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Ministry Statements and Speeches 2012

Opening comments UNLIREC Expert Roundtable Combating Illicit Trafficking in a Small Arms and Light Weapons Through Strengthened Border Controls Crowne Plaza Hotel, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Statement by Jim McLay, New Zealand Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 21 June 2012


E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi; tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa; to all peoples and to all voices, greetings, greetings, greetings to all.

Thank you all for taking time away from your regular duties to attend this Expert Roundtable; which has the four objectives outlined by Minister Partrep in his welcoming address – and hopefully will achieve the four outcomes he outlined. 

I particularly acknowledge the presence of my UN friend and colleague, His Excellency Camillo Gonzales, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of St Vincent and the Grenadines; and that of the Australian High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency, Phillip Cantwell.

For reasons that I'll explain shortly, supporting a practically-focused event of this nature, dedicated to securing maritime borders in the Caribbean, has been a personal goal of mine for some time; so I want to begin by thanking those who’ve made it possible. 

Foremost amongst these are the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, for its generosity in hosting this event and providing these facilities; and all of your Permanent Missions to the UN in New York for their input and support.

I should also thank UNLIREC for its hard work in helping conceptualise and organise this event; and the Governments of Australia and Canada for providing additional funding to ensure you could all be present today.

The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and the related challenges of armed violence, conflict and instability, and the violent crime which can so often be fuelled by those weapons, have long been recognised as a major threat to the long-term security and prosperity of people and countries around the world. 

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was probably the first to describe small arms as the true "weapons of mass destruction" for many communities around the world. 

Each year an estimated 526,000 people die from armed violence – that's around 1,440 each and every day; and the majority of these deaths involve firearms.

Those figures are horrific. 

But, as you are only too aware, the picture is often much worse at the regional and national level; and that's especially true here in the Caribbean, where homicide rates greatly exceed global averages - in some cases by as much as 800 percent - and where almost three quarters of such deaths involve the use of firearms. 

For the often small, close-knit communities of the Caribbean, these figures are nothing short of a tragedy, a humanitarian catastrophe; and that’s to say nothing of the non-fatal casualties of gun violence, or of the broader social, economic and political damage wrought by these weapons.

To combat this scourge, in 2001, the international community agreed on the United Nations Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (which I’ll simply refer to as the "UNPoA" or just the "Program of Action"); and, since then, the UNPoA Process has been the framework for those of us who seek to address the illicit trade in firearms. 

But as you know, that Program of Action has not halted the illicit trade in these weapons, which has continued (and indeed intensified) in many regions, including the Caribbean. 

Indeed, if we’ve learned anything in the past decade, it’s that, where the demand underlying the illicit trade in firearms remains strong, it can overwhelm the capacity of states – particularly (but not exclusively) small developing states – to contain it.

It was a sense of solidarity with those at the frontline of the global fight against the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons – in the Caribbean, and elsewhere, particularly in Africa and in my own region, the Asia-Pacific – that led me to accept the invitation to chair last year’s Open-Ended Meeting of Governmental Experts (or “MGE”, as it was called) in New York.  

The MGE was a new format within the UNPoA process (indeed, it was a new format within the whole UN System), and was designed to provide a setting for the frank and constructive exchange of experiences and experiences regarding specific challenges and opportunities encountered in implementing the UNPoA – an exchange that was explicitly to take place at a meeting between experts, with on-the-ground, practical experience.

During my consultations on specific themes for that meeting, it was clear that measures to prevent the illicit trade in firearms across borders were a high priority for a significant number of states, not least in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. 

However, political obstacles ultimately prevented us from achieving consensus on this as a focus for the MGE. 

Those obstacles related to concerns by a few states that discussions on border controls might expose them to political attacks regarding their own domestic policies.

Those concerns were, in my view, misplaced.

They misunderstood the nature of a consultative meeting of experts where a constructive discussion and sharing of experience could (and should) proceed without such attacks.

Nonetheless, those concerns existed, and presented us with a very real dilemma: There was a clear need (which New Zealand strongly supported) to address the illicit trade in firearms across borders; but there was also significant opposition to any meaningful discussion of that issue within the UNPoA process, despite its formal inclusion in the Program of Action, and its fundamental importance to addressing the illicit small arms challenge – not just in the Caribbean, but in most regions.

As I said, this was to be the first ever UN meeting of government experts.

Many were looking to us to ensure its success, as a precedent for future such meetings, both within and beyond the UNPoA process; but there were also some who were sceptical about the format and had no investment in its success.

It was made clear that, if we sought to discuss illicit trade of firearms across borders at the MGE, the meeting would have become a political and procedural quagmire; and that the future of the new MGE format itself would have been called to question.

And so, it was reluctantly agreed that border controls should not be a formal element of the MGE.

But, at that time, I made a vow to Caribbean Ambassadors, who were the strongest advocates of this theme, that I’d find a way to address the issue – if not at the MGE, then elsewhere.

And as the saying goes, ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’.

So, this week’s roundtable is the fulfillment of that assurance – that my Government would do what it could to support capacity building in the Caribbean on border management at the national and regional levels.

It represents almost a year of engagement with your representatives in New York, and with your colleagues at UNLIREC, building on their previous work in this area, to prepare the objectives, format and practical arrangements; and so we are delighted to sponsor such a promising initiative.

In addressing the illicit trade in small arms, and the related challenges of combating organized criminal networks and stemming the trafficking flows to which it is linked, many levers are beyond the control of regional governments. 

Caribbean states do not produce the weapons that claim the lives of so many of their citizens; and are neither the origin nor the primary destination of the illicit cargoes that small arms are used to protect. 

You are the victims of geography, and of the remorseless logic of illicit supply and illicit demand in illicit markets.

What Caribbean states can do, however, is work together to strengthen your capacities to detect, intercept and deter illicit shipments of both drugs and weapons across your borders. 

For island states, that means, above all, strengthening maritime security capacities. 

And that is what this meeting is all about.

I, too, come from an island state, larger than most and separated by much greater distances from its nearest neighbours (on average, distances in the Pacific are four times greater than the Caribbean).

Our closest friends and neighbors are small island developing states, who also know the challenges of managing extensive maritime borders with very limited resources; and who face an increasing array of transnational threats (most notably, IUU fishing, but also, increasingly, trafficking in illicit cargoes).

In such environments, many factors combine to determine the effectiveness of a country’s border and maritime management. 

The availability of necessary resources, equipment and expertise is one such factor. 

The ability – and the willingness - of relevant agencies to share information and work together at the national and regional levels is another. 

So too is the effectiveness of relevant analysis and assessment processes and operational procedures. 

We will have ample opportunity to consider all these challenges over the next two days; and I hope our discussions will make a practical contribution towards strengthening maritime security capacities in the Caribbean region. 

I also hope that key lessons learned from our meeting can be taken back to New York and fed into the 2nd UNPoA Review Conference in August of this year. 

There are several ways in which that could happen.

First, as I said earlier, managing the illicit trade in small arms across borders is a challenge shared by many states, particularly those worst affected by firearms-related armed violence, and regardless of whether those states are separated by water, as in the Caribbean and the Pacific, or are contiguous, as in Latin America and Africa. 

Although meaningful discussions on this topic within the UNPoA process have been hampered by concerns about potential political risks, I hope this week’s discussions can play a role in charting a course through that deadlock, both by generating enhanced understanding of the practical challenges in achieving effective border controls (particularly in a maritime setting), and by demonstrating how such discussions can be undertaken in a practically-focused, depoliticised setting (which was, of course, what we achieved with the MGE).

Secondly, I believe meetings of this kind represent the future direction of the UNPoA itself. 

A decade into its existence, the UNPoA process stands at something of a crossroads. 

While a number of issues remain to be resolved around the scope and strength of the UNPoA – particularly of provisions relating  to the inclusion of ammunition – the focus of the process is increasingly shifting towards exploring ways of achieving more effective and meaningful implementation.

Achieving better monitoring of and support for UNPoA implementation is likely to be a key issue at this year’s UNPoA Review Conference. 

This includes the possibility of further and regular meetings of governmental experts, based on the precedent of last year's meeting of experts; the development of further tools and resources to support implementation by states; and steps to measure better the effectiveness of such efforts.

There is also growing awareness, at the international level, of the need to look at small arms measures in their broader context. 

In many parts of the world, it is impossible to address the issue of illicit small arms without considering the broader drivers of armed conflict. 

In the Caribbean, the same is also true of other forms of illicit trafficking and organised crime. 

I am conscious that, in the Caribbean, considerable effort has been directed towards addressing these interlinked challenges, spearheaded by the work of CARICOM-IMPACS and with support from bilateral partners and others such as UNLIREC; and I hope this meeting can also make its own contribution towards these efforts.

But the interwoven nature of these challenges also makes it vital that we achieve greater coordination and coherence between the various distinct but nonetheless related international agencies and forums active in this area. 

This includes the UN’s separate disarmament and criminal justice processes dealing with firearms (the UNPoA and Firearms Protocol to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime); it includes the work of specialised agencies such as the World Customs Organisation (whose recent interest in this issue is to be welcomed) and INTERPOL; and it includes the efforts of regional and sub-regional organisations, and of bilateral donors.   

Achieving coordination and coherence between these multiple actors will be no easy feat; but it’s essential if we are to make the most of scarce resources and ensure our national and regional efforts do not present gaps and weaknesses that illicit networks can exploit.

So, let me again welcome you to this workshop; and say how pleased New Zealand is to be making this practical contribution towards your efforts to provide your communities with a safer future. 

It's a contribution that will help us, collectively, to address “the issue that couldn't go away” - indeed, that we, collectively, weren't prepared to see go away; to address an all-pervasive, all-pernicious problem that –

Ladies and Gentlemen: Nothing could more justify the attention we are to give to that issue over the next two days.

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 09 January 2013 14:49 NZDT