Switzerland and France have submitted a joint proposal to the United Nations which seeks to place strict controls on the trade in light weapons. They want a system whereby all small arms can be traced from the moment they are produced.
The Swiss ambassador to the UN Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Raimond Kunz, and his French counterpart, Hubert de La Fortelle, said light weapons are responsible for the death of one person every minute around the world.
Describing these weapons as a "factor in the destabilisation of the rule of law" and a "threat to democracy", they said Paris and Berne wanted to see the creation of an international mechanism whereby states would commit themselves to cooperating in tracking these weapons.
Among the methods being proposed by the Swiss and French to trace weapons will be an indelible mark. This would allow the monitoring of sources and supply lines, as well as identifying where authorised stocks and transfers are lost, stolen or diverted.
A number of countries already mark their light weapons, but the problem is finding a single, indelible internationally-recognised method. This could be achieved using lasers, chemicals or radioactivity.
The Franco-Swiss joint initiative comes four months before a UN conference in New York tackles the illicit trade in light weapons. The aim of the gathering is to draw up a plan of action to deal with the problem.
Unlike chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, there is no global non-proliferation regime limiting the spread of light arms, despite the fact they kill far more people than weapons of mass destruction.
A firearms protocol aimed at combating the illicit manufacture and trafficking of firearms is currently being negotiated in Vienna as part of a UN Convention against transnational organised crime.
Despite not being a UN member, Switzerland has played an active role in these negotiations, as well as being a leading player in other world efforts to clamp down on the proliferation of light arms.
This commitment is part of its so-called "new diplomacy", which it launched three years ago and which focuses on the security of the individual. The country's campaign against anti-personnel mines falls within the same framework.
Light weapons, or small arms, include conventional military arms such as pistols, automatic rifles, machine guns, grenades and shoulder-fired weapons. They have become a current issue because of the increasing number of internal conflicts which are characterised by the almost exclusive use of this type of weapons.
The Franco-Swiss paper under discussion says that small arms not only cause terrible human suffering, but also "reduce the prospects for sustainable development and foster a culture of violence".
by Roy Probert