What's In Blue

Posted Thu 21 May 2015

Small Arms: Vote on Resolution

Tomorrow morning (22 May), the Council is expected to vote on the draft resolution on small arms that Lithuania had initially planned to present to the Council for action at the 13 May open debate (S/PV.7442). The draft was put in blue on 12 May (S/2015/333), but Lithuania decided to delay the vote when it became clear that several Council members were not prepared to support it. Negotiations have continued over the past week, but several abstentions are still expected. If adopted, this will 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.

As noted in our 12 May story on the open debate and as evidenced by Council members’ statements at the debate, the main sticking point in the negotiations has been the issue of transfer of small weapons to non-state actors, which has traditionally been contentious in General Assembly-led negotiations on small arms and was also a problem in the negotiations on resolution 2117. (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.) While non-state actors were not referred to in the initial draft presented by Lithuania, during the negotiations Angola and Chad proposed the addition of language on the need to prevent illicit transfers of weapons and ammunition, including small arms, to non-state armed groups in armed conflict situations. This was supported by China, Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela, but opposed by the P3 because of the reference to non-state groups.

In an attempt to bridge these differences, Lithuania proposed compromise language that it hoped would be acceptable at least to the African members of the Council, which initially were seen as strong backers of the resolution because of the role played by small arms in fuelling conflicts in Africa. This compromise, which is incorporated in the draft in blue, includes a preambular paragraph “emphasizing that the illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons can aid terrorism and illegal armed groups and facilitate increasing levels of transnational organized crime and underscoring that such illicit trafficking could harm civilians, including women and children, create instability and long-term governance challenges and complicate conflict resolution”. There is also an operative paragraph stating that the Council “recognizes the importance of preventing the illicit transfers and sales of weapons and ammunition, including small arms and light weapons, to armed groups and criminal networks that target civilians and civilian objects and underlines that such transfers could exacerbate conflict or facilitate the commitment of serious violations of international humanitarian law and serious violations and abuses of human rights”.

It appears that this language is still unacceptable to several members of the Council. Efforts over the past week have focused on finding compromise language that would be acceptable to the African Council members, but it seems that these members have been insisting that the term “non-state”, which is unacceptable to other Council members, must be included. The strong African position on this issue appears to be a way for them to signal that the major weapons exporters must be held more accountable. At press time, Angola, Chad and Nigeria had apparently indicated that they would abstain on the current draft, with China, Russia and Venezuela expected to join them. Russia has reservations about several other paragraphs in the draft, including those referring to the Arms Trade Treaty, and was never expected to vote in favour of the resolution. China from the outset was seen as likely to support the position of African members.

While a split Council vote is therefore expected, it seems Lithuania is hoping for a high number of co-sponsors from outside the Council. More than 50 member states participated in the 13 May open debate in addition to Council members, many of them expressing support for further Council action. Yesterday Lithuania invited all member states to co-sponsor the resolution in a letter highlighting what it considers as the main achievements of the draft resolution. In addition to the compromise language on the transfer of small arms to terrorists and armed groups and strong language on the Arms Trade Treaty referred to above, the new elements highlighted by Lithuania focus on the human cost of illicit small arms and the need to comply with international humanitarian law and human rights and ensure accountability; the need for the UN to work as one to tackle small arms issues; enhancing capacity-building and assistance to counter small arms threats; greater involvement of the Council’s counter-terrorism bodies; and more transparency in the work of the sanctions committees dealing with arms embargoes.

Postscript (23 May 2015): The Council adopted resolution 2220 by a vote of 9 in favour, none against and the abstentions of Angola, Chad, China, Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela.

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