the laws of war from being supplied with arms.

The Council, by adoptingResolution 2117 today, is demonstrating it has an important role to play inaddressing these challenges.

This resolutionwill strengthen implementation of the Council's arms embargoes. It supportspeacekeepers' effortsto limit theimpact of these weapons on post-conflict societies.Most importantly, the resolution demonstratesthe fundamental importance this Council places on protecting civilians, and forfull respect for international humanitarian law and human rights.

This internationalmomentum must be maintained. The Council has taken too long to adopt its firstresolution on small arms.And I shouldnote that Australia hasbuilt on the earlier work of others – including Argentinasome years ago – to get to this point. The Council should consider these issuesmore systemically, return to this subject with greater frequency, and ensurethat our commitments today are not forgotten tomorrow.

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