Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade: The role of regional organizations
Small Arms Survey Online Forum Inventory 6
By: Emilia Dungel and Paul Holtom
Regional organizations and their member states have developed and promoted small arms control instruments, best practice guides, and mechanisms to enable assistance and cooperation to prevent, detect, and address the illicit proliferation of small arms. The sixth panel of the Small Arms Survey 2020 online forum ‘Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade’ provided a space for practitioners working in the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe to share their knowledge.
Regional organizations as norm setters
According to the Small Arms Survey, there are 52 regional organizations that have instruments, programmes, and strategies that contribute to efforts to tackle the illicit small arms trade — most participants in this session did not realize that so many regional organizations are active in this sphere.
Many of these regional organizations established small arms control instruments and programmes before the adoption of the UN Programme of Action on small arms and the UN Firearms Protocol in 2001. For example, the Organization of America States (OAS) approved the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacture of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA) in 1997. Regional instruments are also adapted in response to emerging challenges more rapidly than their global counterparts. The EU amended its Firearms Directive to include common standards for the deactivation of firearms in response to attacks in Europe that used re-activated weapons. These norms are not only relevant for the regions directly targeted; rather, we also see their influence on the global level too.
Regional organizations as confidence builders
This session emphasized the importance of multi-level cooperation. Regional organizations can play a key role in building confidence between states, setting standards, and enabling the sharing of good practices for tackling the illicit small arms trade. Examples of standards and guidelines include the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) Model Law on the Arms Trade Treaty and the UN PoA developed for CARICOM member states, the OAS model laws for Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacture of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA), and the Handbook of Best Practices on Small Arms and Light Weapons as well as the Handbook of Best Practices on Conventional Ammunition from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Similarly, the EU has its Council Common Position on the control of arms exports, as well as an accompanying user’s guide. The EU user’s guide was revised in 2019, while the OSCE Best Practices are currently being reviewed and updated.
These documents set standards and provide guidance for the implementation of regional instruments, but they also foster cooperation between regions, including assistance from one to another. Regional best practice guides and standards have also strongly influenced the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG) and the Modular Small-arms-control Implementation Compendium (MOSAIC).
Regional organizations as assistance facilitators
Regional organizations understand the contexts within which they operate and use this knowledge for their own programming but also for coordinating assistance to avoid duplication of efforts and can help inform the setting of priorities in ways that may be challenging for external partners. A poll conducted during the session shows that international organizations can play multiple roles in supporting efforts to tackle the illicit arms trade. A key challenge for many regional organizations is overcoming limited resources and funds to deliver interventions that tackle both the supply of illicit small arms (for example, in the form of marking, destruction, legal reforms) as well as the demand (notably working on armed violence reduction through youth and community groups). As a result of the current Covid-19 crisis, resource mobilization is likely to become even more challenging; yet the role of regional organizations in tackling the illicit small arms trade is likely to become even more critical in such times.
The speakers for this panel were:
- Chair: Paul Holtom, Small Arms Survey
- Carl E. Case, Organization of American States (OAS) (panel presentation available here)
- Pier Angelli De Luca, OAS (panel presentation available here — as above)
- Callixtus Joseph, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) (panel presentation available here)
- Frank Meeusen, European Union (EU)
- Sintija Oškalne, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (panel presentation available here)
To learn more, see:
- Firearms Directive amendment incorporating common standards for the deactivation of firearms (EU)
- Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacture of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (OAS convention)
- OSCE Handbook of Best Practices on Small Arms and Light Weapons
- OSCE Handbook of Best Practices on Conventional Ammunition (OSCE Handbook)
- Regional organizations and the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA) (Small Arms Survey Handbook)