Small Arms Control: Input by Department and International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent

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Defence and Military Veterans

16 March 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

16 March 2005

Professor K Asmal (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department briefing on Small Arms Management

Briefing to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence: Small Arms Proliferation: The Need for Control: 16 March 2005
Unregulated Availability and Misuse of Small Arms: Need for Strengthening Controls - submitted by Red Cross/Red Crescent

The presentation by the Department of Defence was restricted to the control of its own small arms. Success with destruction of surplus and obsolete arms in South Africa and neighbouring countries was mentioned, as well as internal Department control. Members were concerned about the retreat of the Department from their border patrol function. Manufacture and export of arms from South Africa was now strictly controlled. A representative of the Red Cross/ Red Crescent movement then stressed the desirability of the further strengthening of the control over the availability and misuse of small arms.

The Chairperson felt that the Department regulatory system was operating well. The Reserves, which had been rendering an anonymous, silent service, were being phased out in tandem with the deployment of adequate units from the SA Police Service (SAPS).

Mr M Dladla (Director Material Resources and Policy, Department of Defence) explained that his address would be limited to the issue of small arms proliferation in the Department of Defence only, as the general case was a matter for the SAPS. As for policy matters the Department of Defence supported the United Nations Programme of action against illicit trade in small arms, the 2002 Bamako Declaration (on an African Common Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons) and the SADC Protocol. The Department was deeply concerned about the negative impact of small arms on communities. The Department had destroyed 260 000 surplus and obsolete small arms. They were also co-operating with neighbouring countries in the destruction of such arms and in improving border controls. As far as its own firearms were concerned, they had a firearms control centre, inventory controls at Head Office and at user level, a firearm register, proper firearms warehousing and a disposal mechanism. The Department was in the process of executing the stipulations of the Firearms Control Act of September 2004.

The Chairperson regretted the absence of the SAPS at the meeting.

Mr M Sayedali-Shah (DA) was concerned about stock theft and the standard of border control, especially in the Eastern Cape and Lesotho, and inter-country war activities. Mr Dladla replied that bilateral agreements were in place, and that in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries tracing, recording and registration was coming up to standard. The Department was handing over border control to the SAPS, but was assisting where required. It was impossible to man every centimetre of the borders.

Brigadier-General Z van der Merwe (Department Director of Material Resources and Policy) stressed that the Department had to ensure that every weapon, when kept by a military police person, had a permit and proper storage at the home of this person to prevent theft and that losses were tracked.

Mr Dladla announced that donor funding from European countries had been received for a mobile destruction capacity unit.

Mr O Monareng (ANC) enquired about the frequency of physical inspections and expressed concern about the theft of small arms, to which Mr Dladla replied that the human factor could never be totally eliminated.

Mr T Dodovu (ANC) asked for clarification of the numbers of weapons destroyed, and whether liaison with SAPS was on an ongoing basis.

Brigadier-General van der Merwe said that 260 000 arms were destroyed and 4 000 that were stolen had been retrieved. For target practice lethal weapons (live ammunition) had to be used. Records had to be verified once a year, which was the responsibility of the officer commanding.

Mr M Booi (ANC) and Dr S Pheko (PACA) were concerned about border control.

Mr Dladla explained that the Department had been phased out gradually and the SAPS capabilities had been increased.

The Chairperson said that DENEL and ARMSCOR were pressurising the government to allow export to the lucrative arms market in lieu of destroying.

Mr Dladla noted that it was a Cabinet decision to destroy surplus weaponry up to 12,7 mm bore. Export was only allowed from registered manufacturers executing registered sales.

The Chairperson quoted from an Amnesty International booklet that stated that 80% of arms sales emanated from the USA, UK, Russia and France. There was a reported case of South African registered aircraft transporting illegal arms.

International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent input
Ms F Krill, SA representative of International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), submitted her appeal for the reduction of death, injury and suffering perpetrated with small arms (see document).

The Chairperson commented that the African political climate was improving due to more democracy and legitimacy and change in regulatory systems. South Africa would not export automatic or semi-automatic weapons.

Mr Sayedali-Shah enquired about the commitment in the Red Crescent movement as compared to the Red Cross.

Ms Krill replied that the Red Cross/Red Crescent was the same organisation. In democratic societies it was easier to work with the government.

The Chairperson announced that since 1999, a new Red Cross Act was being drafted to update the current one that dated from 1906, and that legislation had become urgent.

The meeting was adjourned.



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