What's In Blue

Posted Tue 12 May 2015

Small Arms: Open Debate and Draft Resolution on Small Arms

Tomorrow (13 May), the Council will hold an open debate to discuss the Secretary-General’s 27 April report on small arms (S/2015/289). Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein will brief, and there will also be an intervention by the president of the Côte d’Ivoire chapter of the West Africa Action Network on Small Arms, Karamoko Diakité. Diakité has been invited to speak about the human cost of illicit small arms, which Lithuania proposed as a key focus for the debate in a concept note circulated on 1 May (S/2015/306). It is also possible that the Council will vote on a draft resolution proposed by Lithuania, but at press time negotiations were still ongoing and it was unclear if agreement would be reached by tomorrow. If adopted, it would only be the Council’s second thematic resolution on small arms, following the Council’s adoption of resolution 2117 at the last open debate on small arms on 26 September 2013.

The Debate
In terms of key issues for the debate, the concept note invites participants to consider how the Council can more systematically take into account and address small arms-related threats when it comes to the protection of civilians. It also proposes as a key issue how to better identify small arms-related challenges in the mandates of UN peace operations and ensure that the Council is equipped to take informed decisions in this regard when establishing or extending UN peace operations. Another suggested key issue is how to make the implementation of arms embargoes more effective, in particular by improving cooperation and information-sharing among relevant UN operations, sanctions panels and other entities, providing capacity-building to countries subject to UN arms embargoes and ensuring that arms embargoes are aligned with the overall UN strategy.

The concept note also lists a number of other relevant issues that participants in the debate may want to address, such as the negative impact of small arms on development and on vulnerable groups like refugees and internally displaced persons; the importance of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes and the need for UN standards that have to be met before weapons can be handed over to host governments; the role of security sector reform, stockpile management and tracing of weapons; the Council’s contribution to effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty and synergies between the work of the Council and the UN programme of action on small arms; recognition of the disproportionate impact of the misuse of small arms on women and girls; recruitment of child soldiers and small arms; and the importance of regional and sub-regional efforts.

The Secretary-General’s Report
Many of these key issues are addressed in the Secretary-General’s report on small arms, his fourth on this issue since the Council ’s 2007 presidential statement requesting him to report on small arms on a biennial basis (S/PRST/2007/24). The report highlights in particular the diversion of weapons as a “colossal problem” and poor weapons management as an area of “alarming concern”. It also stresses that the value of small arms depends on an uninterrupted supply of ammunition and that ammunition also serves as a key component in improvised explosive devices, the use of which is on the rise according to the report.

The report contains 14 recommendations for the Council’s consideration. Among other things, it encourages the Council to consistently address the arms situation when considering both geographic and thematic issues on its agenda. In discussing the role of UN operations, the report calls on the Council to ensure that peacekeeping and special political missions are consistently mandated to assist host countries in the effective management of their arms and ammunition stockpiles and to work more closely with UN country teams to strengthen national arms control capacities. The report stresses that mission mandates should be designed on the basis of a comprehensive analysis of security needs involving an integrated approach and that mission personnel should receive training in how to record information from recovered ammunition and make this available to sanctions expert panels when relevant. It also suggests that the Council should consider the relevance of new technologies such as time or geographical limitation devices or biometric or radio frequency identification to improve weapons stockpile management and reduce diversion of weapons.

Other recommendations focus on the importance of including ammunition in all measures against illicit small arms; the need for more research to assist policy-makers in addressing the causes and consequences of armed violence; the gender aspects of armed violence and the importance of women’s participation in all efforts aimed at combating illicit small arms; the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty and reporting to the UN Register for Conventional Arms; finding additional ways to combat illicit ammunition flows; and strengthening cooperation among states and organisations.

The Draft Resolution
The draft resolution proposed by Lithuania reflects key issues highlighted in the concept note and also incorporates some of the Secretary-General’s recommendations. It builds to a large extent on agreed language from resolution 2117, but also incorporates language from relevant thematic protection of civilians decisions such as resolution 1894. Key objectives are to strengthen action on small arms in UN operations and promote effective implementation of UN arms embargoes while at the same time emphasising the negative impact of the proliferation of small arms on the protection of civilians.

At the outset, the negotiations were not expected to be easy. Council dynamics on small arms have in the past been difficult and resolution 2117 was not a consensus text. Russia abstained on that resolution, stating in its explanation of vote that it could not support the text because it did not include a Russian proposal that would have called on states to prevent the transfer of small arms to non-state actors. (Divisions among Council members over this issue at the time were largely seen as a reflection of the situation in Syria.) There were therefore concerns that the issue of non-state armed groups would divide Council members this time around as well. Differences were also expected over some of the new elements proposed by Lithuania, in particular on language supporting the Arms Trade Treaty that entered into effect on 23 December 2014, which some Council members (China, Jordan, Russia and Venezuela) have not signed. The draft text urges states to consider ratifying or acceding to the Treaty. It also notes that improving the implementation of Council-mandated arms embargoes and mandating UN peacekeeping operations to provide capacity building related to small arms may contribute to a more effective implementation of the Treaty and that the national reporting provisions under the Treaty may be useful for the UN in conducting activities on small arms.

As expected, the question of small arms transfers to non-state armed groups did indeed become a main sticking point in the negotiations. To the surprise of some, however, it was not Russia, but Angola and Chad that first raised the issue by proposing new language on the need to prevent illicit transfers of weapons and ammunition, including small arms, to non-state armed groups in armed conflict situations. Russia naturally supported these proposals, as did Nigeria and Venezuela, while the P3 were strongly opposed. Russia had other concerns as well, in particular over the strong language on the Arms Trade Treaty, and apparently criticised the initial draft as reiterating too many of the provisions from resolution 2117. Among other things, it proposed new language on export control and brokering, but this was not fully incorporated into the text. It seems other Council members would also have liked to see stronger language on these and other more technical issues. Following four rounds of negotiations last week, it seems most other issues had been resolved and that remaining differences centered on the question of transfers to non-state actors. To bridge the differences, Lithuania proposed compromise language in the preambular section recognising that states should prevent the transfer of weapons and ammunition to “armed groups and criminal networks targeting civilians and civilian objects”, which was included in a text that was put under silence last Friday. Subsequently, Angola, Chad and Russia apparently broke silence and Lithuania has over the past few days been engaged in bilateral discussions to try and resolve remaining differences. At press time, it seems Council members were discussing a new compromise proposal and that negotiations had moved to the level of political coordinators.

New operative elements compared with resolution 2117 include a provision expressing the Council’s intention to take into account small arms issues when making decisions on the mandates of peacekeeping operations or other Council-authorised missions and encouraging the Secretary-General to identify capacities of relevant UN entities at the earliest possible stage, involve these entities in strategic assessments and missions and present options for greater UN engagement.

On the issue of arms embargoes, the current draft recognises that when considering the adjustment or lifting of an arms embargo the Council should take into account host country capacity in areas such as stockpile management, marking, record keeping and tracing, border security and the rule of law and that clear objectives should be established in this regard. It also welcomes the conduct of assessment missions to measure progress. Furthermore, the draft notes that sanctions committees would benefit from having access to updated information from the UN Register of Conventional Arms when making arms embargo exemption decisions. Additionally, the proposed text requests the Secretary-General to present in his next report on small arms a list of best practices and arrangements that could be used by UN-mandated operations or other entities in carrying out tasks related to the implementation and monitoring of arms embargoes or assistance to host states, sanctions committee and experts groups.

With regard to the role of subsidiary bodies, the draft encourages the 1267 Committee, the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, the Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate (CTED) to focus on and address the threats posed by access to small arms in accordance with their mandates. More generally, the draft encourages sanctions committees to engage in dialogue with member states on the implementation of arms embargoes, including by inviting them to meet with the Committee and holding open briefings. (It seems the initial draft also included a provision encouraging the Council’s Ad hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention in Africa to devote special attention to small arms threats and the Working group on Peacekeeping Operations to devote special attention to the role of UN peacekeeping in helping address such threats, but this was taken out at the request of some African Council members.)

The current text contains several new elements highlighting the impact of illicit small arms on women and children. Among other things, it encourages member states to strengthen the collection of data disaggregated by sex and age to better understand the impact of small arms on women and children. There is also a provision calling on member states, UN entities and other relevant organisations to take into consideration the specific impact of conflict and post-conflict situations on women to prevent the risk of women becoming active players in the illicit transfer of small arms.

With regard to reporting, the draft requests the Secretary-General to include in his reports and briefings to the Council on country-specific situations more comprehensive and detailed information and recommendations relating to the impact of small arms on the protection of civilians and to include a special section on small arms in his thematic reports on the protection of civilians. The text also requests the Secretary-General to include relevant information and recommendations on small arms in his annual reports as well as country-specific reports on children and armed conflict.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails

Subscribe to receive SCR publications