Seminar on Small Arms and Light Weapons

Vienna, 3-5 April 2000


Monday, 3 June 2000
Report of the Working Session Rapporteur
Agenda item 2: Norms and Principles

Working session I of the Seminar on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) offered participants an opportunity to discuss how the OSCE could contribute to the establishment of norms and principles in the field of SALW. Such a regional approach would further the work to be done in preparation for the United Nations 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects.

The discussion was structured in four parts, which were each introduced by a keynote speaker.

1. The first keynote speaker introduced fourteen principles which could underlie a common approach of the participating States in the field of SALW, based on arms control, confidence-building and transparency. A common approach should be comprehensive and aim to deal with both licit and illicit trafficking in SALW, including exchange of information on both aspects. A catalogue of best practices could assist in the development of harmonized standards that would take into account the legitimate security needs of the individual participating States and provide them with a framework within which to control the spread of SALW.

Some delegations supported the view that the OSCE could effectively work on harmonizing existing national approaches to combating illicit trafficking in SALW through the structured exchange of information. Such exchanges of information could include production and transfers of SALW by both the public and private sectors. It would be important to establish clear distinctions between licit and illicit aspects of SALW.

Some delegations indicated that account should be taken of work already being done in this field in other forums and organizations, like in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), in order to avoid unnecessary duplication. Some delegations warned against endeavouring to define SALW. Agreed measures should be effective and be put in place quickly.

Other delegations added that the OSCE would be well equipped to formulate a common approach based on existing documents, such as the European Union (EU) Joint Action on SALW and the "Firearms Protocol" supplementary to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.

2. The second keynote speaker elaborated on the different aspects of a comprehensive mechanism of information exchange aimed at registering transfers and holdings on the one hand and providing information on national legislation and best practices on the other. Such a mechanism would provide participating States with a foundation for the development of further measures in other fields of SALW.

Some delegations pointed to the need for transparency measures to be effective and to fully take into account legitimate security needs. It would be useful to develop a common understanding within the OSCE of possible transparency measures. In this connection, delegations suggested that a step-by-step approach would be the appropriate way forward. Other delegations cautioned against being insufficiently ambitious, and suggested that possible measures should aim to distinguish between licit and illicit trafficking, as a first step, and should assist participating States in further strengthening their national legislation.

3. The third keynote speaker underlined the importance of marking, record-keeping and tracing in order to track the flow of SALW from production to destruction and enhance accountability. He emphasized the importance of taking all three aspects into account for effective control. Measures in this field should be taken nationally and shared through extensive information exchange and co-operation. They should take into account work already done in other forums, such as the United Nations, and complement them where necessary.

Delegations stressed the importance of marking and record-keeping and pointed to the possibility of developing best practices in this area among participating States as a first step. To effectively track and control flows of SALW, co-operation at all levels, including between law enforcement authorities, was necessary. Participating States could assist each other in effectively enforcing national legislation in this field. The OSCE could also develop standards for marking together with other organizations. It was further suggested that the participating States could exchange informa­tion on their records in order to more effectively combat illicit flows of SALW.

4. The fourth keynote speaker elaborated on the possibilities of strengthening export control criteria through a combination of national legislation and regional measures based on best practices. The exchange of information would aim at establishing a common approach to export controls among participating States. Such a common approach would start out from the existing principles governing conventional arms transfers and effectively use criteria developed in other forums.

Some delegations emphasized the importance of information exchange on national export controls so that countries could assist each other in further strengthening their national legislation in that field. Such exchange of information should also help towards harmonizing criteria among participating States. Several delegations pointed to the comprehensive scope of the EU Code of Conduct in this regard.

In his conclusions, the Moderator noted a general sense that the OSCE could effectively engage in the development of norms and principles in the field of SALW, especially with a view to the United Nations 2001 Conference. Although a comprehensive approach was desirable, a step-by-step approach, taking into account legitimate security needs and work already done in other forums, would seem more feasible. The Moderator noted broad consensus on the development of a mechanism of information exchange within the OSCE as a confidence- and security-building measure. He noted that for a majority of delegations such exchanges of information could aim at establishing best practices in the field of SALW and could refer to national legisla­tion in the field of export controls, transfers, marking, record-keeping and tracing. On the basis of these information exchanges, participating States could enhance co-operation in order to combat illicit trafficking in SALW more effectively. Furthermore, participating States could develop common approaches in these fields, which could be based on instruments and documents already available such as the Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers and the EU Code of Conduct. Delegations would be prepared to engage in further discussions on these aspects in the coming months with the aim of arriving at a comprehensive and stand-alone document, covering norms and principles of the OSCE participating States in the field of SALW, which would also be a significant signal for the success of the United Nations 2001 Conference.