Weapons neutralized in Colombia as part of peace agreement, Bogotá
Photo credit: UN Photo/Renata Ruiz
The destabilizing accumulation, 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.
The UN process related to small arms and light weapons
The General Assembly, compromised 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 challenge. 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.
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
2021 | S/2021/839
2019 | S/2019/1011
2017 | S/2017/1025
2015 | S/2015/289
2013 | S/2013/503
2011 | S/2011/255
Weapons destruction at the opening ceremony of the Africa Amnesty Month in Bangui, Central African Republic
Photo credit: UNODA/Milena Berks
Africa Amnesty Month: Working with the African Union to reduce illicit small arms and light weapons
In the context of the broader United Nations support to the African Union flagship initiative of “Silencing the Guns in Africa by the year 2020”, mandated through Security Council Resolution 2457 (S/RES/2457), the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs together with the African Union Commission helped seven (7) African States in 2020 to implement the “Africa Amnesty Month”.
The Africa Amnesty Month was established in 2017, as part of the African Union Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by the year 2020, or short, “AU Master Roadmap”. The AU Assembly (Decision 645 (XXIX)) declared the month of September each year until 2020 “Africa Amnesty Month” for the surrender and collection of illegally owned weapons, in line with the African and international good practices.
In 2020, the joint AUC-UNODA project took place in seven African countries, with financial support from Germany and Japan. These countries were the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire. The project will continue its support in 2021 and 2022. Main project components includedeffective communication and outreach on the negative effects of illicit possession of SALW and ammunition and the general call to hand them over to the national authorities, trust-building between law enforcement and communities, collection of weapons and ammunition, safe storage, marking and record-keeping, and public destruction.
To foster regional and national ownership, the Regional Centre on Small Arms (RECSA) was chosen as implementing partner for the 2020 Africa Amnesty Month. RECSA’s primary mandate is the support of its 15 Member States, from East and Central Africa, in the implementation of the Nairobi Protocol.
National Focal Points and National Commissions on small arms control led the project at the country level. These are governmental entities with the mandate to handle national small arms control related matters, such as safe storage of weapons and ammunition, record-keeping, but also voluntary weapons collection, and destruction. This setting provided for regionally and nationally owned processes based on nationally and regionally developed action plans.
In alignment with 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Africa Amnesty Month significantly contributes to the achievement of SDG Target 16.4 on the significant reduction of illicit arms flows.
Guidance and Assistance
The United Nations makes available the Modular Small-arms-control Implementation Compendium (MOSAIC), which provide practical, authoritative guidance to practitioners and policymakers on a broad range of small arms control issues.
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 United Nations funding facility, 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. Current supporters of SALIENT are: 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.