Photo: A UN peacekeeper with firearms collected from militias in Côte d'Ivoire. UN Photo/Ky Chung - Photo: 2017

UN Boosts Fight Against Small Arms, Light Weapons Trafficking

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) have agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) of far-reaching significance to formalize existing cooperation.

The importance of the MoU is underlined by the fact that terrorism, proliferation of weapons and materials of mass destruction, trafficking of small arms and explosives, and illicit diversion of dual use goods pose a serious threat not only to security and safety of people, but also to economic development, political stability and social cohesion of countries across the globe.

Customs Administrations play a critical role at the international border crossings in the whole-of-government efforts to mitigate these threats. Customs manages the cross-border flows of goods, people and means of transport to ensure they comply with law. They detect and prevent trafficking of dangerous, restricted and prohibited goods.

The MoU signed on January 3 by Kim Won-soo, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary-General of the World Customs Organization, is therefore purported to support efforts of States to implement commitments on cross-border arms regulation.

The particular focus of the MoU is on combating the trafficking of small arms and light weapons, an illicit trade that poses a grave threat to international peace and security and to the lives of millions, in addition to undermining the rule of law and impeding sustainable development.

According to UNODA, the international community has taken steps to address that danger by pursuing the formation of a multilateral framework of instruments to regulate the manufacturing, possession, transfer and tracing of small arms and light weapons.

Those measures include the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects, the Firearms Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Arms Trade Treaty.

In addition, the Security Council has addressed the illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons in both country-specific and thematic resolutions, further underscoring the urgent need to tackle the issue.

Bearing existing instruments in mind, UNODA and the World Customs Organization have agreed to work together in support of countries’ implementation of their international obligations relating to small arms and light weapons. “Both entities will also share expertise in the areas of building arms-management and ammunition-capacity, and coordinate joint training activities for customs officers on matters relating to non-proliferation and arms regulation,” UNODA stated.

They have also agreed to continue supporting relevant international initiatives aimed at preventing the illicit diversion and trafficking of small arms and light weapons, including through support for the World Customs Organization small arms and light weapons programme and promotion of international standards and good practices such as the International Small Arms Standards and the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines.

The dimension of the export of small arms and light weapons is explained by a recent UN-backed report. It pointed out that Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are the most transparent top and major small arms exporters.

The Small Arms Survey’s Trade Update: Transfers and Transparency, which was released on June 6, 2016 at UN Headquarters in New York, also found that Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the least transporting exporters.

On the launch of the survey, Olivier Marc Zehnder, Deputy Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN, highlighted that the “arms trade treaty and its reporting obligations play a crucial role in promoting responsible arms transfers,” and stressed that “universal ratification remains vital and reporting obligations must be fulfilled by State parties”, UN News reported.

Among the report’s main findings include that data reported to UN Comtrade – a repository of official trade statistics and relevant analytical tables – reveals international transfers of small arms by top and major actors worth an estimated $5.8 billion in 2013, a 17 per cent increase compared with 2012.

The report found that in 2013, the top exporters of small arms and light weapons – those with annual exports of at least $100 million – were, in descending order, the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria, South Korea, Turkey, the Russian Federation, the Czech Republic, Israel, Belgium, Croatia, China, Switzerland, Japan and Spain.

The survey’s analysis of trade data going back to 2001 reveals that 2013 witnessed the largest number of top exporters, with Croatia surpassing the $100 million mark for the first time.

In 2013, the eight top importers of small arms and light weapons – those with annual imports of at least $100 million – were, in descending order, the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Australia, France and Norway.

The United States imported more than $2.4 billion of small arms, maintaining its record high since 2001.

Also speaking at the report’s launch was Nicolas Florquin, the survey’s research coordinator, who indicated that the United States, Germany and Italy represent “almost 40 per cent of all recorded exports in 2013”. In addition, he noted that “imports by top importers increased markedly by 23 per cent between 2012 and 2013”.

Florquin also said that new top importers in 2013 include Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. “One of the key findings in the report is that trade with the Middle East increased markedly in 2013. Imports by major importers in the region nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013,” he said.

The average score in the 2016 Transparency Barometer, which scores key exporters from the most to the least transparent, was 11.16 out of 25 available points, representing less than 50 per cent of a perfect score.

The survey concluded that once again in 2016 barometer, information on export licences granted and refused remains especially scarce. Of the countries under review, about one half provided no information on approved licences, while almost two thirds did not report on the ones they denied.

More than one third of the countries under review improved their scores since the last edition of the barometer. Among these, South Africa experienced the largest increase (+7.75 points), followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had an increase of 4.25 points.

The report’s launch was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN, and took place during the Sixth Biennial Meeting of States to consider implementation of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 January 2017]

Photo: A UN peacekeeper with firearms collected from militias in Côte d’Ivoire. UN Photo/Ky Chung

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

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