New York

This morning I witnessed the gun lobby in action. It was finally time for the statements by non-governmental organizations. The back row of the room filled with American middle-aged white men, members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). It was quite a sight. One cautioned that regulating the global gun trade would inhibit sustainable development by curbing big game hunting tourism in southern Africa?!?

The real NGOs spoke next with 16 different statements. Unfortunately the morning session coincided with World Cup football and soon the room had emptied substantially as the diplomats watched Germany beat Argentina on penatlty shoot-outs in the cafe outside. Since we are on international territory at the United Nations, the diplomats can smoke in the café and corridors. Something you can no longer do indoors elsewhere in New York.

I wound up spending much of the afternoon in the smoke-filled café watching another game and catching up with old friends. In the plenary room, the President had inexplicably scheduled a bizarre “case studies” session in which countries talked about their needs in the clean up of small arms and light weapons. With no outcome or meaning it was an odd session considering we have spent the past four days listening to very similar country statements.

I spent a lot of time trying to find out the buzz on the anticipated outcome of the conference, in particular where states are falling behind text recommending global guidelines on legitimate trade in small arms and light weapons. The guidelines would help provide some impetus to the call for an arms trade treaty, but several major powers are either lukewarm to the idea or downright hostile. We’ll know the outcome one week from now…

The meeting is hopelessly behind schedule. Eight moree governments spoke in the morning followed by international and regional organizations such as Interpol and NATO. Finally the President of the Review Conference, Sri Lankan Ambassador Kariyawasam, closed the morning session by promising that the remaining governments (some 20 states) speak on Monday.

The NGOs will still get to deliver their statements tomorrow morning after which inexplicably a time-wasting session on assistance and cooperation has been allocated for the rest of the day. The NGOs unfortunately intend to provide about 16 speeches to the plenary followed by an unknown number of gun lobbby statements including the National Rifle Association, which has gotten into the meeting as a “NGO.”

Things got more interesting in the afternoon as the President took feedback on the principal outcome document of the meeting a twelve-page “strategy for further implementation.” Forty governments gave their feedback with Western or developed states such as New Zealand converging around elements favoured by the NGOs such as strengthened text on arms transfers and the need to reinsert language on the linkages between small arms/light weapons and development, human rights, and gender. The President has apponted three facilitators (Colombia, Japan, and Switzerland) to consult with concerned countries on the text to return Monday with their findings.

After finally gave an indication on how hbe intends to handle the remainder of the

The conference started late today as the General Assembly room was in use for an event to welcome the Republic of Montenegro as the newest (192nd) member of the United Nations. Finally Serbia is completely alone.

The speeches then continued with approximately 25 governments statements in total. My patience is wearing a bit thin and it felt as if there was less quality in the content (eg. fewer references to the impact of small arms on development, little talk about arms transfer controls or the need for an Arms Trade Treaty).

One bright spot was tonight’s Control Arms concert at the Supper Club of Times Square featuring some great artists such as South African hip hop act Zola.

New Zealand was one of approximately 32 governments to speak on the second day of the small arms Review Conference here in New York. Nik Kiddle, our deputy disarmament representative from Geneva, gave the speech, which included support for the Arms Trade Treaty and the need to place the small arms problem within the broader context of development. New Zealand was among at least a dozen speakers that talked about the need to address transfer controls on governments. These are two principal items that Oxfam is been seeking government support for.

During the lunch hour I tried, but couldn’t even get it in the door for a crowded event to release IANSA’s “Red Book” report on implementation of the Small Arms Programme of Action. A lot of great research has been prepared for release this week, including Oxfam’s report on the AK47 assault rifle that it highlighted with a huge statue unveiled yesterday of a huge AK47 made from prosthetic limbs. Another report, the 2006 Small Arms Survey includes some great statistics and an overview of gun violence in Papua New Guinea.

Throughout the day I saw U.S. ambassador John Bolton in the corridors as our meeting room is just down the hall from the UN Security Council then in the evening I met the man himself when he invited governments to a reception at the U.S. Embassy. I went as a member of the NZ delegation and consequently found I was the only NGO in the room. That’s if you don’t count the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists such as the one on the N.Z. delegation.

It was a typical U.S. reception in which their diplomats approached us to find our views on the U.S. position that was given in a speech during the day. While making clear I was an NGO rep on a government delegation, I spent some time talking to the U.S. delegation including fifteen minutes with Bolton’s chief of staff discussing, among other issues, why the U.S. continues to resist efforts to include the impact of armed conflict and small arms on development (Bolton’s aide: “disarmament matters should be discussed separately from development”). I asked why the persist when they lost a UN General Assembly vote on the matter last year by a vote of 190 governments to 1 (“we get lonely sometimes”). I tried to get more details on what the U.S. meant in its speech when it stated its opposition to negotiations on transfer controls i.e. Arms Trade Treaty, but professed support for discussion of global principals governing arms trade.

Eventually the aide professed that he had really come to the reception for a drink after dealing with North Korea all day!

Before coming home, Oxfam New Zealand asked if I would attend a meeting at the United Nations in New York on small arms and light weapons. The two-week long meeting opened today. After scrambling up thirty blocks in the humid and rainy summer weather traffic I grabbed my UN badge entered the building. I caught a press event to hand over a visual petition by one million people from over 160 countries calling for tough global controls on the arms trade and an Arms Trade Treaty. The leaders of three NGOs spoke (Amnesty, Oxfam, IANSA – the small arms NGO coalition) spoke and then the “millionth face,” a Kenyan survivor of armed violence named Julius Arile, handed over the petition to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Annan subsequently referenced the Million Faces in his opening speech to delegates attending the conference. He also repeated that the conference aimed to address the illicit transfer of small arms and not an effort to ban small arms. He said, the meeting did not seek “to deny law-abiding citizens from their right to bare arms.” The morning contained an undercurrent of tension as Americans convinced that the United Nations was attempting to take away their firearms had bombarded the president of the conference and Anan with over 100,000 emails, letters, and calls. I’d heard about the lobbying by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and associated NGOs, but seeing them in action was something else.

As several of the gun lobby’s grassroots messages were threatening, UN security decided that the first high-level days of the conference would be held in the UN General Assembly room. This is the grand room with gold seal and marble podium where heads of state make their speeches each September at the opening of the General Assembly. And speeches is what we heard all day. Approximately 27 governments spoke about their efforts to implement the UN’s 2001 Programme of Action to control the transfer of illicit weapons including Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

The New Zealand government speaks tomorrow…

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