Seek a Broad and Comprehensive Agenda for the 2001 Conference

The 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.

Although the Conference will focus on the "illicit" aspect of the small arms trade, participants must recognize that many illegal weapons in circulation were at some point legally transferred by governments or with government approval. In addition, governments have failed to rein in private traffickers. Legal sales to governments also warrant international attention as they may also lead to human rights abuses or prolong conflicts.

SAWG calls on the U.S. government to negotiate and approve 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. Four priority areas demand early action: the adoption of codes of conduct on arms transfers, the establishment of transparency mechanisms, the implementation and enforcement of arms embargoes, and the internationalization of norms regulating the activities of arms brokers.


1. Develop and enact binding national or regional codes of conduct on arms transfers.

The Conference cannot ignore the cardinal principle of self-restraint embodied by codes of conduct and also advocated by the UN Group of Experts on Small Arms. The line between the illicit and legal trade is often murky or deliberately blurred, as occurs with covert transfers.

The U.S. should therefore strongly encourage UN member states to develop binding codes of conduct at the national or regional level, with a view toward eventually negotiating an international code of conduct on arms transfers. SAWG believes that all such codes should include at a minimum the prohibition of arms transfers to governments and non-state actors that:

gravely or systematically violate human rights or international humanitarian law;

fail to prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for such violations;

do not include as part of the training of their armed forces, paramilitary forces, and law enforcement officers the instruction that members of such forces have the duty to refuse orders to commit human rights abuses;

do not provide access on a regular basis to humanitarian international and nongovernmental organizations in times of conflict or humanitarian emergency, and do not grant access to human rights monitors at all times;

violate arms embargoes or are not actively engaged in the creation of national and regional registers for small arms (see below).


2. Increase transparency in arms transfers through public reporting and the creation of regional registers.

Currently small arms transfers are not reported to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. A lack of data on small arms movements hampers efforts to track the flow of such weapons, monitor possible diversions, and sound early warnings. Therefore, states should compile and make public annual reports on the import and export of small arms, as well as their procurement by government agencies from domestic manufacturers. These reports should provide information on both government-to-government and commercial arms transfers and list the following:


quantities and types of weapons transferred;

export/import approvals and actual deliveries;

parties involved;

reasons for rejecting a transaction (e.g., human rights record of recipient).

An appendix to the annual report should include a list of parties that have been prohibited from engaging in arms transfers, and parties that have been found guilty of violations of national trade laws, international arms embargoes, or unauthorized arms diversions or re-exports.

Annual reports should be consolidated in regional reports with a view to creating regional registers of small arms and, eventually, a UN register.


3. Implement and enforce arms embargoes.

The U.S. and the other conferees should urgently address the problem of implementing, monitoring, and punishing violators of international arms embargoes.


4. Internationalize norms controlling the activities of arms brokers.

The near total absence of regulation of arms brokers around the world is one of the most significant factors in fostering the illicit trafficking in small arms. Parties engaged in conflict, and human rights abusers, have systematically employed brokers to procure arms. Brokers' services have also often ensured that such transactions would be carried out secretly. International norms that discipline the activities of brokers are critical to curbing illicit trafficking and reducing the dangers of the uncontrolled movement of small arms. States should commit to requiring arms brokers - either operating on their territory or citizens operating anywhere in the world - to register with the state and to be subjected to the same arms export licensing process as other exporters.

SAWG strongly calls on the U.S. government to consult and work with non-governmental organizations, in particular with the members of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a coalition of non-governmental organizations from around the world, 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.