1311 UN Security Council gives a push to the Arms Trade Treaty

Photo: AP/Mary Altaffer

Small arms and light weapons cause significant suffering and loss of lives around the world and their existence remains a great concern for all those interested in peace and troubled by the enormous suffering caused by these weapons. There are an estimated 875 million small arms and light weapons in circulation worldwide, produced by more than 1,000 companies in nearly 100 countries. Among the top exporters of small arms are the US, Italy, Brazil, China, Germany and Russia. The estimated annual value of the authorised market exceeds $8.5 billion, though due to the secrecy of this market it is difficult to know the real amount. Knowing the statistics for illegal small arms transfers is even more difficult. The illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons and their accumulation and misuse fuel armed conflicts and impacts negatively on human rights, development and socio-economic issues. Small arms create insecurity for civilians and have a dreadful impact on the ordinary life of women and children, increasing, as they do, the cases of violence perpetrated against them, as in the East of the D.R. Congo. They also favour the recruitment and use of children by different armed groups.


Small arms are the African ‘arms of mass destruction’. They are cheap and easy to manage, to access and to take away. Their massive presence prolongs conflicts and the suffering of the population. Small arms have brought instability to the Sahel region, fuelled lawlessness in Guinea-Bissau, Somalia and the Central African Republic and perpetuate instability and conflicts in Mali and Ivory Coast and even offshore in the Indian Ocean where piracy is prevalent. Small arms are also used by armed groups and terrorists like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, Boko-Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Everywhere, small arms inflict chaos and destruction on lives and nations and undermine development efforts.


In the history of the UN-Security Council there are few documents on the impact of small arms on conflicts. In 1999 the Council placed small arms in its agenda. In March 2003 the Council voted Resolution 1467 (2003) on the proliferation of small arms and mercenary activities. Between 1999 and 2006 the Council held nine debates on the issue. In 2006 an Argentinean initiative for a Council resolution on small arms was blocked by the US. On June 2007 the Council requested the Secretary-General to produce biennial reports on small arms. On March 2010, under Gabon’s presidency, the Council held a debate entitled “Central African region: impact of illicit arms trafficking”. In June 2011 Gabon attempted to initiate a debate on ‘drug trafficking and small arms as threats to international peace and security’ but the debate focussed only on drug trafficking. As the Council had not discussed small arms formally since 2008, in April 2012 the debate on small arms was deleted from the list of agenda items. In September 2013 Australia, building on the momentum of the adoption of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), brought the issue of small arms to the Council. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, presented the draft-Resolution and defended it with enthusiasm.


By adopting this Resolution 2117 (2013) the United Nations Security Council expressed its concern at the illicit transfer, the accumulation and the misuse of small arms and light weapons, which perpetuate conflict, instability and crime worldwide. 14 out of 15 members voted in favour of the resolution and only Russia abstained on the grounds that the resolution should have contained provisions against illegal supplies of arms to non-state groups. Ministers present thanked Julie Bishop for choosing the issue of small arms for the month of the Australia presidency.


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the Council for the decision and said: “Small arms are a source of crises, conflict and criminality... The uncontrolled availability of guns and bullets threatens peace processes and fragile reconciliation efforts… It leads to a vast range of human rights violations, including killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture and forced recruitment of children by armed groups… It exacerbates inter-community violence and organized crime and it undermines our work for social justice, the rule of law and the Millennium Development Goals.” He added “The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded.”


Among the recommendations of the Resolution 2117 (2013) are: the good management of the stockpiles of small arms and its munitions; the need for governments to fully implement UN arms embargoes and sharing information on issues related to breaking the embargo; the need to regulate brokering for small arms and to cooperate with UN institutions to prevent end-user deviation of small arms. However the most significant is the encouragement to governments to sign and ratify promptly the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).


In line with UNSCR[1] 1325 the present resolution calls states to include the full, effective and meaningful participation of women and women’s organizations in policy making, planning and implementation processes to combat and eradicate the illicit transfer of small arms, as well as in the planning and implementation of the programs of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, as well as in the justice and security sector reform efforts. It invites statesand regional organizations to address the particular needs of women and children associated with armed forces and armed groups.


The resolution invites member states to sign and ratify the UN- Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) adopted in April 2014. The ATT has been signed by 110 member states and ratified by 7 countries; fifty ratifications are needed for it to come into force.


As the ATT includes small arms and light weapons, including firearms owned by citizens for personal use, the strong US arms lobby NRA[2] will try to persuade the government not to ratify the treaty that it has already signed. The European Union member states need the green light of the European Parliament to start national proceedings towards ratification. Yet because of a conflict between parliamentarian committees the European Parliament has not approved it. This could delay the ratification of the 28 member states and set back the coming into force of the ATT.


The Resolution is a historic step towards ensuring more attention at all levels is given to the importance of strong international monitoring and to action to reduce the threats that illicit trafficking, proliferation and misuse of small arms pose to the maintenance of international peace, human rights, international humanitarian law and human security.


Begoña Iñarra

AEFJN Executive Secretary

[1] United Nations Security Council Regulation

[2] National Rifle Association

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