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Disarmament that saves lives

‘Disarmament that saves lives’ was the second event of a series organized to build on the Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda ‘Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament’. This town hall-oriented initiative aimed at taking forward the recommendations in the section of the Agenda on ‘Disarmament that Saves Lives’, dedicated to conventional weapon-related issues. The event, which took place at the Graduate Institute, was organized by the Small Arms Survey, which is a think tank and foundation that provides expertise on all aspects of small arms and armed violence. The event delivered an informal discussion on several substantive issues related to conventional weapons.

Glenn McDonald, Senior Researcher and Managing Editor at Small Arms Survey, was the facilitator of this town hall. He started by explaining the importance of the Disarmament Agenda. According to the UN Secretary-General, this agenda attempts to reinvigorate dialogue and negotiation on the international disarmament, stimulate new ideas, and create new momentum. As for the gender issue, MacDonald mentioned that men are the primary perpetrators, while women are mainly the victims. This issue cannot be left behind when discussing armed violence.

Anna Alvazzi del Frate, Director of Programmes at Small Arms Survey discussed the part III – Disarmament that saves lives. The two basic considerations are that disarmament is not well integrated into the work of the United Nations in conflict mediation and prevention, and that disarmament has largely slipped off the development agenda, despite the clear connection between disarmament and development in the United Nations Charter. Therefore, disarmament is not sufficiently dealing with conventional arms. For Alvazzi, the Agenda 2030 has firmly established the complex relationship between the production and the use of arms through the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, specifically targets 16.1 – significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere, and 16.4 – by 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime. Still, there is a need to do more and integrate disarmament with prevention. According to her, part III – Disarmament that saves lives – provides some connections between disarmament and humanitarian agendas. Also, she believes that synergies within and outside the UN scope would benefit this integration, increasing effectiveness and highlighting the good practices. For her, the Secretary-General underscored the cross-cutting topics which need more attention: clear and better data collection, the role of gender, and SDG synergies.

Ursign Hofmann, Policy Advisor at Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) discussed the gender-responsive demining which resonates with SDG 5 – Gender Equality, more specifically with target 5.2 – which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls. According to him, the role of gender is intertwined with mining action. Women, girls, boys, and men suffer the impact of mining by being exposed to it. Therefore, their mobility patterns, access to services and resources and decision-making power can be compromised when facing mines. Women in rural areas, for example, venture into dangerous areas in search of food, water, and wood, and they may never come back home. For Hofmann, it is a constant reminder that gender is key for humanitarian demining, although women, girls, boys, and men are affected differently. The role of gender is also important for all demining organizations, which make sure that the operational teams are based on gender and diversity aspects aiming to ensure the most socially and equally balanced groups. As for the near future, the Disarmament Agenda and the Agenda 2030 – need to create opportunities for women, giving them access to services and resources, ownership, working as a catalyst for women’s empowerment.

George Woodhams, Researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) talked about the unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – the new and rapidly proliferating weapon technologies which pose well-known and documented implications for humanitarian and human rights principles, as well as for the maintenance of international peace and security. Woodhams was skeptical about the growing use of armed drones to conduct targeted strikes, especially in areas outside of traditional battlefields. Accordingly, there is a consistent need for transparency, accountability and clear data collection in order to safeguard peace and security. Woodhams pointed out that the UN works with independent institutes which research and develop an understanding of these main challenges. In addition, other UN agencies also work on disarmament, sharing their knowledge and data. Unfortunately to the great effort of institutes, organizations and agencies, the UN has no formal mechanisms to oversee the accurate information on armed drones. Woodhams joined this project personally with the intention to change some of the political approaches to disarmament, including armed drones. He thinks it is worth engaging with other organizations and institutes to share and broadcast information. In sum, he is very keen to keep human rights concerns in the international arena, and this is his ultimate goal.

Jean-Michel Rousseau, Programme Manager of Public-Private Partnerships Division at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), gave an overview of certain aspects of supporting country-level approaches on small arms. Rousseau began by acknowledging what the agenda says about prevention, security and saving lives. Such principles and goals resonate with the essence of DCAF, which is improving the governance of their security sector based on international norms and good practices. He then gave an example of the project his division has been implementing in the Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) region for the past three years. This project, co-shared with the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament, and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNLIREC), focuses on private security in the LAC region. Due to the rampant violence and crimes in the region, the number of private security guard has grown more than the number of security forces. The project identified 16,174 private security companies in the region, with more than 2,450,000 legal employees working as security guards. The private security sector seems to be loosely regulated due to the small capacities of each of the countries. Consequently, there is an excess of weapons as well as security guards. In Central America, for example, the ratio is one weapon for each security guard. Keeping in mind that sometimes there are 2 or more shifts per day, the correlation between weapons and security guards is probably even higher than we imagine. Together with UNLIREC, DCAF has been working on training and oversight of the use of weapons, helping the LAC countries to regulate the weapons’ market, stimulating international and national discussions and supporting the implementation of international law and international human rights law practices.

This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a first-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia graduated in Business Administration and she holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, the Executive Editor at the Journal of Diplomacy, and the Director of International Affairs at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management.

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