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Policy framework and guidelines on small arms and light weapons

18 May 2001

Adopted by the CCIA at its 44th meeting, Crans Montana, Switzerland, 18 May 2001.


Small Arms and Violence
     Small arms and light weapons are the primary instruments through which persistent and deeply rooted political conflicts are transformed with alarming frequency into armed violence and war. Through war, crime, domestic violence and suicides, more than 10,000 lives are lost each week to small arms violence. The easy availability of small arms and light weapons exacerbates and prolongs armed conflicts, defers economic and social development, promotes crime, nurtures cultures of violence, and produces an extraordinary worldwide burden of cumulative personal tragedies and public crises.

The most devastating impact of small arms affects the vulnerable, especially teen-agers. The light weight, transportability and ease of use of small arms and light weapons has facilitated one of the most abusive elements of contemporary armed conflict, notably the engagement of children as armed combatants.

It is a matter of urgent public responsibility that the international community now act to address 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.

The Role of the Churches

     In response to the small arms crisis, and in the context of the international campaign, "Peace to the City," carried out in the context of the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Programme to Overcome Violence, the WCC Central Committee called in 1997 for "special attention to the concern for microdisarmament." Subsequently, international and regional consultations on micro-disarmament were held in Rio de Janeiro (May 1998 and July 2000) and Nairobi (October 2000); a Micro-disarmament Fund has been created to support local and regional initiatives; and an Ecumenical Network on Small Arms (ENSA) is in formation.

The July 2000 consultation in Rio declared that "the problem of armed violence and the diffusion of small arms...cannot be effectively addressed without the involvement of the Churches in the region." The Latin American declaration went on to say that "churches have deep roots in local communities and thus are especially well positioned to address the issues of micro-conflict. Churches know the people's needs, and can understand the insecurities that lead some to seek security through guns."

The churches are well placed to acknowledge and testify to the impact of small arms, since they minister to the victims and their families all around the world, in rich and poor nations. Churches see people's needs and are in a unique position to address the small arms epidemic, identifying its material, moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions. Churches can inform, mobilize and guide the community, offering a specific and holistic contribution to the international small arms campaign.

Churches also have a policy role to play, bringing theological insights and moral and ethical perspectives to bear upon the social and political pursuit of small arms control and demand reduction.

The Emerging Small Arms Agenda
     Through a wide range of UN expert studies, UN resolutions, and civil society research and analysis, a broadly recognized international small arms agenda is emerging. The churches are challenged to support and advance that emerging small arms action agenda designed to control the supply and availability of small arms and light weapons, to promote social, economic and political conditions to reduce the demand for small arms and light weapons, and to facilitate and ensure effective implementation of and compliance with small arms control and reduction measures.

While individual states exercise varying degrees of control over small arms and light weapons, there exist no universal laws or standards by which to regulate the production, transfer, possession or use of small arms, and to protect individuals, families and communities from small arms abuse.

Nevertheless, a series of significant international initiatives by states have been taken that deserve the study of the churches, including:

a) The ECOWAS "Declaration of a Moratorium on Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Light Weapons in West Africa" (November 1998);

b) The "Nairobi Declaration on the Problem of the Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa" (March 2000);

c) The "Bamako Declaration on an African Common Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons" (December 2000);

d) The OAS "Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and other Related Materials" (November 1997);

e) The Brasilia Declaration for the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Arms Trade in Small Arms and All Its Aspects, Regional Preparatory Meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean States for the UN Conference (November 2000);

f) European Union joint action on "Combating the Destabilising Accumulation and Spread of Small Arms and Light Weapons" (December 1998);

g) The UN "Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition," supplementing the "United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime" (March 2001).

The UN 2001 Conference     The forthcoming (July 2001) United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects offers a significant opportunity to advance the three-fold small arms agenda, to recognize the humanitarian consequences of the proliferation of small arms, and to mobilize support for timely measures and commitments to mitigate their damaging impact.It is vitally important that the UN conference commit States to measures that will have a real and beneficial impact on the lives of the people who now suffer the devastating and debilitating consequences of the presence and misuse of small arms in their communities. The conference could be a critically important step toward addressing the small arms crisis, but it will only be an early step on the way to developing the international measures, norms, and laws needed to reduce the demand for and enhance the control of small arms and light weapons.

A Call to Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons

Against the background of the work already undertaken on small arms and light weapons by the WCC International Relations staff and the CCIA Peacebuilding and Disarmament Reference Group, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, at its forty-fourth meeting in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, 14-18 May 2001:

Renews the appeal to the churches of the Fifth WCC Assembly (Nairobi 1975) "to emphasize their readiness to live without the protection of armaments;" and urges Christians to do those things that make for peace with justice, and to foster the development of social and political institutions that provide security and physical and spiritual well-being for all without resort to weapons;

Renews its commitment to sustained participation in the emerging global effort to address the excessive and unregulated accumulations and proliferation of small arms that foment conflicts around the world, make them extraordinarily destructive, and render them more resistant to peaceful resolution;

Welcomes the convening of the UN Conference on small arms in 2001 and urges the churches to commit it and the broader small arms disarmament effort to God in prayer;

Emphasizes the urgent need for resolute international action through the 2001 conference and beyond to encourage the international community to put in place a sustained program of action to address the small arms crisis;

Welcomes the formation and work of the International NGO Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), of which the WCC is a founding member;

Affirms the importance of church action and encourages the Ecumenical Network on Small Arms (ENSA) in its continuing work in collaboration with other members of IANSA;

Calls upon states to use the occasion of the 2001 UN Conference to agree and commit to the following measures, and to put in place policies and resources to ensure their effective follow-up and implementation:

a) to exercise restraint in the accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons, and to pursue a global "code of conduct" to control arms transfers in the context of and consistent with the obligations of states, including the obligation not to acquire arms for purposes other than or beyond levels needed for self-defence, to ensure the least possible diversion of resources to armaments, and to the obligation to respect and protect the welfare and rights of its citizens;

b) to implement strict domestic controls on the manufacture, possession and use of small arms, including consideration of the feasibility of adopting a legally binding instrument for a universal ban on civilian possession and use of military assault rifles;

c) to address social, political and economic conditions that tend to generate demand for small arms and light weapons (including a focus on human safety and protection, peaceful resolution of conflict, promoting cultures of peace, an urgent attention to reform of the security sector);

d) to cooperate, notably within and between regions, in support of more effective and consistent compliance with controls and regulations, including the pursuit of universal legally binding instruments to regulate brokering, and to adopt universal standards for marking, tracing, and record keeping of small arms and light weapons;

e) to adopt international standards for stockpile management, for post-conflict disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex-combatants, for weapons collection, and for the destruction of surplus and collected weapons;

f) to promote the conversion of weapons manufacturing capacity into socially constructive production;

g) to practice maximum transparency in transactions and policies and regulations related to small arms and light weapons;

h) to provide increased international support and resources for programs and initiatives to promote social justice and advance human security as conditions essential to development, and to promote social, economic and political conditions conducive to long-term peace, stability and development;

i) to provide financial, technical, and political support for the effective implementation of the above measures and policies;

j) to put in place effective follow-up and accountability processes.

Urges the churches, in the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence, to join with other faiths and civil society partners in their own countries to obtain their governments' agreement to these goals;

Commits itself to continue to give special attention to ameliorating the social, political and economic conditions that tend to generate demand to violence-reduction efforts;

Commits itself to continuing active consultation with member churches and regional and national councils of churches to promote education and awareness raising, to develop and refine ecumenical policy on the issue, to contribute to the development of national, regional international plans of action to address armed violence and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and assist the churches in developing their own effective programs and actions to control and mitigate the effects of small arms and light weapons.