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…