The U.N. Wants Your Gun


Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2006; Page A11. More by Kopel on U.N. gun control.

Yesterday the United Nation's Review Conference on Small Arms ended, barely noticed by the media. That's too bad, because this meeting, and the initiative of which it is a part, deserves much more public attention -- and censure -- than it gets.

To be sure, the conference did attract the hostile attention of the National Rifle Association, thanks to which some 100,000 letters and postcards flooded into the U.N. In response, the conference chair, Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, stoutly insisted that the conference "does not in any way address legal possession," while Secretary General Kofi Annan promised that "we do not wish to deny law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms in accordance with national laws." Both statements are disingenuous.

The U.N. has long urged that firearms must never be transferred to "non-state actors" -- that is, entities which are neither governments nor government-approved. Only John Bolton's intransigence prevented the "non-state actors" rule from being inserted into the Program of Action at the previous U.N. small arms conference in 2001. But the U.N. continues to insist on the "non-state actors" rule -- which would, if adopted, make it a violation of international law to sell arms to Taiwan (according to the U.N., not a state). It would also make illegal arms sales to any and every current group resisting tyranny or genocide.

Last year Unesco and Unicef funded the supporters of a Brazilian referendum to outlaw citizen firearms possession. It was rejected by a resounding 64% of the voters. A few months ago, in a warm-up meeting for this year's small arms conference, Rubem Fernandes, head of Viva Rio (the U.N.-funded prohibition group) explained what he had learned from the experience: "First lesson is, don't trust direct democracy."

The spearhead of the U.N. gun prohibition campaign is an NGO by the name of Iansa (International Action Network on Small Arms). This London-based consortium of gun prohibition groups, including American lobbies such as the Million Mom March and the Brady Campaign, sent a large staff to the small arms conference, some of them serving as national delegates. Iansa's head, Rebecca Peters, does not mince words: "We want to see a drastic reduction in gun ownership across the world."

Iansa member Barbara Frey has been appointed by the U.N. as "Special Rapporteur on the Prevention of Human Rights Violations Committed with Small Arms and Light Weapons." Ms. Frey, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, believes it is a human rights violation if a government does not require gun owners to have a restrictive license, under which "Possession of small arms shall be authorized for specific purposes only; small arms shall be used strictly for the purpose for which they are authorized." Were this doctrine accepted, it would instantly turn the U.S. government and every American state into international law-breakers.

Nevertheless, the U.N. does not talk about the extreme human rights violations being perpetrated on behalf of U.N. gun control. In the borderlands of Kenya and Uganda, joint military operations are burning villages, confiscating cattle from the pastoral tribes, torturing, murdering, pillaging and turning over 100,000 people into refugees, many of them starving. These atrocities are being perpetrated pursuant to the Nairobi Protocol, a U.N.-led regional treaty which obligates the signatory governments to eradicate unlicensed gun possession.

In practice, the Nairobi Protocol has been a justification for ethnic cleansing. On June 26, after five years of such atrocities, the United Nations Development Program itself finally cut off funding for Ugandan disarmament (the U.N. was funding voluntary gun surrender, not the military campaign). So far no steps have been taken regarding disarmament abuses in Kenya.

Similarly, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has under U.N. leadership banned the import of all firearms, except those for government use. Although human rights groups have warned that two Ecowas countries -- Ivory Coast and Guinea -- are on the brink of genocide, the U.N. seems determined to keep the potential genocide victims as helpless and defenseless as the genocide victims in Darfur.

The U.N. bureaucracy and the gun prohibition lobbies knew that they would not be able to get everything they wanted from the 2006 conference. Accordingly, they aim to keep the "small arms" process going, with more conferences in upcoming years -- when a new U.S. administration might welcome rather than resist international efforts to end-run the Second Amendment. There is a precedent for this: During the 1990s, as the U.N. campaign against small arms was building, the Clinton administration was an enthusiastic supporter -- refusing even to join with the Latin American delegations which stated that some countries had traditions of legitimate sporting gun ownership.

Moreover -- and this is a subtlety that Americans are only beginning to understand -- no "Program of Action" from this or any future small arms conference needs to be legally binding in order to make it legally binding. The gun prohibition lobbies are already working to claim that there is an international "norm" against citizen gun possession. (An international "norm" is similar to common law -- as opposed to international law created by formal treaties.)

Evidence of the norm, of course, comes from the gradual accumulation of international pronouncements, confiscations and national restrictions that the gun prohibition lobbies and their government allies labor so assiduously to institute. The U.S. Supreme Court has, meanwhile, recently cited unratified treaties as evidence of international norms which should guide the interpretation of our Constitution.

The U.N. gun control program, of which this week's small arms conference is a part, has already caused massive suffering and the loss of civil liberties in many nations around the world. Americans would be foolish to imagine that they will always be immune.

Mr. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute.

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