New Difficult-to-Erase ‘Marking’ Technologies Constrain Diversion of Weapons to Illicit Trade, Meeting Hears

17 June 2014

New Difficult-to-Erase ‘Marking’ Technologies Constrain Diversion of Weapons to Illicit Trade, Meeting Hears

17 June 2014
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Fifth Biennial Meeting of States

on Illicit Trade in Small Arms

3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

New Difficult-to-Erase ‘Marking’ Technologies Constrain Diversion


of Weapons to Illicit Trade, Meeting Hears


New weapon design and production methods — including the use of “3D” printing and non-traditional materials, such as polymers — had the potential to profoundly influence how weapons were marked and traced, and records kept, delegates heard today as the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons moved into day two of its session.

Virginia Gamba, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on recent developments in small arms and light weapons technology and their implications for the International Tracing Instrument.  The report’s main section presented new trends and challenges in the manufacture and design of those weapons, and examined the best marking methods to reduce misidentification.  Trends and challenges included 3D printing of weapons and use of polymer materials and methods to ensure markings could not be erased.

The second section, she said, covered technological developments, which offered opportunities for enhanced marking, record-keeping and tracing.  It examined how States could use pin codes, finger-print technology and micro-stamping in line with the International Tracing Instrument.  The third section outlined suggestions for the uptake of those new technologies, including in the context of international cooperation and assistance.  The central recommendation was that States could carry out more expert-level discussion on the topic, including on the value of agreeing on a document supplementary to the Tracing Instrument, in order to keep that instrument fully updated and effective.

Jeffrey Stirling, Coordinator of the Firearms Programme of INTERPOL, gave an overview of the Illicit Arms Records and Tracing Management System — “iARMS” — a firearms records-management tool for lost, stolen, smuggled or trafficked weapons.  There was also a trace management module — the first such global mechanism that countries could use to identify potential traffickers.  The module displayed routes and trafficking patterns as weapons flowed from one State to another.

Countries could also use a statistics and reports module to extract information on where weapons were being recovered in their country, he said, noting that, today, 121 countries were connected to the “iARMS” programme.  There were more than 300,000 firearms records, and some 1,100 traces had been sent from one country to another.  Each member country had a National Central Bureau (NCB), which was the focal point for entering lost, stolen, trafficked, or smuggled weapons into the database.  “It has to be a hand-in-hand relationship with the ‘NCB’ in every country,” he said, adding that Interpol was now focused on integrating United Nations missions into the programme and conduct tracing.

When the floor was opened for debate, delegates outlined their Governments’ commitment to the International Tracing Instrument, with many underlining the importance of multilateral and bilateral cooperation in preventing weapons diversion onto the illicit market.  Some pressed national authorities to improve information exchange, working together and with international organizations, such as Interpol, to “breathe new life” into the Instrument, thereby making it more implementable and relevant.

In that context, Clara Ganslandt, Head of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division of the European Union, urged a focus on the tracing of small arms and light weapons in conflict and post-conflict areas.  That could enhance law enforcement and arms control, notably export control and stockpile management.  “Conflict tracing” also served broader efforts at prevention, crisis management and peace-building objectives.  She welcomed the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2117 (2013), which referred to the possibility of mandating peacekeeping operations with arms and ammunition tracing tasks.

Shorna-Kay Marie Richards (Jamaica), on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the region was working to fulfil its commitments through the establishment of a central authority to trace the illegal flow of weapons.  It also would establish a Regional Integrated Ballistics Information Network (RIBIN) to trace shell casings and warheads linked to crime scenes.  There were more than 350 gangs in the Caribbean with over 35,000 members, which had led to 16,434 homicides between 2006 and 2012, 70 per cent of which had been committed by imported illegal firearms.  Of those weapons, 12,633 had been seized by law enforcement.

Mohamad Hassan al-Obaidly (Qatar), on behalf of the Arab Group, welcomed the use of new technology for marking and tracing small arms and light weapons, especially in storage and stockpile management.  He urged that technologies be studied in all their aspects so they could be used in a manner that would not erode sovereignty or national security.

Next year’s meeting of governmental experts, suggested Nobuyuki Sano (Japan), could focus on using new technologies for better marking, record keeping, tracing and stockpile management.  In May, he noted, a man had been arrested for manufacturing a gun with a 3D printer, the first such charge in Japan.  Those technologies could pose further challenges when their costs dropped.  He also urged national, regional and international authorities to exchange tracing results to prevent weapons from being diverted onto the illicit market.

The term “tracing” had been used with imprecision, said William Kullman (United States), including in the Secretary-General’s report.  Tracing must be done from the outset of weapons manufacture or import, through the supply lines, to the point that arms became illicit.  Such detail was vital to any official tracing inquiry.  The presence of a foreign-made weapon in another country would not be identified as illicit without tracing supply lines, and those records must be kept by official authorities, he said. 

Tapping into the concerns of developing countries, Alfredo Fernando Toro-Carnevali ( Venezuela) asked if Governments were expected to buy new tracing technology, with the relevant training and capacity development, each time a new manufacturing technique was developed.  Producers had a moral responsibility, not only to avoid weapons diversion, but to facilitate and provide technologies to deal with new weapons.  Otherwise, developing countries would continue to lack the tools needed to save lives.

David Robin Wensley (South Africa) added that responding to tracing requests and tracking arms in the process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration also had serious implications for developing countries.  In a second intervention, he said the need for assistance in marking and record-keeping had stalled implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

Also participating today were representatives of Australia, Argentina, Costa Rica, China, France, Peru, Liberia, Belgium, Armenia, Brazil, Czech Republic, India, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Zambia, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Benin, Spain, Austria, Botswana and Nigeria.

Daniel Prins, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch of the Office for Disarmament Affairs, responded to questions from his presentation yesterday.

The Meeting will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 18 June.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.