Delegates from around the world have gathered at the United Nations (UN) in New York for the Fourth Biennial Meeting of States, to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (BMS4). The United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA), continues to play an instrumental role in the international community's actions against the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW).
With the Fourth BMS under way African states have identified significant achievements in the implementation of the UNPoA. In sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America, governments have, for instance, been assisted by various NGO's to develop small arms and light weapons national action plans, as well as to revise national control policies and legislation. However, while significant progress has been made over the years, gaps still remain in the effective implementation of the UNPoA at national level.
In July 2001 the PoA called on all states to establish effective tracing systems for firearms, and this process subsequently led to the first global arrangement on the tracing of SALW, the International Tracing Instruments (ITI). This year the BMS4 highlights the need for more effective ITI, as well as assistance and cooperation to combat the illicit trade in SALW.
Border control in many countries remains a major issue of concern in the control of illicit SALW, as the transfer of illicit SALW continues to expand unhindered by national control policies and legislation. Continued infringements of UN Security Council arms embargos by certain states and non-state groups have also served to further exacerbate the issue, as seen in Somalia where insurgent groups and states consistently violated the arms embargo and in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea where fraudulent methods have been employed to evade this embargo regime.
To effectively control and combat these issues effective ITI are necessary. However, progress has been made by states on International Tracing Instruments, particularly in the Great Lakes Region/ Horn of Africa and Southern Africa respectively, where marking equipment has been acquired for the governments, with the assistance from the Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons (RECSA) and the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (SARPCCO). The slow pace at which these ITI are being implemented due to inadequate machinery and a lack of resources amongst others, have continued to remain a challenge.
Over the years states have found it difficult to identify cooperative structures as well as assistance that would help them link their needs with resources. As such, the need for a specific framework, centered on the international assistance and cooperation of states, has been on the rise for many years. While there is progress in cooperation and collaboration between states on SALW issues, calls on states to accelerate existing cooperation and assistance in all forms for more effective implementation of the UNPoA continue.
Future progress on the effective implementation of the UNPoA will depend on all states' commitment to the issues mentioned above, and the solutions could include the following:
• Enact marking, record-keeping and tracing legislation if absent or ineffective;
• Mark all state and civilian held small arms and light weapons;
• Maintain accurate and up-to-date records of all small arms and light weapons holdings;
• Improve communication and information sharing between States on small arms and light weapons tracing, which includes appointing a dedicated point of contact on tracing; and
• Continue assistance and cooperation to those states that need it.
Written by: Lauren Tracey, Consultant, Arms Management Programme, Pretoria