22 December 1995

Press Release SOC/CP/178


Project Prompted by Concerns About World-wide Rise in Violent Crime

VIENNA, 19 December (UN Information Service) -- With the passing of the cold-war era and a shift from inter-State military conflicts to insecurity resulting from violent crime, the United Nations is turning its attention to a class of armament that is killing more people than major weapons -- namely, small, civilian-owned firearms. Such arms are increasingly associated with crime, accidents and suicides, and form a major source of illicit profits for transnational criminal networks.

In an effort to assemble relevant data on the seriousness and scope of the problem, an international team of experts in firearms matters and crime control has gathered here for a three-day meeting, which began on 18 December, to launch the first world-wide survey of firearms ownership and related issues, with support provided by the Government of Japan. The study is aimed at obtaining clear and practical information on arms ownership by civilians, the relationship between firearms and crime and the status of regulatory measures in force in about 50 selected countries throughout the world. The data compiled could be used by the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and Member States in the development of related strategies.

The experts -- drawn from police, customs and military services as well as representatives of the United Nations regional criminal justice institutes -- are consulting on procedure for carrying out the study, which will include country profiles and assessment reports based on reports submitted by national consultants. They will select the countries to be profiled, the topics to be covered and will draw up guidelines to be followed in gathering and submitting information.

While trade in major weapons is on the decline, small arms are spreading throughout society with little documentation, as they are frequently bought from private individuals, smuggled across borders or stolen from police and defence forces. In his report to the current session of the General Assembly,

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Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali spoke of a world "awash" with small arms for a number of reasons, including criminal activity and the fear of violent crime which led ordinary citizens to acquire firearms for their own defence.

The world-wide survey of firearms was called for by the Economic and Social Council, following up on a resolution adopted unanimously by a United Nations Crime Congress held in Cairo earlier this year, and recommended to it by the Crime Commission at its last session. The resolution, based on a Japanese initiative, calls on the Crime Commission to consider measures to regulate illegal firearms activities, such as the prevention of illicit trafficking in those weapons, in order to suppress the use of firearms in criminal activities. In discussion of the subject in the bodies concerned, delegations noted an alarming rise in the proliferation of small arms and underscored that their mounting use by drug traffickers and criminal gangs posed a grave threat to public safety and the rule of law.

Coordinating the project is James Hayes of the Firearms Control Task Group of the Canadian Department of Justice. Team members include Tony Dittenhoffer, Senior Research Officer of the Firearms Research Unit of the Canadian Department of Justice; Yvon Dandurand of the Vancouver-based International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy and the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice of the University College of the Fraster Valley, British Columbia; Mikinao Kitada, Public Prosecutor and Deputy Director of the Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders; and Eric P. Kibuka, Deputy Director of the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI). Other team members are Richard Block of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and Loyola University, Chicago; Jaime Malamud Goti, former Secretary of Justice of Argentina and philosophy professor at the University of Arkansas; Masao Horikane, Assistant Director of the Firearms Control Division of the Japanese National Police Agency; Stewart Allen, Chief of the Intelligence Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms of the United States Department of the Treasury; and Anatoly Bakayev, head of the Firearms Control Division of the Russian Federation Ministry of the Interior.

Taking part in addition are Herman Woltring, Director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI); Don Manross, Firearms and Explosives Specialist of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol); and Seppo Leppa, Senior Researcher of the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control. ungun.htm