High-level event marks 20 years of action to combat illicit trade in small arms and light weapons

July 30th, 2021

On 26 July 2021, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), held a live webinar entitled “A double-anniversary: The Firearms Protocol and the Programme of Action on small arms turn 20.”

In 2001, governments agreed to the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA), committing themselves to improve national small arms laws, import/export controls, and stockpile management – and to engage in cooperation and assistance.

They also adopted the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition (or: Firearms Protocol), which is the only legally binding instrument to counter the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition at the global level.

The event focused on the continued importance of the two instruments, in the year that marks twenty years after their adoption.

Daniel de Torres, Director of the Small Arms Survey and Christelle Barakat, one of the ten UN Youth Champions for Disarmament moderated the interactive webinar, which drew 120 participants from around the world.

In three rounds of thematic discussions, a diverse panel of experts reflected on past achievements and challenges in the area of small arms control and exchanged ideas about the way forward in the framework of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, delivered opening remarks.

In pre-recorded opening remarks, Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, introduced UNODC’s Global Firearms Programme, which provides States with assistance on legislation, criminal justice responses, and monitoring related to trafficking in firearms its parts and components. In the past 10 years, the programme has trained “over 2,700 criminal justice practitioners from Africa and the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” she noted.

Mr. Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Thomas Markram, ODA Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, spoke about the significant progress that States have  made to curb the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in the past two decades, also noting the vital contributions to this common goal by global, regional and sub-regional actors, including civil society organisations, youth activists, academia, experts, parliamentarians, UN entities, and other international organizations. While much progress has been made, he stressed, it is crucial that States and other stakeholders continue their efforts to implement small arms control actions.

The high-level event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Firearms Protocol and Programme of Action (PoA) on small arms and light weapons featured thematic discussions and dynamic video contributions from experts and practitioners in small arms control across the world.

In an ensuing panel discussion, expert speakers focused on three key topics, which were introduced with a dynamic “voices from the ground” video featuring experts and practitioners from across the globe who shared their experiences with small arms control. The topics were:

(1) key achievements over the past 20 years in the fight against illicit small arms trafficking;

(2) key remaining challenges in countering the illicit trafficking of small arms;

(3) linkages with  the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the important role of women, youth, and civil society.

The first segment of the panel discussion was moderated by Daniel de Torres, Director of Small Arms Survey

One of the key achievements in the past twenty years, said panelist Mr. John Brandolino, Director of the UNODC Division for Treaty Affairs, is the way in which the PoA and the Firearms Protocol have been able to enhance legal frameworks to deal with diversion of arms and ammunitions. Mr. Thomas Markram added that the establishment of the Modular Small-arms-control Implementation Compendium (MOSAIC) and two UN funding mechanisms, namely the United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) and the Saving Lives Entity (SALIENT), are other notable accomplishments that assist authorities around the world to improve their small arms control measures.

Small arms control experts and practitioners around the world shared their thoughts and experiences in three “voices on the ground” videos which were displayed at the event.

Addressing what key challenges remain in countering the illicit trafficking of small arms, H.E. Mr. Luis Javier Campuzano Piña, Chair of the eighth meeting of the Working Group on Firearms, suggested there is a need for increasing international cooperation; tackling the issue of 3D printing; and ensuring gender mainstreaming for all policies and actions. H.E. Mr. Jean-Claude Brunet, Ambassador-at-large on transnational criminal threats and the fight against the illicit trafficking of SALW and President of the Third Review Conference of the PoA, underlined that, in the fight against diversion, the marking, tracking and record-keeping of SALW require a more holistic approach.

The third segment of the panel discussion was moderated by Christelle Barakat, one of the ten UN Youth Champions for Disarmament. On the left, a screenshot of one of the testimonials from the “voices on the ground” video on the linkages between small arms control and the SDGs.

In closing, Ms. Karin Olofsson, Secretary General of the Parliamentary Forum SALW (PFSALW), emphasized that smalls arms control is key to achieving SDG target 16.4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, stressing the contributions by women, youth, and civil society in this regard. Meaningful participation and increased representation of both youth and women in relevant processes, she stated, will ensure more inclusive and efficient decision-making. On behalf of PFSALW, she invited participants to sign an online petition on the importance of strengthening parliamentary action to prevent and reduce armed violence.

UNODA and UNODC’s High-level event took place in the margins of the Seventh Biennial Meeting of States on the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms (BMS7), which is taking place from 26 – 31 July 2021.

Full video recording of the anniversary event is available here.