The Institute for Security Studies is a regional human security policy think tank with an exclusive focus on Africa. As a leading African human security research institution, the institute is guided by a broad approach to security reflective of the changing nature and origin of threats to human development.
This year, 7 September marked the conclusion of the two-week-long Second United Nations Review Conference of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA) and the adoption of a consensus outcome document. The adoption of the document represented a major achievement and illustrated the international community’s continued commitment to combating the impact illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) have on many countries.
The UNPoA is a framework document that countries adopted by consensus in 2001. It establishes a normative framework for small arms control and covers a wide spectrum of areas and activities that have been further elaborated and strengthened through various outcome documents of the Biennial Meetings of States; the International Tracing Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (ITI); the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Brokering; and the chair’s summary of the meeting of governmental experts in 2001.
During the review conference, member states renewed their pledge to fight the impact illicit SALW have on many parts of the world. States further emphasised their commitment to mobilise the political will and resources necessary to implement the UNPoA, as well as the ITI, in a bid to achieve clear and tangible results by the third review conference, to be held in 2018.
Achieving the outcome document did not come without a few reservations from member states. Concern was voiced by delegates from Iran over a lack of accuracy and practicality in some aspects. Venezuelan delegates expressed concern about the inclusion of new concepts in the outcome document and the Ghanaian representative said he would have preferred stronger language on export implementation, and felt that issues such as the role of ammunition and the effects of armed violence on development should be included. Israel and the United States disassociated themselves from preambular paragraph 11 of the UNPoA, relating to the right to self-determination of people under foreign occupation. Some states also voiced concern over the fact that no agreement was reached on gender mainstreaming and UN resolutions 1325 (2000), 1612 (2005) and 65/69 (2010).
Despite these reservations, progress made in implementing the UNPoA and the ITI thus far was commended, particularly the development and implementation of national legislation and the establishment of national action plans by many member states. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, progress in implementing the UNPoA has been considerable, with the assistance of national agreements such as the Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and Other Related Material in the SADC Region and the Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, among others. A number of member states have developed national action plans and have appointed a national point of contact to deal with the provisions as outlined in the UNPoA. In addition, progress has also been seen in the areas of marking, record keeping and tracing, with a number of member states having received marking equipment with the help of various regional and international organisations. Member states are now actively re-marking all firearms under state control. The training of police personnel and related fringe departments in the proper use of marking and tracing equipment has also been conducted in a number of sub-Saharan states, following the acquisition of the equipment. Progress has also been noted in the areas of collection and destruction, with several sub-Saharan states engaged in collaborative initiatives with neighbouring countries to assist them in the collection and destruction of their obsolete and surplus weapons and ammunition. These efforts are further complemented by the implementation of amnesty periods, national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes, and public awareness-raising campaigns.
The review conference did, however, note that implementation of the UNPoA remained uneven, and challenges and obstacles were ever-present. This prevented many member states from fully implementing the provisions of the UNPoA. In a bid to continue progress made in implementing the UNPoA, delegations agreed to strengthen implementation at national, regional and global levels over the 2012–2018 period. To this end, follow-up measures have been outlined in the outcome document, including a one-week biennial meeting of states to be held in 2014 and 2016, a one-week open-ended meeting of government experts to take place in 2015, and the third review conference, which is scheduled to take place for two weeks in 2018 with a preparatory committee meeting taking place in the months preceding it.
The overall success of the second review conference and the successful adoption of an outcome document demonstrate that a considerable amount of work is being done to implement the UNPoA by member states around the world, with the assistance of their national and regional agreements as well as many regional, national and international organisations. This success could also be a motivating factor in efforts to reach an agreement on the Arms Trade Treaty in the near future, which failed to reach a consensus in July this year.
Written by Lauren Tracey, Researcher, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria