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Human rights and humanitarian focus on small arms

Human rights and humanitarian focus on small arms

Supply-side humanitarian response

In brief, a supply-side approach seeks to strengthen supplier-country controls and end-user conditionality in order to prevent the export of small arms to regimes that are known to violate international humanitarian law and human rights. Its proponents stress that while Article 51 of the UN Charter recognizes the right of states to arm themselves in self-defence and to acquire weapons for military and police forces, Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions (1949) emphasizes their simultaneous obligation to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions states that 'the knowing provision of arms into situations where serious violations of international humanitarian law occur or are likely to occur should be considered a matter of grave concern'. In its strongest form, advocates of this approach contend that countries supplying weapons are accessories to the abuses committed with them - even genocide.

The supply-side approach aims to prevent small arms transfers to states likely to commit serious breaches of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law. Violations of humanitarian norms can range from torture and execution of prisoners of war to the protection of civilians in international or internal conflict. The prohibition of arms transfers might also apply to those governments who are unable to exercise control over their population.

Both the European Union's (EU) Code of Conduct on Arms Exports ( http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/source_documents/Regional%20fora/EUCode%20Report1999.pdf) and the OSCE's Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons ( http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/AddRes/SA&HR.htm) initially sought to ensure that recipient states would comply with international humanitarian law and human rights criteria prior to the granting of export licences. While the codes demand that human rights and international humanitarian law should be taken into account, there are no specific obligations with respect to the transfer of small arms to abusive regimes. Significant gaps remain - particularly with respect to issues of brokering and licensed production - which leave ample opportunity for evasion. With problems like this in mind, the Canadian government proposed a convention prohibiting the international transfer of small arms to non-state actors in 1998, but this proposal received little support at the time or at the 2001 UN Conference.

An international code of conduct has been proposed by a group of Nobel Peace laureates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), led by former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias ( http://www.fas.org/asmp/campaigns/code/nobelcode.html). Their Framework Convention on international arms transfers seeks to establish a legally binding text forcing the approval of arms exports to be contingent on principles of human rights, humanitarian law, sustainable development, and peace and stability. Consistent pressure on governments by advocates has yielded the adoption of codes at the national level - notably in South Africa and the United States. The US export control system is considered by many to be one of the world's best, and efforts have been made to reinforce it with a formal code of conduct. In Western Europe, both Germany and the UK have also recently undertaken to impose controls on the transfer of weapons to rights-abusing regimes - though, as yet, there is little evidence that it is currently working as envisioned.

Proponents of the supply-side approach call for increased accountability and government scrutiny of small arms transfers - from the point of production to end-use certification. Advocacy networks such as the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and the Humanitarian Coalition on Small Arms, as well as organizations such as UNHCR and Amnesty International, have called for stringent codes of conduct for the small arms trade. Such codes would aim to improve transparency on arms transfers, limit the list of permissible recipients, and strengthen post-transfer oversight.

Recognition of the limitations of a narrowly interpreted supply-side approach focusing only on the legitimate production and trade in small arms has spurred the development of a host of alternative strategies to reduce small arms transfers to abusive regimes and non-state actors. A prominent tool commonly invoked bilaterally by states and multilaterally by the UN is sanctions. To be sure, the record on sanctions and arms embargoes is patchy at best. One school prefers targeted or 'smart' sanctions to minimize the indirect effects on civilians. But there are many critics who insist that sanctions and embargoes are a substitute for more resolute action - excusing states from their legal and moral obligations actively to punish abusive regimes.

Other proponents of the supply-side approach have sought to 'name, blame, and shame' actors that are known to violate human rights. An Amnesty report released in 2001, entitled Human Rights Abuses with Small Arms , is one such example. The report illustrates the range of human rights abuses carried out with small arms. Violations described in the report include police brutality and torture, violence over land rights, massacres and extra-judicial killings, the excessive use of force, and electoral violence. Another example is the study carried out by Barbara Frey in 2002, on behalf of UNHCR's Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Mandated by Resolution 2001/120 in August 2001, the study appraises the extent to which the trade, possession, and use of small arms violate human rights and humanitarian norms. Studies such as these seek to embarrass violating parties, tarnish their image, and encourage changes in behaviour. Human Rights Watch has documented the relationship between illicit and licit arms acquisitions and civilian impacts in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Georgia, India, Israel, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Turkey.

Websites:
Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org
BASIC Codes Index http://www.basicint.org
FAS Code of Conducts Page http://www.fas.org/asmp/campaigns/code/nobelcode.html
Human Rights Watch http://www.hrw.org http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/mines/2001/arms-press-0710.htm
International Action Network on Small Arms http://www.iansa.org
Arias Foundation http://www.arias.or.cr/Eindice.htm
Ploughshares Canada http://www.ploughshares.ca
Small Arms Survey http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/Database.html
UN High Commission on Human Rights http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/2/53sub/decisions.htm
Bibliography
Amnesty International,Human Rights Abuses with Small Arms: Illustrative Cases from Amnesty International Reports 2000-2001.Human Rights Abuses with Small Arms: Illustrative Cases from Amnesty International Reports 2000-2001. London: Amnesty International, 2001.
DFID,Small Arms and Light Weapons: A UK Policy Briefing.Small Arms and Light Weapons: A UK Policy Briefing. London: CHAD, 2002
ECOWAS,Declaration of a Moratorium on Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Light Weapons in West Africa.Declaration of a Moratorium on Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Light Weapons in West Africa. Abuja, 31 October. UN A/53/763, 1998.
EU,EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. 8 June. UN A/CONF.192/PC/3, 1998.
Frey, B.,Draft Paper on Human Rights and Small Arms for the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Pursuant to Resolution 2001/120Draft Paper on Human Rights and Small Arms for the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Pursuant to Resolution 2001/120, 16 August 2001, 2002.
OSCE,OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons.OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons. 308th Plenary Meeting, 2000
HRW 2002.Playing with Fire: Weapons Proliferation, Political Violence and Human Rights in Kenya. New York: Human Rights Watch.Playing with Fire: Weapons Proliferation, Political Violence and Human Rights in Kenya. New York: Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch,'Bulgaria: Money Talks - Arms Dealing with Human Rights Abusers''Bulgaria: Money Talks - Arms Dealing with Human Rights Abusers'. Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 7, no. 7, 1999a.
Human Rights Watch,Arsenals on the Cheap: NATO Expansion and the Arms Cascade.Arsenals on the Cheap: NATO Expansion and the Arms Cascade. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999b.
Human Rights Watch,'South Africa: A Question of Principle: Arms Trade and Human Rights' 'South Africa: A Question of Principle: Arms Trade and Human Rights'. Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 12, no. 5 (A), 2000.
UN,Final Report of the UN Panel of Experts on Violations of Security Council Sanctions Against Unita.Final Report of the UN Panel of Experts on Violations of Security Council Sanctions Against Unita. S/2000/203, 2000.

Human costs approach

A second approach, endorsed by operational arms of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and major international relief agencies, seeks to heighten international and domestic awareness of the impacts of small arms-related violence on non-combatants and vulnerable groups. It aims to reorient attention away from technical concerns with supply, and towards more operational and demand-driven field activities focused on improving the protection of civilians against armed violence.

This approach arises from concerns over the legal and operational implications of civilian possession of small arms, and the strategic targeting of non-combatants in conflict. Proponents of this approach are particularly concerned that the accessibility of small arms, particularly to poorly trained and undisciplined soldiers, acts as a multiplier of violence and ultimately, forced displacement.

It is also grounded in a heightened awareness of persistent violations of international humanitarian law. The purpose of international humanitarian law is to impose limits on how conflicts are conducted, including how weapons are used in them, and to impose prohibitions on the use of certain weapons in war ( http://www.amnesty.ie/about/law1.shtml). The principal sources of international humanitarian law that relate to small arms are the St Petersburg Declaration of 1868, the Hague Conventions of 1899, the four Geneva Conventions adopted in 1949, and the two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, which were adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1977. The four Geneva Conventions relate to: sick and wounded combatants in the field; sick, wounded and shipwrecked members of the armed forces at sea; the treatment of prisoners of war; and the protection of civilians in times of war. The Protocols relate to the protection of victims of international armed conflict, and the protection of victims of non-international armed conflict ( http://www.icrc.org/). The Geneva Conventions also criminalize the act of genocide, though it has been estimated that there have been at least 150 episodes since it was adopted in 1948, totalling some 23 million deaths (Gellert 1995). Also included in the corpus of international humanitarian law are customary laws of war, and treaties prohibiting certain weapons, such as the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Anti-Personnel Land Mines Convention, the so-called 'Ottawa Treaty' ( http://www.icbl.org).

The primary purpose of international law, including treaties and customary law, is to lay down rules prescribing the conduct of states, not to regulate the behaviour of individuals. Nonetheless, international humanitarian law has adapted to reflect the nature of contemporary internal conflicts, and is evolving to deal with individuals or non-state actors. According to Emanella-Chiara Gillard (2000: 45) , this shift was necessary since 'legal practice must adapt to the changing dynamics of conflict if it is to have any realistic expectations of protecting civilians'.

International humanitarian law does not aim to resolve the underlying causes of conflict, but it can help to minimize the humanitarian impacts of conflict, including those from the misuse of small arms. Supporters of the human impacts approach are adamant that, even where judicial systems are breaking down, there should not be a legal vacuum with respect to international law. On the contrary, although difficult to apply, it is argued that it is precisely in such situations where international humanitarian law is most urgently required.

To reduce the vulnerability of civilians, humanitarian agencies seek to disseminate information on, and educate warring parties in, humanitarian law in an attempt to influence their behaviour. The ICRC, which is mandated with this task, has recommended the education of armed forces about the basic precepts of international humanitarian law as a vital first step in reducing civilian casualties. Agencies have also sought better to apprehend the underlying causes of atrocities against civilians in order to improve their own interventions. Even as they acknowledge the complex motives underpinning conflict and small arms use, some agencies have initiated practical interventions, combining sensitization campaigns and development programmes with voluntary disarmament. While such interventions are conceptually innovative, the jury is still out on whether these latter measures, including weapons for development and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) are successful in practice ( http://www.undp.org/erd/smallarms/).

Some agencies have gone so far as to publicize and advocate against instances of armed abuse; in November 2000, for instance, Médecins sans frontières (MSF) mounted a high-profile advocacy campaign in Angola to highlight abuse of international humanitarian law by the warring parties there ( http://www.msf.es/3_3.asp). This kind of approach is, however, too radical and controversial for some; publicizing atrocities can make it more difficult and dangerous to deliver assistance, and can compromise access to the very people that advocacy is seeking to protect.

Websites:
ICRC http://www.icrc.org
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs http://www.reliefweb.int/ocha_ol/civilians/small_arms/index.html
Small Arms Survey http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/Yearbook.html
UNDP http://www.undp.org/erd/smallarms
UNHCR http://www.unhcr.org
WHO - Violence and Injury Prevention Programme http://www.who.int
Bibliography:
Gillard, E.-C.,International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights and Small Arms AvailabilityInternational Humanitarian Law, Human Rights and Small Arms Availability , Background Paper. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2001.
Herby, P.,Official Statement to the 2001 UN Conference on Illicit Small ArmsOfficial Statement to the 2001 UN Conference on Illicit Small Arms , http://www.icrc.org/Web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/57JPKT!Open, 2001.
ICRC,Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict.Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Geneva: ICRC, 1999.

Threats to operational security

A third humanitarian perspective on small arms is referred to here as the operations approach. It is a reaction to the impact of arms availability on the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian action. It stresses the need to improve security and protection for humanitarian operations within a deteriorating security environment. Rather than trying to reform the entire situation, it seeks a pragmatic field-based response to allow the work to go on.

Some aid agencies are moving quickly to improve their safety and security management ( http://www.icva.ch). There are a variety of initiatives and inter-agency projects under way, mostly related to incident reporting, research, training, advocacy, and improved efforts to coordinate and share information at field level ( http://www.sphereproject.org/practice_index.htm). While the majority of these initiatives are well conceived, many are ad hoc and improvised. In most cases, they do not build on problem analysis, evidence-based management, or a sophisticated advocacy strategy. As a result, there are critical weaknesses, confusions, and unnecessary duplication. The fact remains that in far too many aid agencies senior managers do not recognize the problem, or do not feel that they can usefully intervene.

Faced with the threat of armed attack, almost always with small arms, humanitarian agencies have in some cases resorted to armed protection, military guards, and private security companies to reduce their vulnerability and exposure. UN humanitarian convoys use military or armed escorts in under half of the twenty or so complex emergencies where the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is involved. NGOs use armed protection on a regular basis in four conflict-affected countries: northern Iraq, Somalia, Russia (Ingushetia/Chechnya), and northern Kenya. Agencies also occasionally use armed escorts on a case-by-case basis in volatile security situations that may require rapid assessments, for example in Rwanda, or if an escort is required at a border, as between Pakistan and Afghanistan (Barry and Jefferys, 2002). All of these actors are potentially uneasy collaborators for aid agencies.

At the request of the UN Deputy Secretary-General's Task Force on Security Policy, OCHA is preparing generic guidelines on the use of armed protection by aid agencies. However, disagreement reigns. Concerns arise in relation to the perceptions of other stakeholders, and the contribution of armed protection to the overall security environment. There is a vociferous debate within the humanitarian community about the circumstances in which such strategies should be acceptable, and to what degree.

Websites:
OCHA http://www.reliefweb.int/ocha_ol/civilians/security_personnel/
Small Arms Survey http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/Publications.html
UN http://www.covarc.com/UNHCRstress.htm
UNSECOORD http://www.unhcr.org/pubs/fdrs/ga2002/addunsecoord.pdf
Bibliography:
Muggah, R.,Perceptions of Small Arms Availability and Use Among Oxfam-GB Field Personnel.Perceptions of Small Arms Availability and Use Among Oxfam-GB Field Personnel. Geneva: Oxfam-GB/Small Arms Survey, 2001.
OCHA,'Use of Military or Armed Escorts for Humanitarian Convoys''Use of Military or Armed Escorts for Humanitarian Convoys'. Discussion Paper and Non-Binding Generic Guidelines, 2001.
Seet, B. and G. Burham,'Fatality Trends in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: 1948-1998'.'Fatality Trends in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: 1948-1998'. Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 284, no. 5, August 2000.
Sheik, M. et al.,'Deaths Among Humanitarian Workers''Deaths Among Humanitarian Workers'. British Medical Journal, vol. 321, 2000.
Small Arms Survey, A Humanitarian Crisis.Small Arms Survey, A Humanitarian Crisis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
UNGA,Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel: Report of the Secretary General.Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel: Report of the Secretary General. A/55/494, 2000.
Van Brabant, K.,Mainstreaming the Organisational Management of Safety and Security, HPG Report 9.Mainstreaming the Organisational Management of Safety and Security, HPG Report 9. London: ODI, 2001a.
Van Brabant, K., Small Arms and the Safety and Security of Humanitarian and Development Personnel, Background Paper. Geneva: SAS, 2001b.
Last updated Aug 17, 2011