Thu, 2006-06-22 12:13
By Thalif Deen – – Inter Press Service
United Nations, 22 June, (IPS): The National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful pro-gun lobby in the United States, is leading a campaign to literally flood the Sri Lanka Mission to the United Nations with letters and postcards protesting an upcoming conference on small arms.
Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, president-designate of the two-week long conference beginning Monday, told IPS that the NRA campaign is totally misguided because the meeting is "not aimed at banning small arms or controlling weapons that are legally manufactured, purchased or traded in conformity with national laws".
At last count, his Mission had received over 100,000 letters, post cards and email messages — most of them arriving at the staggering rate of about 4,000 per day — all of them with an identical anti-U.N. message in what appears to be a rigidly coordinated letter-writing and hate-mail campaign for which the NRA is notorious in this country.
"As chairman of the upcoming gun-ban conference, you should know Americans like me have over 230 years of experience defeating the anti-freedom aims of petty tyrants and powerful dictators alike," reads one letter. "I am here to notify you that you will never delete or control our right to bear arms."
The conference, scheduled to take place Jun. 26 through Jul. 7, is mandated to review the successes and failures of a Programme of Action adopted five years ago, primarily to curb the proliferation of "illicit" small arms and light weapons, and strengthen international efforts towards that ultimate goal.
"The review conference is not about banning small arms or prohibiting people from owning legal weapons," says the United Nations, in a press release titled "Setting the Record Straight".
"Each sovereign state determines its own laws and regulations for the manufacture, sale and possession of firearms by its citizens. The United Nations has no jurisdiction over such matters," the statement adds.
Since the conference overlaps the U.S. day of independence, one letter writer says: "The 4th of July is America's most revered national holiday. Yet, you have nevertheless chosen that day to meet at the U.N., on American soil, in your drive to ban civilian firearm ownership worldwide. And the American people will never let you take away the rights our 4th of July holiday represents. Our freedoms are not to blame for the world's problems, and this is a battle you can never win."
One letter refers to the huge sculpture outside the U.N. Secretariat which symbolizes peace and disarmament. The letter writer, however, puts a curse on the Sri Lankan envoy: "The abominable sculpture of the knotted pistol in front of your building will fall on your own head."
But Kariyawasam remains unruffled as he meticulously keeps a daily count of the letters pouring in from oversized mail bags every morning — and will perhaps keep arriving through Jul. 7.
The gathering is billed as one of the largest — with the participation of some 2,000 representatives from U.N. member states, international organizations and civil society groups — to meet at the U.N. General Assembly Hall to discuss the political, economic and military impact of some 600 million small arms currently in circulation worldwide, both in open and black markets.
Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a visiting professor in the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, says the NRA has obviously called on its members to fire a shot heard round the world on the 4th of July.
"It claims that U.N. members will be meeting to finalise a U.N. treaty that would strip all citizens of all nations of their rights to self-protection," Goldring told IPS. But this, she points out, is far off the mark.
In addition to misrepresenting the proposed principles of an arms trade treaty, she added, the NRA greatly exaggerates the likelihood that such a treaty is even going to be discussed during the conference. "And the truth is that the United Nations won't even be open on the 4th of July."
Goldring said a proposed global arms trade treaty would simply help set minimum standards for the global arms trade, and could increase attention to the international human rights and humanitarian implications of this trade.
"Given the NRA's hyperbole, it is especially ironic that virtually all of the possible principles and measures that the NRA seems so worried about are already part of U.S. law," she added.
The United Nations argues that small arms — including assault rifles, grenade launchers, anti-personnel landmines, sub-machine guns and pistols — are primarily responsible for much of the death and destruction in conflicts throughout the world.
They are the "real weapons of mass destruction" — not nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. In 2005, small arms alone were responsible for the deaths of over half a million people — 10,000 per week.
The conference will not re-negotiate the Programme of Action, adopted unanimously by the 191 member states in July 2001, but will take a closer look at the progress made in implementing it, he said.
But the real conflict at the meeting will be a rousing battle between civil society groups and U.N. member states who are major producers of small arms, including the United States, Russia, China, and even countries such as Egypt and India.
Goldring said that anyone who looks seriously at the arms trade understands that international standards are key to reducing the killing.
"Without global action, evidence suggests that small arms and light weapons are likely to flow to the countries that provide the fewest barriers to their transfer," she noted.
The Programme of Action (POA) approved five years ago was a good first step, Goldring said. "Unfortunately, implementation has been uneven at best, and many parts of the plan need strengthening. It will be important for U.N. members to make clear their commitment to fully implement the POA," she added.
The NRA is up to its old tricks of exaggeration, creating fear, and harassing U.N. officials, Goldring said. "Fortunately, Ambassador Kariyawasam is a seasoned professional. He's not going to be influenced by a transparent postcard campaign."
The POA consists of a wide range of political undertakings and concrete actions — including developing, adopting or strengthening national laws for effective control over production of small arms and fostering international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the ability of states to identify and trace illicit arms — which member states have agreed to implement.
"The conference will not re-negotiate the POA," Kariyawasam told IPS. "But will look at the progress made in its implementation."
Despite the availability of over 600 million small arms, there is no international treaty to control the reckless proliferation of these light weapons worldwide. "Dinosaur bones and old postage stamps", yes, but a treaty on small arms, no, says Sarah Margon, director of Oxfam.
"No one but a criminal would knowingly sell a gun to a murderer, yet governments can sell weapons to regimes with a history of human rights violations or to countries where weapons will go to war criminals," she points out.
But the proposal for an international treaty is a non-starter because most of the arms manufacturing countries are strongly opposed to any curbs on the production or sale of small arms. There is both big-time politics and equally big money riding on it.
Meanwhile, the United States is also vocal in its opp
osition to a proposal by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and peace activists to place restrictions on the transfer of weapons to rebel groups.
The United States wants to sustain its right to arm rebel groups — be they in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo — particularly as part of its so-called global war on terrorism.
Last week, the United States found itself arming the wrong rebel groups in Somalia when an Islamist group triumphed over a group of warlords described as Washington's proxies in the war on terror.
– Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency –