What's In Blue

Posted Tue 5 Oct 2021

Briefing on Small Arms and Light Weapons

Tomorrow (6 October), the Security Council will hold a briefing to consider the Secretary-General’s seventh biennial report on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), which was submitted pursuant to resolution 2220 of 22 May 2015. The expected briefers are UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, Executive Secretary of the Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States (RECSA) Lieutenant General Badreldin Elamin Abdelgadir, and Senior Researcher at Small Arms Survey David Lochhead.

Kenya considers tomorrow’s meeting as one of its presidency’s signature events, and has chosen to focus the discussion on the theme “Addressing the threat posed by illicit flows of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in peace operations”. The Secretary-General’s seventh biennial report on SALW, which was issued on 30 September, says that UN peace operations continue to face various threats and risks in relation to the “illicit proliferation, circulation and misuse of arms, and associated ammunition, by non-state armed groups, criminals, terrorists and other perpetrators”. It notes that weapons and ammunition management forms part of the mandates of several UN peace operations, including the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

In her briefing at tomorrow’s meeting, Nakamitsu may reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for “fully integrating considerations of weapons and ammunition into the work of the Security Council, including its country-specific and thematic discussions”. She may also highlight relevant recommendations to the Council from the Secretary-General’s report, such as:

  • to promote the sustained and systematic integration of weapons and ammunition management into the UN’s work on peace and security, including when mandating peace operations;
  • when a UN peace operation is mandated to assist a host state in the processing of recovered weapons and the treatment of ammunition recovered from the illicit sphere, to consider the establishment or designation of a dedicated component, unit or cell within mission to that end;
  • to mandate UN peace operations to trace seized, found and surrendered SALWs, including their ammunition; and
  • continue to seek reports from member states about steps they have taken to implement relevant measures to combat the illicit spread of SALW, including arms embargoes.

Abdelgadir may describe the work of RECSA— 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— and speak about the threats posed by the proliferation of illicit SALW in the region. Lochhead of Small Arms Survey—an independent project which researches global trends on small arms and armed violence to inform international and national decision-makers— may share the conclusions of its October 2017 report on the loss of arms and ammunition in peace operations. The report estimates that UN and regionally-led peace operations lose thousands of weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition each year. Small Arms Survey argues that this issue undermines peacekeepers’ ability to implement their mandates and adversely affects their safety and security. The report contains several recommendations, including on the need to strengthen oversight and develop mechanisms to improve stockpile security.

Kenya circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, which proposes several questions to help guide the discussion:

  • What are the trends in the illicit circulation, proliferation and misuse of SALW in peace operation contexts and what is the impact of these trends in shaping mandates of the Security Council?
  • What measures can the Security Council take to prevent weapons in possession of peacekeepers from getting into the hands of illicit armed groups, including in relation to its work on arms embargoes; Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR); Security Sector Reform (SSR) and countering terrorism?
  • How can UN peace operations support enhanced weapons and ammunition management? What existing tools and mechanisms are available to this end? Are there gaps that need to be addressed?
  • What regional or global mechanisms can be developed and/or strengthened to reinforce the control of SALW in conflict-affected situations, including through the implementation of applicable arms embargoes?

Council dynamics in relation to SALW tend to be complicated. Russia is of the view that the General Assembly is the most appropriate forum to discuss SALW-related issues, except for arms embargoes imposed by the Council. Past negotiations on Council products on SALW were contentious. For instance, six council members, including China and Russia, abstained on resolution 2220, apparently because the text did not include language on the transfer of SALW to non-state actors. It seems that in 2020, several Council members— including former Council members Germany and the Dominican Republic and current Council member Niger—initiated a draft resolution on SALW. That draft resolution apparently built on resolution 2220 and sought to address relevant updates, including on issues such as women, peace and security. However, it seems that negotiations were difficult, as some Council members continued expressing the position that SALW-related issues are better addressed by other UN bodies, and the draft was not tabled for a vote.

Combatting the illicit spread of SALW remains a priority for several other Council members. Kenya hosts the RECSA, and Ambassador Martin Kimani (Kenya) chaired the seventh Biennial Meeting of States (BMS7) on the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects, which took place between 26 and 30 July. In September, Mexico convened a virtual Arria-formula meeting on “The threat to international peace and security posed by the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons”. It appears that Mexico wishes to build momentum on this issue over the coming months and may highlight SALW-related matters during its Council Presidency in November.