Addressing the Demand Side of the Small Arms Complex

Tasneem Jamal

Arghavan Gerami

The Ploughshares Monitor March 2001 Volume 22 Issue 1

Ensuring Balance at the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons

The report draws in part on the QUNO Report on the Nairobi Seminar entitled “Curbing the Demand for Small Arms: Lessons and the Horn of Africa,” Nairobi, Kenya, December 12-16, 2000

In preparing for the 2001 UN Conference, regional initiatives and mechanisms have primarily focused on the supply side of the small arms complex. Conditions that generate demand for small arms have been given a low priority, thus limiting opportunities to learn from regional experiences in this area and to transfer these lessons into policy.

Recognizing the need to take action on this front, Quaker UN Offices (QUNOs) held a seminar in 1999 in Durban, South Africa, where 12 groups from major geographic regions were brought together to share thoughts and experiences on different aspects of demand-side issues. The seminars identified lessons in such areas as community engagement, transparency, economic dimensions, attitude, and identity. Building on the positive results of this seminar, in December 2000 another session was held in Nairobi, Kenya and attended by 35 organizations, many of them actively engaged in community programs (mainly from the East Africa and Horn regions). The participants reviewed developments and examined programs undertaken since Durban and through the presentation of new cases and sharing of approaches, arrived at a number of new lessons.

In both Durban and Nairobi it was recognized that the underlying demand for guns is closely linked to issues of sustainable development and human security (QUNO Report). The lessons focused on preventive measures such as poverty alleviation and gaining a detailed understanding of the political, historical, and anthropological context of a given community prior to undertaking efforts to curb demand (QUNO Report). The underlying principle is that accurate research information on a situation is essential for policy relevance and efficacy.

Another message that came across strongly in Nairobi was the importance of empowering communities and incorporating their voices into the policy formulation process. “All stakeholders should be included in a community dialogue on security” and their experiences and priorities taken into account in the organization of demand-side programs (QUNO Report). By consulting with communities throughout the policy-making and implementation process, governments and targeted communities significantly enhance the possibility for cooperation and acceptance of programs.

This point was highlighted during a day trip to Garissa, Kenya where community elders indicated they were willing to share their knowledge and offer their support (e.g., in enforcing a small arms control and retrieval system) provided they were taken seriously and involved in the process. This trip also illustrated the value of indigenous approaches to conflict resolution and management, particularly in devising creative methods of responsibility-sharing in the security sector to bridge the existing gap between formal and informal laws (QUNO Report). The Kenya session emphasized that “corrupt behavior, and systematic violence by police and other government agents is frequently a cause of insecurity in communities” and “may increase demand for weapons for self-protection and counter reaction” (QUNO Report).

In examining regional relationships, participants highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to the small arms problems, and programs that take into account the geographic realities of their region (i.e., impact of border conflicts on small arms proliferation). “Programs dealing with these populations must deal with economic, cultural and conflict systems not with isolated problems” (QUNO Report). For example, through regional cooperation, laws in neighbouring countries can be harmonized, regional NGO government committees can be established (i.e., to implement existing declarations), disarmament and demobilization efforts can be jointly undertaken, resources can be better shared on both sides of the border, and other common problems (criminal groups, refugee populations, security and small arms) can be more effectively addressed.

Finally, participants embraced new and creative initiatives to build trust and confidence in the community, especially through transparency. Particular importance was given to the public destruction of surrendered or surplus guns at the local level, under the control of all the stakeholders, to reassure communities that weapons will not fall into the wrong hands, be reused against them, or be exported to other conflict areas. Similarly, participants showed great interest in the idea of establishing gun-free zones (e.g., schools, hospitals).

These lessons formed a basis for the International Workshop on Demand Reduction in Toronto, March 14-17 (sponsored by Project Ploughshares and funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade). This workshop continued the learning process while ensuring that the 2001 UN Conference on Small Arms does not focus its efforts solely on supply-side measures, but takes a balanced approach that acknowledges and incorporates into its Action Plan initiatives aimed at curbing the demand for small arms.

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