On 17 October, the Control Arms Coalition together with the Permanent Missions of France and Mexico hosted a panel discussion on “Preventing the Diversion of Arms and Ammunition”.
The proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) and insufficient controls in the market pose a high threat to all of us, said Ambassador Socorro Flores Liera, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva. She warned that despite the steps taken in the last 20 years, including the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the number of diverted weapons is increasing. To address this, States have to go beyond their administrative obligations in regulating the arms trade by discussing how to implement the ATT more effectively. States are often tempted to conceal sensitive arms-related information, but multilateral and bilateral transparency measures are crucial to combat the black market for weapons, Ms. Flores remarked. She noted that Mexico aims to develop best practices in this area and called upon other States to contribute to its effort.
The French Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Yann Hwang, provided a short overview of the concept of weapons diversion. He clarified that diversion includes actor and action, which are respectively the unauthorized users and unauthorized uses of weapons. He reminded the audience that diversion can occur at any time and anywhere in the long life-cycle of a weapon: during manufacture, while in delivery or after years in service. He added that diversion can take place in the weapons’ country of origin or during transit, but it often occurs shortly after delivery to the intended user of the weapons. To tackle this difficult issue, he presented several ideas on behalf of France. To stimulate discussions on how to systematically address diversion comprehensively in all international arms control instruments, he called for closer cooperation with experts, civil society and the private sector. However, he expressed concern that private industry often showed a lack of acknowledgement of this problem. He furthermore supported the Mexican approach of adopting best practices.
Mr. Shawn Harris, representing Conflict Armament Research (CAR), provided the panel with comprehensive data from his organization’s research. Its studies have shown that most diverted weapons originated during particular time periods, including one-fourth manufactured in the 1970s and another fourth produced in 2010 alone. Furthermore, based on CAR’s inspections in Africa and Middle East, a high number of diverted weapons were manufactured in countries not party to the ATT. CAR classifies causes of weapons diversion into six categories: battlefield capture (30 %); poorly managed national stockpiles (12 %); State-sponsored diversion where a State supported the diversion of weapons to unauthorized end-users (22 %); loss from State custodies for unknown reasons (27 %); State collapse where States lose or withdraw their control over stockpiles (5 %); and unknown causes (4 %).
Mr. Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, said he disagrees with the widespread narrow focus regarding arms diversion on the end-user. In this context, he emphasized that diversion can include the unauthorized use of a weapon by an authorized end-user. He cited a case where the Canadian government applied for a license to export military helicopters to another country for peaceful use. It became clear, however, that the importing country also intended to use these helicopters for internal security operations. Under the export license sought by the Canadian government, this would have constituted unauthorized end-use and thus diversion, Mr. Jaramillo said. To prevent such cases and also to detect diversion when it occurs, he stressed the importance of information and underscored that the industry is the key player to implement best practices in this regard.
In response to questions from the audience, the panelists made clear that State exporters and importers of weapons need to cooperate better to accommodate gaps in capacities to tackle diversion.
All parties involved had to be aware that some countries had little capacity to verify whether weapons reached the intended end-user for their stated end-use.
Text by Ruben Nicolin