Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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UN: Report on fifth biennial meeting on SALW

The following article, written by Sr. Claris Zwareva, was published in the July-August 2014 NewsNotes.

In 2001 the UN Program of Action (PoA) laid the foundation for action countering the illicit trade and uncontrolled circulation of small arms and light weapons at national, regional and global levels. After more than a decade since the adoption of PoA, member states are still concerned about escalating violence perpetrated through the use of illicit weapons. From June 16-20, at the Fifth Biennial Meeting (BMS5), representatives gathered to discuss the implementation of PoA and the International Instrument to Enable States to Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (International Tracing Instrument, or ITI).

The illicit manufacturing, transfer and circulation of small arms and light weapons and their excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread in many regions of the world impede the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of armed conflict. Weapons proliferation also poses a serious threat to peace, reconciliation, safety, stability and sustainable development at all levels. Representatives of non-governmental organizations actively engaged in promoting the elimination of small arms and light weapons from the hands of unauthorized persons were active at BMS5: They delivered statements about the negative impact of small arms and light weapons, (such as deplorable acts of armed violence in schools), and about the need to establish peace and security for sustainable development. David Wheeler from Sandy Hook Promise spoke about his six-year old son Benjamin, who was one of the young victims of the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Other civil society representatives, including one for the International Red Cross, spoke about the cost of human suffering caused by firearms. The civil society hearings helped country delegates with deliberations that culminated in the issuance of the outcome document.

In the context of BMS5, states considered the implementation of the PoA and the ITI; the need for cooperation on the national and international level is essential in implementing measures to combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. Cooperation will also be necessary in programs to prevent and reduce the devastating consequences of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons on children.

Although the 13-page outcome document mentions the inclusion of women in policymaking, planning and the implementation processes, the leniency of this measure does not speak to the human suffering that women have endured in conflict situations where they have been beaten, raped, trafficked or killed. As the delegate of Uruguay pointed out, no matter how civilians acquire firearms, their use constitutes a violation of human rights. Women’s rights have been violated for a very long time and their inclusion need not be limited to the areas mentioned in the document but must expand to include rigorous education programs to eliminate violence from its roots. Education must start at home and in schools so that no child will lose his/her life because of armed violence perpetrated by another child.

Violence begins in the hearts of people and it is there that disarmament must begin; states must fulfill their obligation to protect their citizens starting with education for disarmament as the most effective tool that will help uproot small wars before they even begin. To this end, the United Nations Department of Public Information has launched a 2014 publication, Action for Disarmament: 10 Things You Can Do!, a book that draws the attention of young people around the world to promote international peace and security through disarmament. In this way children will grow up knowing how to respect their own lives and the lives of other people, and in accord with the UN Charter, "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women…," realizing that no human person has the power to end the life of another human being. Life’s dominion belongs to the one who brought it into being, God who is the author of all living beings.

To obtain the resource Action for Disarmament: 10 Things You Can Do!, call 1-703-661-1571, email:; or visit the website: