The General Assembly (GA), through its resolution 53/111 of 9 December 1998,
established an open-ended intergovernmental ad hoc committee for the purpose of
creating a comprehensive international convention against transnational
organized crime and for developing international instruments addressing the
multiple dimensions of organized crime (A/55/383/Add.2).
The United Nations Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime was adopted with the GA resolution 55/25
of 15 November 2000 and entered into force on 29 September 2003. The Convention
is further supplemented by three Protocols, which target specific areas and
manifestations of organized crime: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish
Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; the Protocol
against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; and the Protocol
against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts
and Components and Ammunition.
The UN Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking
in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms
Protocol), was adopted in 2001 by the GA with resolution 55/255 and entered
into force on 3 June 2005. The Firearms Protocol constitutes, to date, the only
global legally-binding instrument addressing the issue of small arms.
Shortly after the adoption of the Firearms Protocol, the principal UN policy
framework to address the small arms and light weapons issue was established by
the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade
in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA). This
important document is the result of an extensive study, conducted by a UN Panel
of Governmental Experts, which began in the late 1990s following the
publication of the document Supplement to an agenda for peace and
culminated in the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade of Small Arms and
Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. The implementation of the policy
framework provided by the PoA has led to the negotiation of other agreements
both at the regional and global level. A significant example is the
International Tracing Instrument (ITI), a political instrument adopted by GA on
8 December 2005 to enable states to identify and trace, in a timely and
reliable manner, illicit small arms and light weapons.
The Firearms Protocol
As clearly stated in Article 2 of the Firearms Protocol, "The
purpose of this Protocol is to promote, facilitate and strengthen cooperation
among States Parties in order to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit
manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and
ammunition". The Protocol provides for a series of control measures and
normative provisions covering multiple aspects of the small arms issue.
Protocol requires States to establish as criminal offences the illicit
manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms as well as tampering with markings
on firearms. Second, the Protocol requires that States implement a series of
control measures on firearms and ammunition such as maintaining records on
firearms markings and transactions, marking firearms for the purposes of
identification and tracing and establishing effective export, import and
transit licensing systems. Importantly, the Protocol requires mandatory marking
not only at the time of manufacture, but also at the time of import to
facilitate the identification and tracing of each firearm. Third, the Protocol
calls for cooperation at the bilateral, regional and international levels in
the exchange of information, tracing of firearms, training, technical,
financial and material assistance among states to mitigate the illicit trade in
and manufacture of firearms. Further, it encourages states to seek support and
cooperation amongst manufacturers, dealers, importers, exporters, brokers and
commercial carriers of firearms. Finally, the Protocol calls for the regulation
of arms brokering and the inclusion of information on brokers and brokering
activities in exchanges of information between states.
The Protocol is not designed to apply to all possible transfers in firearms.
Particularly, Article 4 states that it shall not apply to
state-to-state transactions or to state transfers where the application of the
Protocol would prejudice a state's right to maintain national security as
specified within the United Nations Charter.
All measures and provisions within the Protocol can be grouped within the
following four categories, or the four pillars upon which the Protocol is
built: definitions, control measures, substantive criminal law and information
exchange. A Legislative Guide focusing on these four pillars was released in
2004 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to assist states
in the implementation of the Firearms Protocol.
UNODC is currently involved in the development of two other useful instruments
aimed at facilitating the implementation of the Firearms Protocol. The first, Guidelines
for the Implementation of the Firearms Protocol, is intended to help
Member States establish and strengthen the institutions and mechanisms needed
to effectively implement the Protocol. The guidelines will provide technical
assistance to states on implementing the operational measures in the Protocol
and will address such issues as marking of firearms, implementation of security
measures and how to establish effective export, import and transit licensing
systems. The second instrument is Model Legislation, key features of
which will include provisions on the criminalization of illicit manufacturing
and trafficking in firearms, record-keeping, marking, controlling exports, and
the import and transit of firearms, their parts, components and ammunition.
Both the guidelines and model legislation will complement the already existing
Legislative Guide with practical and hands-on recommendations and best
practices in the area of firearms control. These documents will enable states
to implement the Protocol and, if desired, go beyond the mandatory Protocol
The Firearms Protocol in a Broader Context
As recognized in the PoA, the Firearms Protocol, when effectively implemented,
complements and reinforces global efforts to combat the illicit trade in small
arms and light weapons. The Firearms Protocol and the PoA require the
implementation by states of many of the same measures on small arms including
sharing information to facilitate the identification of groups involved in
illegal manufacturing and trafficking in arms, ensuring that arms are marked
adequately marked, maintaining records on the manufacture and trade in arms and
establishing effective import and export licensing mechanisms. States that
implement the Firearms Protocol are therefore also fulfilling many of their
obligations under the PoA.
In order to ensure a cohesive and effective response to the problem of the
illicit trade and manufacture of small arms, UNODC seeks to ensure that its
efforts in assisting states with ratification and implementation of the
Protocol are complementary to the efforts of other UN offices in assisting with
implementation of the PoA as well as the International Tracing Instrument.
Under the auspices of the UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA), UNODC
and UNODA in particular have been strengthening the level of cooperation in
information sharing and organization of seminars and workshops, as well as the
implementation of a capacity building project.
Looking forward, the next challenge for CASA will be the development of the
International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS), which will identify
internationally accepted and validated principles for the control of SALW
proliferation. This exercise is expected to further establish a coherent and
integrated approach in the implementation of all of the relevant instruments
both at the policy and practice levels.