Small Arms and Light Weapons
Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council will hold a briefing to consider the Secretary-General’s seventh biennial report on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), to be submitted in accordance with the presidential statement adopted on 29 June 2007. UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, Executive Secretary of the Regional Centre for Small Arms based in Nairobi Lieutenant General Elamin Abdelgadir, and Senior Researcher at Small Arms Survey David Lochhead are expected to brief.
Background and Recent Developments
The last time the Security Council discussed SALW was on 5 February 2020. Nakamitsu briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s sixth biennial report on SALW. She noted that “[w]ith an estimated one billion small arms in circulation worldwide, the use of these weapons in lethal violence, whether in conflict or non-conflict settings, is prevalent across regions and subregions from the Americas to Africa to Southern Europe”. Nakamitsu also pointed out that “small arms continue to facilitate a vast spectrum of actions constituting violations of human rights, including the killing and maiming of children, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence”.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA). This is considered the universal framework for countering the illicit flow of SALW and was agreed upon by all participants at the UN Small Arms Conference held in 2001. The seventh biennial meeting of states on the UNPoA, held in New York from 26 to 30 July, considered key challenges and opportunities related to the full and effective implementation of the UNPoA. The meeting concluded with the adoption of a substantive outcome document, which, among other things, underscores the need to integrate the UNPoA into all relevant sustainable development goals (SDGs) and targets at the national, regional and global levels. In particular, it calls for enhanced efforts to make progress as part of the SDGs Decade of Action, particularly under the SDG indicator 16.4.2. on the “proportion of seized, found or surrendered arms whose illicit origin or context has been traced or established by a competent authority in line with international instruments”.
The seventh conference of states parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which regulates international trade in conventional arms, took place in Geneva from 30 August to 3 September. The conference held a thematic discussion on SALW that explored how the issue can be considered within the ATT framework.
On 16 September, Mexico convened a virtual Arria-formula meeting on the threat to international peace and security posed by the illicit trade in SALW to build momentum on the SALW discussion following the holding of the UNPoA and ATT conferences.
The briefing in October is expected to focus on addressing the threat caused by the illicit flow of SALW in the context of peacekeeping. The Secretary-General’s sixth biennial report highlighted the challenges faced by peacekeepers because of “a growing number of armed actors and a prevalence of weapons, ammunitions and other explosives”. In this regard, it stressed the importance of providing specialised pre-deployment training in weapons and ammunition management to support peacekeepers operating under such difficult circumstances.
Issues and Options
Some of the key issues related to SALW that may be raised during the briefing session include how to:
- address the challenges and threats posed by the illicit trade in and diversion of SALW and reduce the humanitarian impact of their excessive accumulation, misuse, and illicit trade;
- enhance the full and effective implementation of the UNPoA at national, regional and global levels as part of the SDG Decade of Action, particularly under SDG indicator 16.4.2;
- integrate the consideration of SALW into the women, peace and security agenda and promote gender perspectives in small arms control policies, programmes and actions;
- support and encourage regional efforts to control the spread of SALW, including the AU flagship initiative on “Silencing the Guns in Africa” and others;
- mainstream the consideration of SALW across the Council’s country- and region-specific and thematic agenda items and effectively utilise the tools at the Council’s disposal, including sanctions and arms embargoes, in combatting the illicit flow of SALW;
- promote the effective implementation of activities related to the management of weapons and associated ammunition in formulating mandates for UN peacekeeping operations; and
- provide peacekeepers with all the necessary support to enable them to better protect their equipment and weapons from deliberate attacks by terrorists and other armed groups and enhance stockpile management in peacekeeping.
An option for the Council would be to adopt a resolution commemorating the 20th anniversary of the UNPoA and renewing its commitment to the objective of countering the illicit flow of SALW. The resolution could encourage follow through on recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s most recent biennial report, such as mainstreaming the consideration of SALW throughout the Council agenda and including language on the effective implementation of activities related to SALW in the formulation of mandates for peacekeeping operations. It has been six years since the adoption of resolution 2220 of 22 May 2015 on SALW.
Kenya, which holds the Council presidency in October, attaches great importance to addressing the scourge of SALW. The country hosts the Regional Centre on Small Arms, which coordinates the implementation of the Nairobi Protocol on the Prevention, Control and Reduction of SALW in 15 countries in the Great Lakes region, the Horn of Africa and bordering states. The Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN, Martin Kimani, chaired the seventh biennial meeting of state parties to UNPoA. Kenya considers the October briefing on SALW one of the signature events of its presidency, and intends to circulate a concept note to help guide the discussion. In this regard, it may wish to highlight the challenges and threats posed by SALWs in Africa, including in the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes and the Sahel.
Council dynamics in relation to SALW tend to be complicated. Russia is of the view that the General Assembly is the most appropriate place for discussion of SALW issues, except for arms embargoes imposed by the Council. Past negotiations on SALW were also controversial. For instance, six council members abstained on the adoption of resolution 2220 because the text did not include language critical of the transfer of SALW to non-state actors. But some like-minded members in the Council may try again to advance a resolution on SALW, building on the momentum generated by recent international attention to the issue.
The other contentious issue is in relation to the ATT. Some Council members that are not parties to the treaty have tended to express opposition to it. Kenya, Tunisia, Russia, Viet Nam, and the US are not parties to the treaty. Kenya, however, participated in the recent conference of states parties as an observer. In 2020, China became the latest country to join the treaty. The US is a signatory to the treaty but has not ratified it. Last year, it said that “the lawful ownership of small arms and the illegal use of small arms in non-conflict settings” must be distinguished from “the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons which fuels conflict and instability”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SMALL ARMS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|22 May 2015S/RES/2220||This was a resolution on small arms that contained new provisions aiming to strengthen UN coordination and action on small arms, promote effective implementation of UN arms embargoes and support the Arms Trade Treaty.|
|26 September 2013S/RES/2117||This was the first thematic resolution on small arms adopted by the Council focusing on the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|11 March 2020S/PRST/2020/5||This presidential statement was adopted during a debate entitled “Countering terrorism and extremism in Africa” under the agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”, a signature event of China’s Council presidency.|
|30 December 2019S/2019/1011||This was the Secretary-General’s sixth biennial report on small arms and light weapons.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|5 February 2020S/PV.8713||The Council was briefed on the Secretary-General’s sixth biennial report on small arms by Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.|