Regional, International, and Governmental Efforts
to Combat the Illicit Traffic in Small and Light Arms

On this page we have listed ongoing efforts by the international governmental community to address the dangers posed by the illicit traffic in small arms. If you know of initiatives that should be listed here and are not, please e-mail information to ASMP.

UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects
In 1999, the UN General Assembly agreed to convene the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (A/RES/54/54 V).
The goal of the Conference was to examine how the international community can collectively address the illicit small arms trade. Three preparatory committee meetings were held in February 2000, January 2001, and March 2001, and the actual Conference was held from 9-20 July 2001 in New York.

The central point of contention during the run up to and during the Conference was how literally to take the phrase “All Its Aspects” in the Conference title. Non-governmental groups and some progressive states argued that because the illicit trade in small arms is so closely connected with legal, government-authorized sales, that an effective plan of action must treat both issues. They wanted the document to include effective controls on legal exports, imports, and retransfers of small arms, including strict export criteria, controls on arms brokers, encouragement of national and regional transparency mechanisms, and better enforcement of arms embargoes.  Other countries argued that provisions on legal export controls, especially calls to negotiate legally-binding agreements, surpassed the General Assembly’s mandate.  Another debate was held over how much to emphasize the humanitarian impact of small arms, rather than treating it as a traditional disarmament issue.

The U.S. delegates to the PrepComs and Conference voiced support for certain elements of the program of action, such as better information sharing, border controls, stockpile security, and surplus weapons destruction. The U.S. also noted the need to promote policies of restraint in legal exports, citing the normative provisions of the OSCE Small Arms Document as a good model for export criteria. On the other hand, the U.S. took a hard-line stance on several issues, especially restrictions on the civilian ownership of small arms and a proposed prohibition on the transfer of arms to non-state actors.  The U.S. delegation also proposed many amendments to weaken the text of an already watered-down document.

In the end, the Program of Action was agreed to by consensus and did move the debate on small arms proliferation forward in several significant areas. It contains repeated references to the humanitarian impact of small arms violence, a relatively new development that will help enlarge the group of government agencies and NGOs involved in the issue. It calls on states to assess small arms exports based on their "responsibilities under international law," a critical phrase for NGOs trying to get states to integrate human rights and humanitarian law into their export decisions. It also recognizes the importance of demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of ex-combatants; the need for international rules on the activities of arms brokers; and the responsibility of governments for keeping close watch over their weapons stockpiles and international borders.  Finally, conferees agreed to hold a review conference in 2006, plus biennial meetings along the way. These meetings will allow NGOs and governments to keep the momentum moving on the small arms issue and to revisit the Program of Action formally in a short time frame. 

The following additional information is available on the 2001 Conference and PrepComs:

  • United Nations Conference Documents 

    • A/CONF.192/15, July 2001. Report of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, New York, 9-20 July 2001.

    • A/CONF.192/L.5/Rev.1, 20 July 2001. Revised draft Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects

    • A/CONF.192/L.6, 19 July 2001. Draft report of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects

    • A/CONF.192/PC/L.4/Rev.1, 12 February 2001. Revised draft Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects

    • A/CONF.192/PC/L.4, 11 December 2001. Draft Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects

United Nations Resolutions and Reports
Documents since the 2001 Conference.

The Council of Europe
The Council of Europe, headquartered in Strasbourg, France, has been working since 1949 to build a united Europe, based on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The CoE has several regional initiatives underway to fight corruption and international organized crime, including illicit trafficking in commodities.

Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations/Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
The Economic and Social Council was established by the Charter as the principal organ, under the authority of the General Assembly, to promote: (a) higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development; (b) solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; and international cultural and educational cooperation; and (c) universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. ECOSOC has been working on a draft protocol on illicit firearms trafficking to be attached to the Convention on Transnational Crime.  The Convention was finished in the fall of 2000 and the GA adopted the Firearms Protocol on 31 May 2001.

European Union (EU)
The 15 member European Union (EU) is engaged in customs and police cooperation under the rubric of Justice and Home-Affairs, with. a focus on curbing the drug trade and trafficking in humans. Until recently there were few references to illicit arms transfers (Article 223 of the European Community's Treaty of Rome denotes the sovereignty of states over legitimate defense activities.) A clause in the EU's June 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, however, alluded to the need to expand the EU's mandate to address illicit arms.                                                                                                                                           In June 1997 the EU passed the Dutch inspired EU Program for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms (EU Resolution EU/9057/97 DG E/CPSP IV). 

Organization of American States (OAS)
On April 30 1948, 21 countries of the hemisphere met in Bogotá, Colombia, to adopt the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), which affirmed their commitment to common goals and respect for each nation’s sovereignty. Since then, the OAS has expanded to include the nations of the Caribbean, as well as Canada. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
The OECD is the international organization of the industrialized, market-economy countries. At OECD headquarters in Paris, representatives from member countries meet regularly to exchange information and harmonize policy with a view to maximizing economic growth within member countries and assisting non-member countries to develop more rapidly. In the ministerial council meeting of 26-27 May 1997, there was a formal acknowledgment of illicit light arms sales, outlined in the DAC Guidelines on Conflict, Peace, and Development Co-operation.  

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is a regional security organization whose 55 participating States are from Europe, Central Asia and North America. The OSCE has been established as a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation under Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations.                               The OSCE approach to security is comprehensive and co-operative. It addresses a wide range of security-related issues including arms control, preventive diplomacy, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, election monitoring and economic and environmental security.

  1. WORKING SESSION I: Seminar on Small Arms and Light Weapons
  2. WORKING SESSION II: Seminar on Small Arms and Light Weapons

United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)
UNIDIR, based in Geneva, operates as an autonomous institution, working within the framework of the U.N. It was established by the General Assembly for the purpose of undertaking independent research on disarmament and related problems, particularly issues of international security issues, and it works in close relationship with the New York-based Center for Disarmament Affairs.

The Wassenaar Arrangement
The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls and Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, headquartered in Paris, was established in Vienna in July 1996. Thirty-three states, including most of the major arms suppliers, are members. Its purpose is to contribute to regional and international security by:

1) promoting transparency in arms transfers among participating states;
2) ensuring that transfers of relevant items do not contribute to excessive and destabilizing accumulations of arms;
3) complementing existing control regimes for weapons of mass destruction;
4) reducing the need for states to acquire advanced weapons or technologies.

World Customs Organization
The World Customs Organization was founded in 1952 to study all questions relating to cooperation in customs matters in international trade. WCO examines all technical aspects of customs operations, with a view to attaining the highest possible degree of uniformity. Activities include: preparation of conventions and recommendations; ensuring uniform interpretation and application of customs conventions (on valuation, tariff and statistical nomenclature, and customs procedures); and conciliatory action in case of dispute; circulation of information and advice regarding customs regulations and procedures; co-operation with other international organizations.

Organization of African Unity
The ministers of the member states of the Organization of African Unity who met in Bamako, Mali, from 30 November to 1 December, 2000 ended their deliberations with the adoption of an African common position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons.  The meeting deliberated upon the various aspects of the problem of illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons and considered a draft Bamako Declaration and the Report of Experts on an African Common Position.

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