June 4, 2001
Secretary of State Colin Powell
U. S. Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Powell:
We are writing to urge you to attend the opening sessions of the United Nations global Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, which will take place in New York starting on July 9. The UN Conference provides a crucial opportunity to address the urgent problem of the spread and abuse of small arms and light weapons, a class of weapons responsible for the majority of today's conflict casualties and an estimated 500,000 deaths a year. The spread and misuse of small arms cause, prolong, and exacerbate humanitarian crises around the world.
The United States has a strong interest in curtailing the illicit trade in these weapons, and your attendance at the opening would clearly indicate to other governments that the United States takes this issue seriously. Your presence would increase the level and quality of engagement by the U.S. delegation as well as by other states.
Although the Conference focuses on the illicit aspect of the small arms trade, we believe that to adequately tackle the impact of small arms, the legal trade must also be addressed. The link between illicit and legal trades is obvious, as most illegal weapons in circulation were at some point transferred by governments or with government approval. Government authorized sales, in their own right, also warrant international attention as they may lead to human rights abuses or prolong conflicts. Moreover, governments have failed to rein in private arms traffickers, allowing many uncontrolled and irresponsible "legal" sales.
During preparatory meetings for the UN Conference, the U.S. delegation acted to discourage inclusion of a call for a legally binding international agreement to regulate arms brokering activities in the Conference Program of Action. As you know, the U.S. already has domestic legislation that regulates brokering activities by Americans and others within its jurisdiction and has spoken in favor of legally binding international controls on brokering in other fora. In a time when weapons flow freely, it is important for all states to ensure that their citizens do not engage in unregulated arms brokering or ship weapons in violation of arms embargoes mandated by the UN Security Council. We encourage you to support the inclusion of a mandate for such a measure in the final Program of Action to be released in July.
As this conference proceeds, we urge you to ensure that the U.S. delegation plays a constructive role in helping curb the trade in illicit arms and in protecting people from harm due to these weapons.
Mike Amitay, Executive Director
Washington Kurdish Institute
Chairman, Nonviolence International
President, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Washington Coordinator, Indonesia Human Rights Network
Advocacy Director, The Fund for Peace
Director, Peace Action Education Fund
Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Director, Security and Disarmament Program, National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives
William D. Hartung
Director, Arms Trade Resource Center, World Policy Institute at the New School
Tiffany L. Heath
Legislative Director, Church Women United
Joost R. Hiltermann,
Executive Director, Arms Division, Human Rights Watch
Donald S. Gann
Chairperson, American Friends Service Committee
Director, Peace and Security Program, Institute for Policy Studies
President, Council for a Livable World
President, Federation of American Scientists
Co-Director, Project on Light Weapons, Committee on International Security Studies, American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
Analyst, British American Security Information Council
Mary Ellen McNish,
General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
Raymond C. Offenheiser
President, Oxfam America
Chairman, Fund for New Priorities in America
National Coordinator, East Timor Action Network
Director, St. Louis Economic Conversion Project
Senior Analyst, Center for Defense Information
Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation