Weapons neutralized in Colombia as part of peace agreement, Bogotá
Photo credit: UN Photo/Renata Ruiz
The destabilizing accumulation, proliferation, illicit transfer and misuse of small arms and light weapons continue to initiate, sustain and exacerbate armed conflict and pervasive crime globally.
Treaties and Instruments
In 2001, countries adopted the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA). In the instrument, governments agreed to improve national small arms regulations, to strengthen stockpile management, to ensure that weapons are properly and reliably marked, to improve cooperation in weapons tracing, and to engage in regional and international cooperation and assistance. Within the PoA framework, the General Assembly adopted the International Tracing Instrument (ITI) in 2005, a global instrument for cooperation in weapons tracing. Improving weapons tracing is now part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Together, both instruments constitute the normative framework on small arms and light weapons, which all UN Member States have agreed upon.
States periodically report on the implementation of the PoA and ITI and review implementation efforts at Biennial Meetings of States and Review Conferences. Additionally, countries have held Meetings of Governmental Experts (MGE) to benefit from the knowledge of technical specialists on matters pertaining to small arms control.
The global framework of treaties and instruments also includes the Firearms Protocol and the Arms Trade Treaty. In addition, there are regional instruments and regional roadmaps to control and regulate small arms and light weapons.
Visit UNODA Meetings Place for information on PoA related and other disarmament meetings and events.
Also visit PoA/ITI Reporting Database to view national reports submitted by states on their implementation of the PoA and its ITI.
Between 2022 and 2025, UNODA will implement a global project supporting the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects with funding from the European Union.
The UN process related to small arms and light weapons
The General Assembly, comprised of all 193 UN Member States, adopts annually the omnibus resolution on “The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects” as well as the resolution on “Assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons and collecting them”. Both resolutions mandate the UN’s small arms process and are informed by the annual report of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly.
The Security Council —the primary organ of the United Nations responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security—remains actively seized of the small arms and light weapons challenges. It has addressed small arms and light weapons-related issues across its agenda, from Security Sector Reform to arms embargoes to counter-terrorism and sustaining peace, while also treating these matters in country-specific and regionally-focused contexts.
In 1999, the Security Council first addressed the issue of small arms as a standalone agenda item. In 2013, the Council adopted resolution 2117 (2013) on small arms, which focused on the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. Resolution 2220 (2015) contained further provisions aimed at bolstering international cooperation, effective implementation of UN arms embargoes and support to the Arms Trade Treaty. The Council issued Presidential statements on small arms in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007.
Beginning in 2008, the Secretary-General has reported regularly to the Security Council on this issue in the form of a substantive report, traditionally on a biennial basis.
In 2019, a resolution dedicated to the African Union’s flagship initiative “Silencing the Guns in Africa” was adopted. The effective implementation of relevant arms control instruments and regimes, in particular those related to small arms and light weapons, are referenced in several parts of the resolution, thus illustrating the criticality of tackling illicit arms to achieving a conflict-free Africa.
In 2021, Security Council adopted resolution 2616, focusing on the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and diversion of arms and related materials in violation of Council-mandated arms embargoes.
The use of arms- and ammunition-related language, principally related to small arms and light weapons, in UN Security Council resolutions has evolved significantly over the last three decades. This evolution reflects the increasing variety of United Nations operations, weapons and ammunition management-related challenges and programmatic responses, as well as the emergence of new multilateral conventional arms control frameworks and practices.
The Human Rights Council regularly addresses the impact of arms transfers and civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms on human rights. It thereby focuses on the impact of arms on the enjoyment of human rights and promotes efforts to protect those rights more effectively.
The United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) is the UN system-wide internal-agency coordination mechanism on small arms, the arms trade, ammunition and armed violence issues. Since its inception in 1998, the CASA has been taking stock of diverse and specialized expertise of 24 UN partners from a wide variety of perspectives, including economic and social development, human rights, disarmament, organized crime, terrorism, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, public health, environment, gender and children. CASA aims to innovate itself as the main platform for coordinating holistic UN action to assisting States regarding the aforementioned issues, as a key component of the Secretary-General’s prevention agenda. Most recently, CASA focuses on supporting country-level programming by leveraging closer cooperation within the UN and with regional actors and civil society.
UNODA also actively supports the comprehensive mainstreaming of gender perspectives in all dimensions of small arms and light weapons control.
Secretary-General’s reports and related resolutions on the issue of small arms and light weapons
2023 | S/2023/823
2021 | S/2021/839
2019 | S/2019/1011
2017 | S/2017/1025
2015 | S/2015/289
2013 | S/2013/503
2011 | S/2011/255
Destruction of over 225 000 seized and obsolete weapons, ammunition and explosives, EBK Military Barracks, Margibi Counto, Liberia (27 October 2022).
Photo credit: UNODA
Africa Amnesty Month: Working with the African Union to reduce illegal gun ownership and illicit arms flows
In the framework of the African Union’s Silencing the Guns flagship initiative, African countries have committed to declare the month of September – until 2030 – the Africa Amnesty Month for the surrender and collection of illegally owned weapons, which the United Nations fully supports through UN Security Council resolution 2457 (S/RES/2457).
In 2020, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the African Union Commission (AUC) initiated a joint project to support the implementation of the Africa Amnesty Month in interested African States. Funded by the Governments of Japan and Germany, the project supported a total of 13 States: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Kenya in 2020; Madagascar, Niger and Uganda in 2021 and Liberia, Tanzania and Togo in 2022. The Regional Centre on Small Arms (RECSA) serves as an implementing partner to foster regional and national ownership. As such, National Focal Points and National Commissions on small arms control have led the project at the country level. In addition to States’ commitment to ending unlawful gun ownership, the Africa Amnesty Month also created a key opportunity for civilians to contribute directly and practically to “Silencing the Guns” while coming forward and surrendering to their national authorities the firearms illegally in their possession.
Under the joint UN-AU project, beneficiary States organized broad sensitization campaigns to raise awareness on the dangers and risks of illegal gun ownership and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons; enhanced their capacities in stockpile management and community-based policing and collected and publicly destroyed the weapons voluntarily surrendered by civilians. While the project’s core activities were similar across the countries, each beneficiary State developed and implemented activities that were specifically designed to address national and regional contexts.
As a result, more than 22,000 weapons have been collected and destroyed across the 13 countries. The joint United Nations-African Union project is expected to be continued over the upcoming years.
Guidance and Assistance
The United Nations makes available the Modular Small-arms-control Implementation Compendium (MOSAIC), which provides practical, authoritative guidance to practitioners and policymakers on a broad range of small arms control issues. The upgraded version of the MOSAIC assessment tool, based on the MOSAIC modules, is currently being developed. The tool will enable States to carry out self-assessments on the implementation of the UN PoA/ITI.
UNODA has developed guidelines on how to establish and maintain gun-free zones to provide clear and comprehensive guidance to assist national governments, local authorities, and international development and peacebuilding organizations in their efforts to prevent and reduce armed violence anywhere in the world.
The Saving Lives Entity (SALIENT) is a global United Nations funding facility, financially located within the Peacebuilding Fund, which is dedicated to supporting Member States tackle armed violence and illicit small arms and light weapons as part of a comprehensive approach to sustainable security and development. Informed by more than twenty years of experience on small arms control and armed violence prevention by UNODA and UNDP, SALIENT offers the international community a new vehicle for sustained financing of small arms control measures in settings that have been most affected.
By supporting catalytic activities to mainstream small arms control in both development and security efforts, SALIENT responds to the multi-faceted nature of the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons and addresses root causes of armed violence. SALIENT started in December 2020 and three pilot countries were selected to kick-off the implementation: Cameroon, Jamaica and South Sudan. The project is now continuing its implementation in priority countries in several regions of the world.
SALIENT is made possible with contributions from the governments of Finland, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland.
The United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) functions as a sustainable funding mechanism for conventional arms control, including small arms and light weapons, ammunition, arms trade and transparency in armaments. UNSCAR provides funds for focused, quick-impact, short-term activities implemented by civil society organizations, regional organizations and UN partners.
UNODA publishes biannually the «SAVING LIVES» Information Bulletin for national officials and experts interested working on small arms and light weapons control.