Expected Council Action
In May, the Council will hold an open debate at the initiative of Lithuania to consider the Secretary-General’s biennial report on small arms. (At press time, the report had just been issued.) Lithuania has circulated a concept note highlighting the human cost of illicit small arms as a key focus for the debate and has proposed a resolution as an outcome.
The Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, are expected to brief. A victim directly affected by small arms misuse has also been invited to speak, but at press time was not yet confirmed.
Background and Recent Developments
The Council first considered small arms as a thematic issue in 1999, but its attention to the matter has been inconsistent. There were six presidential statements on small arms between 1999 and 2007, but during the five-year period from 2008 to 2013 the issue was largely absent from the Council’s agenda. (There was no debate on the Secretary-General’s 2011 small arms report, just a briefing in a closed meeting.) It was only in September 2013 that the Council adopted its first thematic resolution on this issue. Drafted by Australia, resolution 2117 built on agreed language from the presidential statements and aimed to strengthen the Council’s response to small arms-related threats to international peace and security.
Among other things, the resolution reminded member states of their obligation to comply with Council-mandated arms embargoes while also expressing the Council’s intention to monitor and strengthen their implementation; emphasised the role of UN peacekeeping operations relating to arms embargoes and capacity-building for host governments; encouraged information-sharing and cooperation among relevant actors; and called on states to support weapons collection, disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and stockpile management.
The resolution also recognised the impact of small arms on the protection of civilians and highlighted the need to implement relevant obligations under resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and to take into account the special needs of children. Finally, it encouraged states to accede to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its protocols, urged states to consider signing and ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty adopted by the General Assembly on 2 April 2013 and stressed the importance of implementing the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms.
Since the resolution was adopted, the Council has imposed arms embargoes in two new cases: the Central African Republic (CAR) and Yemen, adding to the 11 embargoes already in place. In resolution 2127 on the deepening crisis in CAR, the Council imposed an embargo on 5 December 2013 banning the supply, sale and transfer of any arms to the CAR. In resolution 2216 on Yemen, the Council decided on 14 April to address the worsening situation there by establishing an arms embargo specifically targeting leaders of the Houthi rebel group and those supporting the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In the case of the CAR, the Council also included provisions on small arms in a subsequent resolution adopted on 10 April 2014 establishing a UN peacekeeping operation—the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA). Among other tasks, the mission is mandated to assist with disarmament, including the destruction of weapons and ammunition, help the CAR Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts and monitor implementation of the arms embargo. The resolution also calls on the transitional government and its international partners to address illicit small arms, stockpile management and collection and destruction of illicit weapons.
With the addition of MINUSCA, there are now four UN peacekeeping operations mandated to assist in monitoring the implementation of arms embargoes. (The other three are in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia.) The AU/UN hybrid operation in Darfur also has such a mandate while the UN operation in Mali, where there is no arms embargo, is mandated to support government action on small arms.
The Arms Trade Treaty entered into effect on 24 December 2014. At the time of writing, 130 states had signed and 66 had ratified the treaty.
A key issue for the Council is the implementation of resolution 2117 and its impact since it was adopted. A related issue is whether there is a need for further Council action on small arms, in particular to enhance implementation of the provisions agreed in that resolution in key areas such as arms embargoes, the role of UN operations in combating the proliferation of illicit small arms and other measures aimed at preventing diversion of arms into the illicit market, such as stockpile management and security sector reform.
Another key issue is whether to encourage implementation of any of the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report.
An additional issue is the increased diversion and misuse of heavy weapons and whether the Council should address this as part of a broader conventional arms agenda.
The Council’s possible contribution to the effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty is another potential key issue.
The main option for the Council is to adopt a resolution as proposed by Lithuania that, building on resolution 2117, would seek to provide more detailed and “operational” guidance on how to achieve the agreed objectives while highlighting the human cost of illicit small arms. Possible new elements include:
- welcoming the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty and expressing the Council’s intention to contribute to its effective implementation;
- welcoming the Secretary-General’s report and taking up some of its recommendations;
- requesting the Secretary-General to consistently integrate small arms issues into all planning and review processes for UN operations at the earliest possible stage, address small arms issues in all relevant reports and provide recommendations to the Council as appropriate;
- requesting the Secretary-General to develop UN guidelines aimed at improving cooperation and information-sharing relating to arms embargoes between relevant UN operations, country teams and sanctions panels to ensure that panels receive the assistance they need;
- emphasising the need to address the supply of ammunition in all efforts to prevent the misuse of small arms; and
- requesting the Secretary-General to include in his next report information about the diversion and misuse of heavy weapons.
The dynamics in the Council on small arms have been difficult. In 2006, an Argentinian initiative for a Council resolution on small arms failed due to opposition from the US, which argued it was an issue best dealt with in the General Assembly. When resolution 2117 was adopted, Russia abstained, citing the omission of an amendment it had proposed aimed at preventing the transfer of small arms to non-state actors. There are also important differences among Council members on sanctions-related issues that may come into play. At the end of 2014, an Australian proposal for a thematic resolution on sanctions was withdrawn after Russia threatened to veto it (a move that was widely seen as a response to sanctions imposed in relation to Ukraine), and Russia abstained on resolution 2216 on Yemen, partly due to reservations about the arms embargo.
Among Council members, Chad, France, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria and the UK have ratified the Arms Trade Treaty while Angola, Chile, Malaysia and the US have signed it. Of the remaining four, Jordan voted in favour of the treaty when it was adopted by the General Assembly, while China, Russia and Venezuela abstained.
At press time, negotiations on the draft resolution had yet to begin, but in light of recent experiences, there seemed to be some concern it might be difficult to get agreement on a text, especially from Russia. At the same time, it was hoped that strong support among the Council’s African, Latin American and European members would help achieve a substantive outcome.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|14 April 2015 S/RES/2216||imposed an arms embargo related to the situation in Yemen.|
|10 April 2014 S/RES/2149||established MINUSCA.|
|5 December 2013 S/RES/2127||imposed an arms embargo on the CAR.|
|26 September 2013 S/RES/2117||was the small arms resolution.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|29 June 2007 S/PRST/2007/24||requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on small arms on a biennial basis.|
|22 August 2013 S/2013/503||was the last report on small arms.|
|5 April 2011 S/2011/255||was a previous report on small arms.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|26 September 2013 S/PV.7036||was the last Council debate on small arms.|