New York, 11 July 2001


Mr. President,

Let me first of all join previous speakers in extending our sincere congratulations to Ambassador Reyes of Colombia, on his election as President of this Conference. My delegation would also like to congratulate Ambassador Donawaki of Japan, and Ambassador Weston of the United Kingdom, on the important supporting functions that have been assigned to them. We would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Ambassador Dos Santos of Mozambique who skillfully facilitated the preparatory process for this important conference.

Mr. President,

One way my delegation can qualify its importance is that the people of Sierra Leone wished this conference had been convened twelve years ago. It could have gone a long way towards alleviating, if not preventing, the human and material destruction that have been heaped on my country in ten years of rebel conflict. It could have also helped reduce the suffering of the thousands of innocent people throughout the world who have succumbed to the scourge of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

The Sierra Leone delegation strongly believes that we must not at this stage of our deliberations, lose sight of the real objectives of this conference. We need to remind ourselves once again of what this conference is all about. We must not at this point in time allow ourselves to be bugged down with definitions and concepts about small arms and light weapons. Indeed, we must not at this stage drag ourselves into intractable positions that could jeopardize the consensus that we are morally bound to reach at the end of our deliberations.

Mr. President, Distinguished delegates, Brothers and sisters of the human family, we all know that this conference is not about the legitimate manufacturing, trade and legal transfer of arms and light weapons. This conference is certainly not about the right of States to acquire arms for their legitimate use, their right to individual or collective self-defence, or their duty to protect their citizens. It is also not intended to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to carry arms.

Let me add that it is not too late to remind ourselves that this conference is also not merely a forum for a general debate on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects. On the contrary, Mr. President, this conference is about people. It is about the fundamental right of people, in particular children, not to be gunned down in cold blood by weapons that have been illicitly acquired, transferred and used in the various battlefields. We must remember that the battlefields where these weapons are used are not only found in the rebel-infested bushes of so-called conflict areas, but also in the urban metropolis of many of the State represented here today.

Mr. President,

The humanitarian dimension and the adverse socio-economic consequences of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons should be, and remain at the centre of our deliberations on the final document of this conference. These have been clearly identified in the Preamble to the draft document. Sierra Leone attaches special importance to the Preamble because it places the problem in its proper perspective, and underscores the reason why we should do something about it urgently, at the national, regional, sub-regional and global levels. For Sierra Leone, paragraphs 2 to 5 of the draft Preamble say it all, and we sincerely hope that the text of those paragraphs will be maintained or even strengthened. For herein lies the heart of the matter. According to paragraph 2, the reason why we are here is that we the States participating in this conference are gravely concerned at the illicit manufacture, transfer and circulation of small arms and light weapons and their excessive accumulation and spread in many regions of the world. We are gravely concerned that these weapons have a wide range of humanitarian and socio-economic consequences on stability and development. Paragraph 4 of the draft also tells us why we are here. We are here because we all recognize the devastating consequences of these weapons on children, many of whom are perpetrators and victims of armed conflict.

Since the problems of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons affect us all, in one way or the other, and because the line between licit and illicit trade and transfer of such weapons is getting thinner, it is absolutely necessary for us to take a collective and coordinated approach to preventing, combating and eradicating this scourge.

Mr. President,

We acknowledge the fact that considerable effort has been made at various levels in all parts of the world to deal with all aspects of the problem. In our own West African sub- region, for example, we take pride in the three-year Moratorium on the Import, Export and Manufacture of Light Weapons. Sierra Leone has scrupulously implemented the Moratorium and looks forward to its extension next October. I should add that Sierra Leone has one of the most transparent arms policies in the West African sub-region, which if adopted by other states would contribute immensely to stability in that potentially explosive part of our Continent. Consistent with Security Council resolution 1171 (1998), we continue to notify the Council, through its monitoring Committee, on all the arms and related materiel we import.

While recognizing the existing national, regional and sub-regional initiatives or measures designed to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, we need to strengthen and build on those foundations. It is the view of my delegation that the international character of the illicit trade in these weapons, should at the same time, prompt us to develop appropriate international arrangements, including legally binding instruments, to deal with the problem. In this regard, we should not underestimate the importance of the global aspects of the Programme of Action we expect to adopt at the end of the conference.

My delegation sincerely hopes that nothing will be done in the next few days to weaken or render meaningless the letter and spirit of those sections of the draft document dealing with implementation, international cooperation and assistance, as well as necessary follow-up action to be undertaken after this conference.

Mr. President,

Sierra Leone, which has experienced the agony of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, attaches great importance to those sections because we are now at the crossroads of conflict and post-conflict situations. We firmly believe that the current Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process -- an essential first step towards peace and security -- should be followed by concrete programmes and projects to control and ultimately combat the illicit flow and use of small arms and light weapons in Sierra Leone and neighbouring States.

We are encouraged by the provision in the draft final document that particular emphasis should be placed on those regions of the world where conflicts come to an end, and where serious problems with the proliferation of small arms and light weapons would have to be tackled urgently. In this regard Sierra Leone looks forward for instance, to the establishment of 'arms development' and similar initiatives for promoting and consolidating peace and prosperity in our country.

Mr. President,

Our expectations for the conference remain high. I have no doubt that the Programme of Action will help to bring succor to the victims of the illicit trade, trafficking and use of small arms and light weapons. It should also contribute immensely to the protection of citizens of all countries, especially children, and their inalienable right to safety and security, the right to development, and the right to life.

I thank you Mr. President.