Small arms

Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2008/258)


Programme of Action

26. In 2001, Member States adopted the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.27 This politically binding instrument laid the foundation for action at the national, regional and global levels and has become a valuable tool for States, international organizations and civil society. It recommended starting negotiations on a separate instrument on tracing illicit small arms, and it paved the way for increased attention of Member States to the issue of illicit small arms brokering. The Programme of Action contains concrete suggestions for improved national legislation and controls and international assistance and cooperation. It calls upon States to address the special needs of children affected by armed conflict.

27. Significant progress has been made in the implementation of the Programme of Action. A number of States have improved their legislation related to stemming the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms at the national level. Also, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes have been developed and implemented. Some States have integrated small arms action plans into national development strategies. But many of the requirements of the instrument for implementation at the national level remain unfulfilled. National reporting under the Programme of Action has been increasing but remains low in some regions. 28 Also, national reports are often unclear on what the challenges are in national implementation, and how they could be overcome. The setting up of procedures for effective operational information exchange with investigative and law enforcement authorities from other States and with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) leaves much to be desired.

28. The Programme of Action’s suggested measures at the regional level have prompted some promising regional initiatives to curb the illicit trade in small arms, especially from a norm-setting point of view. More efforts are needed to reflect these initiatives in national legislation and procedures. Where resources are made available, regional organizations have been able to make a real difference on the ground; technical support and assistance is often provided by programmes, initiatives and projects of United Nations funds and agencies. These partnerships ensure synergy and the effective use of resources.

29. At the global level, States were unable to agree to substantive outcomes of the biennial meetings of the Programme of Action in 2003 and 2005 and its review conference in 2006.

30. In my analysis, progress in the implementation of the Programme of Action at the national, regional and global levels has been impeded by the following factors:

(a) It is not a legally binding instrument, which could imply lower prioritization than is needed;

(b) Member States tend to view the instrument through a specific lens. Although it stresses “all aspects” of the issue in its title, it does not explicitly address broader dimensions of the issue of small arms, such as the nexus between security and development, which was recognized by Member States at the World Summit in 2005. That omission has hindered the smooth inclusion of small arms control issues in national development strategies;

(c) The Programme of Action does not specifically address the uncontrolled proliferation of ammunition. Most Member States see small arms ammunition as being part and parcel of the issue of small arms, as did the 1997 Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms (see A/52/298). The Security Council has also associated the problem of ammunition with that of small arms where arms embargoes are concerned. But some Member States see ammunition as falling outside the scope of the Programme of Action;

(d) Apart from a preliminary remark on children, women and the elderly, the Programme of Action does not explicitly recognize the need for gender-specific responses where the issue of small arms is considered;

(e) The instrument lacks measurability and specific numerical targets. Whereas other landmark documents, such as the United Nations Millennium Declaration, are associated with concrete targets and deadlines, the Programme of Action proposes neither benchmarks nor cut-off dates;

(f) It does not provide concrete procedures for operational information exchange among States’ investigative or law enforcement authorities;

(g) The instrument does not provide a specific framework to facilitate international assistance and cooperation among States. Hence, States have had difficulty finding cooperative structures and linking needs with resources.

27 See Report of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, New York, 9-20 July 2001 (A/CONF.192/15), chap. IV, para. 24.

28 UNIDIR, Five Years of Implementing the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons: Regional Analysis of National Reports, 2006.


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