An increased vigilance for the control of arms must study their transport and their final use

At the end of November 2007 MEPs have adopted with an overwhelming majority (588 votes for, 14 against and 11 abstentions) the revision of the Directive on firearms. The Commission and the Council strongly support this Directive which will come into force next January. The member states will have 2 years to enable them to integrate it in their national legislation. There will then be more harmonization in the national legislations of the member states.

The Directive updates and, to a certain extent, replaces the much weaker version of 1991.It tackles more the movement of firearms within theUnion than the export of arms. One needs to underline that the new Directive has rather progressive clauses and that could be useful in the pleas and the lobbying in other regional groups like that of the CEDEAO, of Latin America, once it is possible to say that the European Union itself has taken strict measures to reduce violence through arms within its own borders.


What are the clauses in this Directive that will have an important impact in the European legislation of the member states of the EU in the field of arms?

People who will acquire a weapon will have to have a license (a permit) and will also have to declare any newly acquired weapon. All countries should set up a computerized arms register and this for 2015. Anyone wanting to buy a firearm must provide a valid reason to justify such a purchase and the national authorities must decide that the buyer represents no threat, either to himself or to public safety. The “replica guns” and the compressed-air guns that can be transformed into firearms are now also included in the law, which tightens the loophole that criminals exploited in the past. The minimum age for the possession of a firearm is now set at 18 in all member states.


The European Union, in its Directive, centers more on the movement, acquisition and registration of weapons within theUnion. Certain member states already have a legislation that attempts to hinder the much too easy circulation of weapons and their acquisition without the slightest control. But the problem of the circulation of arms within theUnion, from or to bordering countries and of course to countries of other continents, remains.


We can rejoice at such a Directive but we should not forget the other major elements that are part of a more efficient control of light and small-caliber arms (LSCA). We should for example think of the problem of the transport of arms; how can we establish a strict regulation of all types arms transport? We should be able to take the least possible risks to ensure that arms reach their destination via the previously planned routes. This could help reduce the number of diverted arms before they reach their officially recognized destination. What is more, as many areas of conflict (for instance in many sub-SaharanAfrican regions) are not accessible by land or by sea; air transport is largely used and is often illegal for the transport of arms and ammunition to danger zones. Even if, at the start, the transport is legal, the situation often changes under way; the use of differences in the national systems for the control for example, the multiple landings for the fuel supply, even the unloading of goods from the first plane to a second aircraft, the use of forged documents, all this helps the corrupt heads of transport to benefit from the complicity of certain state agents lured by dishonest gains, even as far as the certificates of the end user are concerned. In many countries where there are conflicts, the technological equipment, the training and the resources of national agents concerning the regulation of private air transport are insufficient and create a void exploited by those who reap the fraudulent benefits of the illegal transport of arms and ammunition.


The importance of the reinforcement of controls of the end user should also be underlined. The member states of the EU have recently shared their interest in an exchange of information for the progressive elaboration of a common understanding of national practices about the inspection of supply and of other controls of the end user in the field of technology and of the military equipment exported from the member states. It would almost be more important to control the “after supply” to reinforce the control of arms exports. It is of vital importance to know the country of end destination, the type, the quantity and the value of the exported equipment. What is also essential is the signature, the name, the position of the end user, the date of the v-certificate and any indication as to the end use of those goods. One must also make sure that the goods will not be re-exported and that the “exported goods will not be used for any other end than the one declared”.


The exporting authorities should be vigilant when granting the license and, when it turns out to be necessary, when checking who the end user is. This would avoid many diverted or forged use of exports. If diverted or forged uses are recognized, the information should be exchanged between the member states of the EU and the application of sanctions envisaged in such cases should be implemented by each State. The collaboration between States has started, we should encourage and amplify it for it would mean that the EU could contribute more widely and more efficiently in preventing the export of arms and ammunition that could be diverted or used in an illegal way.

Agnès Charles(translated by Yves Devolder)

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