Friday, 2 March 2012 9:32 AM

Pacific Nations Join Forces to Tackle International Arms Trade

Ending the deadly impact of the illicit trade in firearms and reducing the threat of armed conflict in the Pacific will be the focus of talks in Brisbane this week.

Those attending the talks will also develop a regional position to take to negotiations at the United Nations in July for the world's first truly global, legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

The treaty will seek to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.

In the Pacific, there are no regional agreements regulating arms transfers and most states do not yet have comprehensive and effective national arms control systems.

In a region with high volumes of maritime trade and low capacity to monitor borders, the risk that arms will fall into the wrong hands and cause instability remains high.

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, said efforts to combat the illegal use of small arms and light weapons were needed to ensure the Pacific was a region of peace, security and economic prosperity.

"Implementation of the UN's Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons, and the development of a strong and unified Pacific voice at the treaty negotiations, are critical given the Pacific's vulnerability to the global arms trade and the widespread social and economic fall-out of armed violence."

The Australian Government, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat - which represents 16 Pacific nations - and Oxfam Australia, with the support of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) are hosting the three-day Brisbane meeting to identify the most important issues for the Pacific and ensure these can be championed at the United Nations and in the region.

Participants at the meeting will also address ways of bolstering the Pacific's implementation of the 2001 UN Programme of Action that aims to eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

The meeting follows the directive from Pacific Leaders in their 2011 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Communiqué for the region to develop a "common Forum position on an ATT and to ensure a strong and proactive voice in ATT negotiations".

Oxfam Australia's director of policy, James Ensor, said with violence continuing around the world, there was an urgent need for global transparency and regulatory mechanisms around the transfer and trade in conventional weapons.

"The world needs a robust treaty that makes sure weapons don't end up in the hands of criminals and human rights abusers," Mr Ensor said.

"In Oxfam's work across the world and in the Pacific, we've seen the consequences of armed violence arising from easy access to arms. Strong global standards around the international arms trade will save lives, protect livelihoods and ensure a peaceful future for the Pacific."

Just a small number of weapons can have a disproportionately devastating impact in the Pacific. The May 2000 coup in Fiji was executed by only seven gunmen. Similarly, the destabilising violence in the Solomon Islands in recent years was facilitated by a relatively small number of firearms in the hands of armed gangs.

Mr Ensor said armed violence also had significant economic costs. Due to ongoing issues with gun violence in the 1990s, the island of Bougainville, once the most prosperous province of Papua New Guinea, has become one of the poorest.

"Arms destroy not only lives and communities, but also their prospects for sustainable development," Mr Ensor said.

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