Day three at the UN gun ban conference

Posted: Jun 29, 2006 12:01 AM

Hearing Angola and Cambodia detail their plans for rounding up all the guns owned by civilians is kind of like hearing that the Dixie Chicks are writing a song about America. You just know something bad’s going to happen in the end. And yet, that’s exactly what we heard on day 3 of the UN’s summit on small arms (Angola and Cambodia, not the Dixie Chicks. They haven’t been granted a seat on the Security Council… yet).

Angola, a country devastated by 24 years of civil war, is now in the process of making sure that citizens can never again revolt against the government. Minister of Justice Manuel Miguel da Costa Aragão told the assembled nations the, “disarmament process is being carried out in a systematic manner and on the basis of information provided by the population.” Even better, Angola wants other countries to help pay for the disarming of its citizens. The Justice Minister also said, “we seize this opportunity to ask for the support of the international community in the difficult task of disarming the civilian population.”

Yes, the civil war in Angola was devastating. An estimated 500,000 people lost their lives. But let’s be honest here. If there were any “good guys” in the civil war, they didn’t win. Our own State Department says in 2005 the country’s human rights record “remained poor and serious problems remained.” What type of problems?

- The abridgement of the rights of citizens to elect officials at all levels.

- Arbitrary arrest and detention.

- Unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, beatings, and abuse of persons.

- Lack of due process.

- Restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, and assembly.

Sounds like a wonderful place. I’m sure the government confiscation of all civilian-owned firearms has nothing to do with the abuses listed above. It’s purely a coincidence. And nothing bad will happen to the Angolans, I’m sure. I mean, it’s not like Angola is Rwanda. Or Sudan. Right?

Also speaking on Wednesday morning was Cambodian Undersecretary of State Sieng Lapresse. Cambodia, where over a million civilians lost their lives in a genocide, has banned the civilian possession of firearms. The fact that the Khmer Rouge were able to rule the country with an iron fist in part because of the strict gun control laws in place has been lost on the United Nations. I’m pretty sure the Cambodian government understands, however.

The State Department says the Cambodian government’s human rights record got worse in 2005, not better. “Contrary to past years,” it says, “there were no reports of politically motivated killings… however, extrajudicial killings occurred.” So the government killing civilians wasn’t political in nature. Well, that’s a relief.

The Cambodian genocide took place just a generation ago. Yet already the Cambodian government is disarming its citizens, with the approval and help of the United Nations and its disarmament program. In a perfect world, the United Nations would be holding an armament program for the people of Cambodia. It would understand the right of self-protection. It would understand that the State isn’t always the good guy.

Then again, in a perfect world, I doubt the UN would exist at all. Since it does, I invite you to log on to and get the news from the UN (and elsewhere) each and every weekday. Executive Editor Ginny Simone is reporting live from the United Nations throughout the two-week summit, and we’ll be broadcasting the entire show live from New York for the summit’s final three days.