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Japan needs to take lead on reforming gun rules+
[March 12, 2006]

Japan needs to take lead on reforming gun rules+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)LONDON, March 13_(Kyodo) _ Campaigners called on Japan on Monday to lead efforts to toughen up the international code on the export of small arms.

The London-based International Action Network on Small Arms wants the rules to be made more explicit in order to deter exports to countries where human rights abuses exist.

It will call on members of the United Nations in June to strengthen the existing code and wants Japan to take more of a lead in discussions.

IANSA estimates that more than 300,000 people are killed each year by small arms, such as handguns and rifles. The most deaths are in Russia, Latin America and the United States. The legal trade is worth $4 billion, with an extra $1 billion generated through illicit transactions.

IANSA Director Rebecca Peters told Kyodo News, "In its domestic laws, Japan recognizes how deadly small arms can be.

"There are a growing number of countries which are getting behind the idea of an international treaty to stop small arms transfers to countries which abuse human rights, or where they are going to be an obstacle to sustainable development.

"Japan is a big overseas donor and it makes sense for her to take a more progressive position in terms of the international discussion and be more of a leader."

In 2001, U.N. member states signed a nonbinding Program of Action in which countries agreed to authorize the international transfers of small arms in accordance with their obligations under international law.

Critics argue, however, the code fails to specify what those obligations are and it is therefore easy for countries to ignore.

IANSA is hoping that the United Nations will introduce a new code which states that members will not export to countries where there is a chance that the arms will be used to abuse human rights.

The organization also hopes the new code -- which they concede will only be voluntary -- will set out universal regulations for the possession of small arms held by civilians, something which the United States, with a powerful gun lobby, has consistently opposed.

Nearly two-thirds of all guns in the world are held by civilians.

Other countries blocking reform include Iran, Egypt and China, according to IANSA.

Peters said that despite the fact that gun crime is very low in Japan and ownership is heavily regulated, Japanese should not see it as a problem which does not affect them.

She said, "Japanese citizens are very rarely killed at home by guns, but they are great travelers and have been killed by guns abroad, most notably in the United States."

Peters said that in the Asia-Pacific region there is concern about the export of Chinese arms to African states with dubious human rights records. She called on China's neighbors, including Japan, to press for a more rigorous assessment before exports take place.

She said that, in general, the region has a relatively low number of deaths due to guns but the situation in Thailand is particularly bad.

Peters said the Asia-Pacific region would benefit from a regional treaty on the export of small arms, similar to that found in the European Union.

IANSA is a global network of more than 700 civil society organizations.

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