Identifying New Approaches to Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons in Preparation for Upcoming Review Conference on Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons

February 15th, 2024

On 15 February, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) co-organized an event to discuss new options in the control of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW), including the findings of UNIDIR’s new report, Next Steps in SALW ControL: Conclusions from the UNODA-UNIDIR Expert Seminar Series. This report summarized the discussions and key recommendations from a series of expert roundtable discussions that UNODA and UNIDIR held from May-September 2023, with the support of the European Union.

Ambassador Maritza Chan of Costa Rica, the President-Designate of the fourth review conference on the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (UN PoA), and Steen Hansen, Minister Counsellor at the European Union Mission to the United Nations provided opening remarks. The event featured Paul Holtom, Head of Conventional Arms and Ammunition Branch of UNIDIR as well as Elli Kytomaki, Programme Officer, from the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). With the participation of Member State representatives, UN entities and experts and civil society, the discussion raised awareness of key challenges facing the implementation of the UN Programme of Action and proposed ways in which the upcoming review conference could tackle them in an effective manner.

During their opening remarks, both the Ambassador Chan and Mr. Hansen noted the challenges facing the PoA. Ambassador Chan noted the importance, in particular, of national ownership to the effective implementation of State commitments under this global framework as well as the role that regional processes can play. Ambassador Chan also stressed the need to keep the human cost of illicit SALW center in our collective efforts. Mr. Hansen noted the benefit of bringing diverse group of experts together to identify steps forward that can help address issues such as those posed by new technologies. He also raised the need to promote the exchange of information between States on identified diversion to interrupt arms trafficking channels as well as address illicit SALW in conflict-affected areas including through capacity-building of national authorities.

Mr. Paul Holtom focused his presentation on five key messages coming from the recent report: 1) strengthening national ownership; 2) facilitating international cooperation and assistance; 3) integration SALW control into development processes; 4) ensuring inclusive approaches and 5) managing new technologies. In each of these areas, he outlined the challenges States and civil society face as well as recommendations for overcoming these issues, and in some cases, suggestions for how opportunities can be better seized. For instance, in addressing recent developments in SALW manufacturing, technology and design, Mr. Holtom noted the need for multistakeholder dialogue, as well as training for frontline officers and updating regulations. Though new manufacturing developments such as polymer, modular and 3D printing challenge existing regulation and tracing techniques, new technologies are available to enhance State’s capacity to detect illicit SALW.

Ms. Kytomaki of IANSA started by stressing the need to ensure that voices of affected communities are included, as civil society can play a critical role in supporting States to effectively implement the PoA. For instance, IANSA members raise awareness of government and other stakeholders of illicit SALW issues; foster and sustain political will to strengthen effective SALW control; and provide data to inform baseline assessments and national action plans. Further, civil society can work in the field to provide practical assistance and push for changes in political and diplomatic landscapes by holding national dialogues. Ms. Kytomaki also noted the progress made so far in gender mainstreaming SALW control, which is a goal of IANSA. However, Ms. Kytomaki also noted that civil society are facing a range of hurdles to their effective inclusion at national, regional and global levels and called on States and the UN to do more to support them. Looking forward, she noted IANSA’s work in advocacy campaigns, capacity building of its network, and a focus on youth mainstreaming to leading up to the fourth review conference and beyond.

Following the presentations, discussion among participants underscored many of these same messages. It was noted that despite the tense geopolitical climate, illicit SALW was still one area around which the international community finds convergence, perhaps because it is an issue in all countries and regions of the world. Further, participants noted the need to better support civil society in all its diversity to strengthen our collective efforts in this field. Participants provided some suggestions and examples on issues such as youth engagement and incorporating SALW control into national development processes, including through support by the UN Country Team as well as funding mechanisms such as the Saving Lives Entity. It was also discussed that international cooperation and assistance, including financial support, has been dwindling in this area despite a persistent need by States and civil society alike for this support.

On a concluding note, Ivor Fung, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch of UNODA and the event moderator, expressed his hope that this event would add to the momentum on these issues leading into the fourth review conference, where States will have the opportunity to make key decisions on enhancing efforts to combat illicit SALW in all its aspects.