The UN Conference on Small Arms

SAWG Bottom Line Demands for the U.S. Government


The UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects is a crucial opportunity to address the urgent problem of the spread and abuse of small arms and light weapons, a class of weapons responsible for 90% of today's conflict casualties and for 500,000 deaths a year. The spread and misuse of small arms cause, prolong, and exacerbate humanitarian crises around the world. Therefore, the Conference must be framed within a humanitarian context, focusing on preventing and reducing the impact of these weapons. The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) calls for the Conference to be a forum for action, not just a venue for discussion.

Although the Conference focuses on the illicit aspect of the small arms trade, SAWG maintains that to adequately tackle the impact of small arms, the legal trade must also be addressed. The link between illicit and legal trades is obvious, as many illegal weapons in circulation were at some point legally transferred by governments or with government approval. Moreover, governments have failed to rein in private traffickers, allowing many uncontrolled and irresponsible "legal" sales. Government authorized sales, in their own right, also warrant international attention as they may lead to human rights abuses or prolong conflicts.

SAWG calls on the U.S. government to negotiate a meaningful and forward-looking Programme of Action for the Conference that raises international standards on the export and use of small arms and light weapons. SAWG urges the U.S. government to push for the development of legally binding norms and the implementation of measures to stop weapons from winding up in the hands of abusive forces, be they either governments or non-state actors.

In particular, SAWG calls on the U.S. government to endorse a Conference Programme of Action that mandates states to start early negotiations on the following three legally binding instruments:

1. A Framework Convention on International Arms Transfers that sets out normative export criteria based on states' current obligations under international law.

2. An International Agreement on Brokering that creates international norms controlling the activities of arms brokers and strengthens national laws to prosecute traffickers who violate these norms.

3. An International Agreement on Marking and Tracing that develops systems for adequate and reliable marking of arms at manufacture and import and record-keeping on arms production, possession and transfer.

The Programme of Action must also include: the establishment of regional and international transparency mechanisms, concrete steps to achieve improved implementation and enforcement of arms embargoes, and norms of civilian possession of small arms and light weapons.

SAWG believes the Conference will be meaningless unless the Programme of Action includes follow-up mechanisms and provisions for implementation. SAWG contends that the United Nations Conference should be a stepping stone for future action on small arms, not the end of a process. SAWG holds governments accountable to push the agenda on small arms forward, at the UN Conference and beyond.

For the current process to yield positive and lasting results, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be invited to participate fully in the Conference and its aftermath. SAWG strongly calls on the U.S. government to consult and work with NGOs, in particular with the participants in SAWG and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a network of more than 320 organizations from 70 countries, whose aim is to curb the proliferation and misuse of small arms. Tapping into broad segments of civil society and giving voice to the victims of human rights abuses will ensure a grounded and comprehensive outcome for the Conference.

The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) is an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations working together to promote change in U.S. policies on small arms. SAWG members believe that small arms proliferation must be countered by more responsible policies on legal sales and international cooperation to reduce illicit trafficking.