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Seventy-sixth Session,
Virtual Meeting (AM)

Illicit Arms Trafficking, Mainstreaming Gender Perspectives, Reviving Stalled Disarmament Machinery Top First Committee’s Final Interactive Debate

High-ranking United Nations officials outlined progress today on a range of issues, including the illicit trade in small arms, integrating gender perspectives into the mainstream, and the need to revive the stalled disarmament machinery, as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) held its final virtual informal interactive dialogue.

Frank Tressler Zamorano, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that the body produced a purely procedural report in order to avoid deepening divisions, especially on defence and security.  The Conference could not reach consensus on a programme of work despite the efforts of multiple States, he added.  Noting that the Conference evokes conflicting feelings, he said it has been unable to comply with its original mandate for two decades due to an atmosphere of mistrust.  Of 39 requests for observer status, five were vetoed, he added, pointing out that a majority of States expressed their disagreement with that outcome.  On gender parity, he said deep distrust was in play, with some delegations believing that this initiative was intended to reopen the rules of procedure.  Since many Member States agreed that the disarmament machinery is an essential part of the security framework, it was impossible to conceal the frustration over its stagnation and inertia, he stated.  The Conference risks losing its credibility and legitimacy as a multilateral forum and becoming a venue for purely academic discussion, he warned.  Underlining the importance of convening a new special session of the General Assembly on the subject, he said the Conference otherwise runs the risk of disappearing through inaction or irrelevance.

Robin Geiss, Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), said that the entity issued 38 publications and convened 62 online and hybrid activities, with more than 6,000 participants and website traffic increasing by 50 per cent.  Besides its annual disarmament orientation course for new diplomats in Geneva, he added, the Institute offered a range of activities addressing, among other themes, the importance of nuclear-weapon-free zones, gender mainstreaming, arms control, and security concerns around artificial intelligence.  UNIDIR regularly provides reports and expertise to the Security Council on such issues as the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, he noted, also highlighting partnerships with other United Nations entities and the African Union, among others.  Going forward, it will continue its contributions in relation to preventing conflict, tackling the threat of improvised explosive devices and seeking security in outer space, he said.  He went on to report that women occupy 54 per cent of UNIDIR’s positions, and its staff hail from 24 countries.

Selma Ashipala-Musavyi, Chair of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament, said after two years of in-depth discussions, its report tackles how to reinvigorate nuclear disarmament and arms control efforts, especially in the current challenging international climate.  “Progress, in plain terms, requires States to talk to each other and for them to identify common goals, language and practices,” she stated.  That would require a modern diplomatic toolkit to address tensions and re-establish dialogue while refraining from strategic nuclear competition and reducing reliance on nuclear weapons in national security doctrines, she added.  Given the lack of an intergovernmental process addressing how technological innovations could potentially increase the risk of the use of nuclear weapons, she suggested that a group of governmental experts could contribute greatly in that regard.  As nuclear weapons threaten everyone, a world free of them, as well as chemical and biological weapons, requires the urgent action of everyone, with renewed political dedication and robust leadership, and a convincing narrative on nuclear disarmament efforts.

John Ennis, Chief ad interim of the Regional Disarmament, Information and Outreach Branch in the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, offered an overview of the work of the Organization’s three regional disarmament centres, saying they have continued to adapt to the changing realities of the pandemic by developing new working methods to continue providing expert assistance to Member States across a wide spectrum of activities.  Through capacity-building and training activities, as well as legal and technical assistance, the centres have been able to fulfil their mandates in spite of pandemic-related difficulties, he reported.  They have worked at the forefront in forging partnerships, both upstream and downstream, furthering the aims of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.  He emphasized that the work would not have been possible without the financial and in-kind support of the donor community, adding that strategic partnerships with beneficiary States have been instrumental in delivering impact at the national and community levels.

The Committee then heard from the directors of the three regional disarmament centres.

Mélanie Régimbal, Director of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNLIREC), noted that it has carried out 70 virtual disarmament and non-proliferation activities, since October 2020, reaching more than 1,400 officials and 26 States.  The Centre also promoted the active participation of more than 2,440 women and young people in disarmament forums, she added.  It worked with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security and enjoyed the support of 15 CARICOM States and the Dominican Republic in developing national action plans to combat the illicit proliferation of arms and ammunition, she said.  Other initiatives included technical and legal assistance to Haiti in drafting new firearms legislation, and helping Jamaica create a new firearms investigative unit.  UNLIREC also helped Trinidad and Tobago to strengthen capacity to restore serial numbers and engage in ballistic intelligence, delivered x-ray interdiction courses in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, and helped create technical guidance notes to prevent the diversion of arms and ammunition in El Salvador.  She went on to report that, regarding non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, she the Centre supported Chile’s establishment of legal and regulatory structures relating to bio-security and -safety measures.

Anselme N. Yabouri, Director of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, reported on the Centre’s strengthened interactions and coordination with key regional and subregional bodies at both the policy and operational levels, including the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  Those interactions include providing technical support on the African Union’s Silencing the Guns initiative, he added.  The Centre advocates for a longer-term programme based on a successful European Union-funded project that expanded beyond its initial scope in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, he said.  It has already provided capacity-building sessions in eight member States of the West African Economic and Monetary Union and 15 States of the Regional Centre on Small Arms across Eastern and Central Africa.  Emphasizing the importance of secure weapons and ammunition management in Africa, he said the Centre deployed a mission under the United Nations SaferGuard Quick-response Mechanism at the request of the Government of Equatorial Guinea following the accidental explosion in Bata on 7 March that claimed 105 lives and injured 600 people.

Yuriy Kryvonos, Director of the Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, said that, among other initiatives, the Centre held an online regional webinar to support implementation of resolution 1540 (2004) in South Asia and Mongolia, which engaged more than 50 national officials who learned about good practices in preventing the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence materials.  Furthermore, diplomats and military personnel from 10 Asian States participated in a three-week programme on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, organized in collaboration with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), he reported.  The Centre’s efforts also included a series of national training sessions on gender mainstreaming and small arms control in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Papua New Guinea, he said.  In addition, nearly 50 officials from eight countries attended training on how to report progress under the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, including preparing national data and sharing it with the Office for Disarmament Affairs.

Marcus Bleinroth (Germany), Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on problems arising from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus, established pursuant to General Assembly resolution 72/55, summed up that body’s final report (document A/76/324), adopted in September.  Building on the understanding that inadequately managed ammunition poses the dual risk of explosion and diversion, she said, the Group ‑ comprising 18 experts with due regard for geographic diversity and gender balance ‑ comprehensively examined the accumulation of surplus conventional ammunition stockpiles by considering safety and security challenges across their through-life management, from manufacture to disposal or use.  In exploring the establishment of a framework to support safe, secure and sustainable through-life management of ammunition, the Group recommended the development of a set of political commitments under the auspices of the General Assembly, he said.

Omar Hilale (Morocco), Chair of the Committee, then opened the floor to questions.

Mexico’s representative asked about the possibility of convening a new General Assembly special session to tackle the disarmament machinery.

A speaker for the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs responded by saying it is very important to understand the dynamics of each body and the positions of Member States.  The Office can facilitate agreement and consensus among them but cannot really influence their policies, he emphasized.

Mr. Hilale (Morocco), Committee Chair, noted that many States hope for a special session, which depends on consensus.  It would be useful to have a frank exchange and take stock of what has been done, and to consider why the Conference on Disarmament has been unable to unblock its work, he said.

The First Committee will convene on at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 October, to take action on draft resolutions and decisions.

For information media. Not an official record.