What's In Blue

Posted Thu 14 Dec 2023

Small Arms and Light Weapons: Open Debate

Tomorrow morning (15 December), the Security Council will hold an open debate on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), which will focus on the theme: “Addressing the threat posed by diversion, illicit trafficking and misuse of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition to peace and security”. Ecuador, December’s Security Council President, is convening tomorrow’s meeting to facilitate a discussion on the Secretary-General’s most recent biennial report on SALW submitted pursuant to resolution 2220 of 22 May 2015, which was published on 1 November. Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Maria Gabriela Sommerfeld, will chair the meeting. The expected briefers are High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu; Deputy Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Cécile Aptel; and Folade Mutota, Executive Director of the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD)—a women’s organisation seeking to strengthen the capacity and social consciousness of women and girls to lead social transformation in Trinidad and Tobago.

Council members that have signed on to the Shared Commitments on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS)—Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US—are expected to deliver a joint statement at a press stakeout ahead of the meeting. Sommerfeld is expected to read the statement.

Ecuador has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s open debate, which says that the diversion, illicit trafficking, and misuse of SALW continue to undermine peace and security and derail countries from their sustainable development path. It notes that the Secretary-General’s policy brief A New Agenda for Peace, which identifies SALW as “the leading cause of violent deaths globally, in conflict and non-conflict settings alike”, provides an opportunity for renewed action to address their diversion, illicit trafficking, and misuse.

The policy brief recommends developing and implementing regional, subregional, and national instruments on SALW as well as pursuing whole-of-government approaches that integrate arms control into development, prevention, and violence reduction initiatives at the national and local levels.

The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s meeting, including:

  • How can the Security Council respond to the current trends and implications of diversion, illicit trafficking, and misuse of SALW and ammunition in a comprehensive and integrated manner?
  • What action can be undertaken by the Security Council to promote national and regional implementation and enforcement of arms embargoes?
  • How can the Security Council further address the nexus between SALW, organised crime, and armed violence?
  • What role do SALW control efforts play in advancing the WPS agenda and how can the linkages between WPS and arms control and disarmament be further strengthened?
  • How can the Security Council promote the implementation of legally binding instruments to address challenges related to the diversion, proliferation, and misuse of SALW and ammunition, including in the context of peace operations and the implementation and enforcement of arms embargoes?

Tomorrow’s meeting takes place at a time when preparations are underway for the fourth UN Conference to review progress in the implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA) and its International Tracing Instrument (ITI), which is scheduled to be held in New York between 17 and 28 June 2024. The PoA is a global framework for countering the illicit flow of SALW which was agreed by all participants at the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects held in 2001. The review conference, which will be preceded by a preparatory committee meeting in early 2024, is expected to “take up a range of issues on the key challenges and opportunities relating to the implementation of the PoA and ITI at the global, regional and national levels”, according to the UN. Regional preparatory meetings are expected to take place in Asia between 23 and 25 January 2024 in Kathmandu, Nepal; in Africa from late February to early March 2024; and in Latin America and the Caribbean from mid to late March 2024 (for the latter two meetings, the dates and location are yet to be confirmed). Experts of AU member states reportedly met between 28 and 30 November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to articulate a common African position in preparation for the fourth review conference.

The Secretary-General’s 1 November report describes the latest trends and developments regarding SALW and the integration of the issue in the Security Council’s country-specific and thematic deliberations and decisions. Former Council members Kenya and Mexico, which served in 2021-2022, facilitated various discussions on SALW and advocated the integration of SALW-related matters into the Council’s country-specific and thematic work. Resolution 2616 of 22 December 2021, which was spearheaded by Mexico, addressed the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation, and diversion of arms and related materials in violation of Council-mandated arms embargoes. The resolution expressed the Council’s intention to consider, during the renewal of UN peace operations mandates and on a case-by-case basis, whether and how peace operations “could support relevant national authorities in combating the illicit transfer and diversion of arms in violation of the arms embargoes in their respective areas of operation”. It also emphasised that when the Council evaluates the possible lifting of an arms embargo, it will consider the capacity of states under the arms embargo to prevent their existing arms and ammunition stockpiles from being diverted to the illicit market. In establishing the Haiti sanctions regime through resolution 2653 of 21 October 2022, the Council sought, among other things, to respond to concerns over the negative effects of illicit trafficking and diversion of arms in that country by establishing a targeted arms embargo. The scope of the embargo was expanded through the adoption of resolution 2700 of 19 October, which included new language on the issue of arms diversion, deciding that countries “shall take appropriate steps to prevent the illicit trafficking and diversion of small arms, light weapons, and ammunition in Haiti”.

Council dynamics on SALW tend to be complicated. Preventing the illicit flow of SALW is a foreign policy priority for some Council members. These members believe that the illicit flow of SALW is a potential conflict driver that should be addressed by the Council. They also advocate for the integration of SALW issues into the Council’s consideration of country-specific situations and other thematic issues, including children and armed conflict, WPS, climate change, and sustainable development. At tomorrow’s meeting, these members are likely to focus on how to control the illicit trade, trafficking, and diversion of SALW and their role in fuelling and sustaining conflicts.

Other members tend to underscore the primary role and responsibility of national governments in handling the issue. Russia maintains that the General Assembly is the most appropriate forum for discussing SALW issues and opposes attempts to link them to other thematic issues. However, Moscow is apparently amenable to the Council discussing SALW in the context of peacekeeping, arms embargoes, Security Sector Reform (SSR), and Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (DDR).

Some Council members are preoccupied by the particular challenges that the illicit flow of SALW poses to their region. Ecuador may link the diversion, illicit trafficking, and misuse of SALW with transnational organised crime, the topic of the signature event that it convened on 7 December. (For more information, see our 6 December What’s In Blue story.) Ecuador facilitated the adoption of a presidential statement (S/PRST/2023/6) at the meeting, which addresses SALW and its links with transnational organised crime. At tomorrow’s meeting, Ecuador is likely to focus on implementation, technologies, and the impact of SALW on women and girls.

Some Council members tend to support regional efforts to stem the flow of SALW. They refer in particular to the AU initiative on Silencing the Guns in Africa, which has among its aims to fight the illicit flow of SALW in the continent. In February 2019, the Security Council adopted resolution 2457 which welcomed the AU’s efforts in this regard. In recent years, however, the position advanced by the Council’s three African members (known as the A3)—mostly based on the decisions of the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC)—regarding the lifting of arms embargoes imposed on some African countries such as the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan appears to contradict this initiative. Even with the arms embargoes in place, reports of panels of experts assisting several sanctions committees indicate that weapons have continued to proliferate at an alarming rate in these countries and that the lifting of these sanctions measures is likely to exacerbate the situation.

Some Council members advance the objective of universalizing the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)—an instrument that regulates the international trade in conventional arms and strives to prevent and eradicate their illegal trade and diversion—but the repeated calls for states to ratify and accede to the treaty is another divisive issue in the Council. Among Council members, Ecuador, Russia, the UAE, and the US are not parties to the treaty, and some of these members tend to oppose references to the ATT in Council products. 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. Three Council members (China, former member India, and Russia) also abstained on the adoption of resolution 2616.

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