UNITED NATIONS – Governments must do more to keep their stockpiles of small arms secure from thieves and smugglers, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on the first day of a major conference on reducing the illegal trade of such weapons.
In a speech to the conference Monday, Annan told delegates that some progress had been made in the five years since states promised to do more to curb the illicit trade of small arms. Yet they have fallen short in updating their laws or collecting and destroying illegal weapons.
"Our targets remain unscrupulous arms brokers, corrupt officials, drug trafficking syndicates, criminals and others who bring death and mayhem into our communities," Annan said.
The two-week event will not produce any legally binding document, but gun-control advocates will push governments to ensure such weapons are not used to trample human rights.
The groups and some officials advocate a new approach for trade in the light arms that are said to kill 1,000 people a day: Governments must take responsibility for all weapons they sell, even after the deal is done.
Such a philosophy applies to weapons of mass destruction, but not to small arms, and it will be the focus of much debate at the two-week conference. Any action taken at the conference must be adopted by consensus, and several governments have already indicated they will not support such a promise.
Global trade in small arms is worth about $4 billion (euro3.2 billion) a year, of which a fourth is considered illegal. The arms cause 60 percent to 90 percent of all deaths in conflicts every year.
Earlier Monday, Annan received a petition with the photographs of 1 million people calling for tougher arms control — in particular a treaty that would put greater restriction on the sale of weapons ranging from tanks to helicopters to guns.
"Governments profess their commitment to human rights and the promotion of peace and security and yet have failed so far to address one of the key factors underlying insecurity and abuse," said Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan.
At the start of the conference, a non-governmental group unveiled the annual Small Arms Survey, a report known for giving an authoritative sense of the effects small arms have on the world.
A central message of the report was that many of the world's biggest suppliers and recipients of small arms do not reveal the extent of their small arms trade. Few nations give a complete picture of the business they do, the report said.
The nations that were most transparent were the United States and Germany. The least transparent were Bulgaria, Iran, Israel and North Korea.
The authors of the report said that was a bad sign for officials trying to measure progress in the years since their governments launched the program of action.
"Transparency is really a key for moving this process forward and the balance sheet is not that good after four or five years," said Keith Krause, the Small Arms Survey's program director.
The report said that the top exporters of small arms and light weapons in 2003, the last year for which the data was available, were Russia, the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil and China.
The top importers were the United States, Cyprus and Germany.