AKMs, H&K G3 and RPG-7s found by U.S. Marines in Fallujah in 2004. Source: Wikipedia - Photo: 2024

Small Arms Trigger 45 Percent of Violent Deaths, Says UN

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS | 6 February 2024 (IDN) —The weapons used in some of the world’s ongoing military conflicts—including Russia vs Ukraine, Israel vs Hamas and US vs Houthis—are mostly sophisticated fighter planes, combat helicopters, air-to-surface missiles, battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and drones.

But in scores of civil wars, mostly in Africa and Asia, plus in acts of terrorism, organized crimes and drug trafficking, the weapons of choice are described as “small arms and light weapons,” including self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, and light machine guns.

According to figures released by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), about 260,000 people were killed back in 2021 by small arms, amounting to 45% of all violent deaths in a single year.

“This is more than 700 people a day, or one person dying from small arms every two minutes”.

Due to the gravity of the issue over the years, the Security Council, beginning in 2008, requested the Secretary-General to report on small arms on a biennial basis.

Meanwhile, the ongoing battle in Gaza, mainly with high-powered weapons, has claimed the lives of over 27,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, since October 7, and inside Israel, about 1,200 deaths.

According to the UN, “light weapons” are primarily weapons designed for use by two or three persons serving as a crew, although some may be carried and used by a single person.

They include heavy machine guns, handheld under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of antitank missile and rocket systems, portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems, and mortars of a calibre of fewer than 100 millimetres.

The current war zones, mostly civil wars and domestic conflicts, are primarily in Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen.

Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom) focusing on small arms

The UN, meanwhile, will be holding a Preparatory Committee meeting (PrepCom), February 12-16, focusing on small arms, ahead of the Fourth Review Conference (RevCon4) on the UN Progamme of Action on Small Arms, scheduled to take place June 17-28.

In her most recent report in December, UN Under-Secretary-General Izumi Nakamitsu, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said Secretary-General António Guterres laments the deteriorating security environment, the escalation of armed conflicts and the related surge in civilian casualties.

In addition, she said, “we have seen a continued rise in global military expenditure, and the costs of small arms and light weapons for peace, security and sustainable development”.

Nakamitsu stressed the need to fully integrate small arms and light weapons considerations throughout the Security Council’s work.

The Secretary-General’s policy brief, entitled “A New Agenda for Peace,” released July 2023, provides an opportunity for renewed comprehensive action on small arms and light weapons control, including by the Security Council.

Arms control and disarmament are central to comprehensive peace and security responses and are a key component of conflict and violence prevention, according to the UN.

In calling for reducing the human cost of weapons, the Secretary-General advocates developing and implementing regional, subregional and national instruments on small arms and light weapons, as well as whole-of-government approaches that integrate arms control into development, prevention and violence reduction initiatives at the local and national levels.

At the same time, gender-responsive arms control and disarmament will be essential to transform gendered power dynamics in peace and security as called for in the New Agenda for Peace, including by securing women’s meaningful participation in arms control and disarmament decision-making and eradicating all forms of gender-based violence.

The Council could consider the recommendations outlined in the New Agenda for Peace in its work on addressing the threat posed by the diversion, illicit trafficking and misuse of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition.

The Security Council first addressed the issue of small arms as a stand-alone agenda item in 1999.

In presidential statement S/PRST/1999/28, it noted with grave concern that the destabilizing accumulation of small arms had contributed to the intensity and duration of armed conflicts and acknowledged that the challenge posed by small arms was multifaceted and involved security, humanitarian and development dimensions.

The Council issued subsequent presidential statements on small arms in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007.

Since 2008, the Secretary-General has reported regularly to the Council on the issue in the form of a substantive report, traditionally on a biennial basis.

In 2013, the Council adopted its first thematic resolution1 on small arms and light weapons, including the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: AKMs, H&K G3 and RPG-7s found by U.S. Marines in Fallujah in 2004. Source: Wikipedia

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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