April 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 March 2008
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Small Arms

Expected Council Action
A report from the Secretary-General on small arms is likely to be submitted to the Council in April. At press time, the incoming president, South Africa, was tentatively planning a debate on small arms on 25 April. It is possible that regional organisations will be invited to participate in addition to Council members. The format however remains subject to change depending on consultations with the Council and the level of interest in participation.

For in-depth background please see our June 2006 Profile on Small Arms report.

In 2006 the Council failed to reach agreement on an Argentinean initiative for a resolution to enhance Council input to the debate on small arms. Prior to that, the Council had addressed the issue of small arms only in presidential statements and in the limited context of illicit trafficking. It had reminded member states to fully implement the Programme of Action (adopted in 2001) to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all aspects. The Secretary-General had reported to the Council on twelve specific recommendations on ways the Council could contribute to dealing with the question of illicit trade in small arms.

The Argentinean draft sought to focus on the wider issue that uncontrolled spread of small arms compromises the effectiveness of the Council’s efforts to promote international peace and security and in itself constitutes a threat to peace. There were also ideas to request member states to adopt measures, in particular to ensure the observance of arms embargoes. Although the draft resolution largely drew upon consensus language from previous Council statements and had the strong support of several Council members including France and the UK with agreement from China and Russia, the Council could not agree—mainly because of US opposition. As a result of the stalemate over the draft resolution, the cycle of preparing regular Secretary-General’s reports on small arms was interrupted as the mandate for these reports came from the successive presidential statements.

In March 2007, South Africa, concerned about the particular problems for African countries as a result of the proliferation of small arms on the continent, took the lead on this issue. A draft presidential statement requesting the Secretary-General to produce regular reports on small arms was proposed. (Please see our 13 April 2007 Update Report on small arms for more details). After weeks of efforts, the Council on 29 June 2007 adopted a presidential statement. It seems that the main difficulty was the US reluctance to support regular reporting by the Secretary-General on the issue of small arms. In the statement, the Council:

  • noted with concern that the accumulation and illicit manufacture, trade and circulation of small arms contributed to the prolongation and increase in intensity of armed conflicts and undermined the sustainability of peace (previously agreed language);
  • reaffirmed the right to individual or collective self-defence; and
  • requested a Secretary-General’s report on a biennial basis starting in 2008.

In this statement, the Council invited the Secretary-General to report on the issue of small arms in general—although stressing also the need to continue to provide recommendations and observations on implementation of the Programme of Action. It remains to be seen whether the Secretary-General will take up this opening for a wider scope of the issue, as opposed to the more limited context of illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

It seems that the option is there for more analytical reporting, perhaps exploring new areas related to the problem of small arms, such as the manufacture and trade of ammunitions, and the link between small arms, security, development and human rights.

A challenge for the Council will be for South Africa to frame the debate in such a way that it can draw interest and be constructive. It appears that the main focus may be on how to best take into account the problem of small arms when the Council deals with specific issues (such as arms embargoes, security sector reform, disarmament demobilisation and reintegration programmes, etc.) rather than expanding the discussions to potentially controversial issues, such as civilian possession of small arms.

A presidential statement is a possibility.

Security Council Report will publish an Update Report with more insights in April.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1631 (17 October 2005) stressed the role of regional organisations in addressing the issue of small arms.
  • S/RES/1612 (26 July 2005) on children and armed conflict highlighted the link between illicit trafficking in small arms and the use of child soldiers.
  • S/RES/1467 (18 March 2003) outlined measures to increase support for the ECOWAS moratorium on small arms in West Africa with the declaration on the Proliferation of small arms and light weapons in West Africa.
  • S/RES/1296 (19 April 2000) on protection of civilians in armed conflict emphasised the importance of incorporating DDR in peace agreements.

Selected Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2007/24 (29 June 2007) requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on small arms to the Council on a biennial basis.
  • S/PRST/2006/38 (9 August 2006) welcomed the decision of ECOWAS to transform the Moratorium on Import, Export and Manufacture of Light Weapons into a binding Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and Other Related Materials.
  • S/PRST/2005/7 (17 February 2005) called on arms-exporting countries to exercise the highest degree of responsibility in the trade in small arms and requested an update from the Secretary-General on the implementation of the twelve recommendations contained in his 2002 report on small arms.

Latest Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2006/109 (17 February 2006) focused on the implementation of the twelve recommendations outlined in 2002 to identify and trace illicit trade in small arms.

Other Documents

  • S/PV.5390 and resumption 1 (20 March 2006) was the latest debate on small arms.
  • A/C.1/60/L.55 (12 October 2005) was an international instrument adopted by the General Assembly to enable states to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons.
  • A/CONF.192/15 (20 July 2001) was the Programme of Action adopted by member states.

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