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OSCE Seminar on Small Arms and Light Weapons

Vienna, 3-5 April 2000

Synthèse (en français)


Our three-day Seminar addressed a prominent issue of our times, the question of small arms and light weapons (SALW). There is a general understanding that this problem requires international and, where necessary, regional co-operation and assistance among States, organizations and other actors. In this spirit, the relevant international organizations and non-governmental organizations and the OSCE’s Mediterranean and other Partners for Co-operation were invited to take part in this seminar, and they have made valuable contributions. During our deliberations, delegations agreed that the international community has to face the challenge of the world-wide proliferation of SALW and has to take the necessary measures to prevent the destabilizing accumulation of these weapons.

We have learned that a universal process has been launched and developed to answer this global problem. Several different kinds of events, seminars and workshops have already been held and several others will take place before the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects in June 2001. The Chair found that an encouraging message of this Seminar was that it would be timely and in fact necessary for the OSCE to make its own contribution to this process and find its place within the global division of tasks, in an international co-operation free of duplications and overlaps.

In the comprehensive security system, the problem of SALW is closely connected with the risks and challenges of the second millennium. Those risks and challenges have been discussed in different forums and enumerated, inter alia, in the Charter for European Security adopted at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul last November. Several delegations pointed out that tackling the problem posed by SALW is an integral part of the fight against terrorism. Responding to the challenge of organized crime, the United Nations is currently engaged in drafting a Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

A number of interventions identified the question of SALW as an important element in existing regional and local crisis situations within the OSCE area and beyond. South-eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Trans-Dniestria, as well as Afghanistan and Cambodia, were mentioned as concrete examples. Within the spectrum of conflict management, the problem of small arms and light weapons has a special importance in post-conflict stabilization. Its solution is a basic element in restoring law and order and ensuring the protection of civil society. Some delegations suggested that the OSCE missions could be tasked with playing a role in this field.

There is a general understanding that steps should be taken on the international level to ensure compliance with existing guidelines and principles as well as on a national and local level to ensure respect for national legislation, especially in the field of export control. Delegations urged increased co-operation among police, intelligence and customs and border control personnel to ensure the implementation of the relevant regulations.

Some interventions suggested concrete steps, such as agreeing to commonly used principles, norms and standards, which could possibly be taken up by the OSCE. The idea of creating a manual establishing guidelines on SALW as well as a register on SALW transfers was put forward, in order to provide greater transparency. However, the discussion showed that the development of these ideas required further negotiations.

At the same time, it is important to note that concrete projects have already been launched and several States and organizations have made significant contributions to these efforts. We have been informed of several unilateral, bilateral and regional initiatives, plans and ideas for concrete projects to tackle the various aspects of the problem of the spread of SALW. The European Union, for example, has a set of measures: a Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, a Joint Action on SALW and a Programme for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms. Another good example is the joint American-Norwegian project on stockpile management and destruction. Exchanges of information and experience and briefings on national practices are other forms of practical co-operation. Seminars on the different aspects of the SALW issue can also add their significant contribution to the process, and we were briefed on some recent workshops held under the auspices of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

As you are aware from the reports of our rapporteurs, working sessions identified the various concrete tasks to be undertaken by the international community such as collection, control and destruction of weapons, combating illicit trafficking in all its aspects, with special attention to export control, and the fight against weapons smuggling, as well as marking, record-keeping and tracing.

Working session I emphasized that world-wide measures were needed to cope with the problem, but the regional approach could serve as a first step and a good example. The OSCE approach should be comprehensive; it can be built on the best practices of the participating States using the mechanism of an information exchange. OSCE documents such as the Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers are a good basis for developing measures concerning small arms and light weapons.

The second working session stressed the danger of a possible correlation between legal transfers and illicit trafficking. Strengthening control and increasing transparency can be the two main areas for an OSCE contribution in this regard. The first step in the direction of the harmonization of export controls can be the OSCE manual.

Working session III recognized that, in the field of reduction, other organizations were also very active and the OSCE should rather complement than duplicate their activity. The OSCE role can be significant in providing guidelines for stockpile management and destruction as well as financial and technical assistance.

Working session IV was devoted to post-conflict stabilization, which is a traditional field of OSCE activity. The management of the post-conflict security situation should be viewed from the perspective of small arms and light weapons as well. Although the role of the OSCE missions has not been precisely identified, they should be prepared to encounter the various aspects of the problem.

It can be concluded that the Seminar has been an important step forward in tackling the problem of SALW. Through a useful and lively discussion it has contributed to identifying the whole range of SALW issues and raised many ideas in a relatively early phase of the process. Participating States showed particular interest in the course of the Seminar, during the general and working sessions as well.

As a result, the SALW issue has been examined from a particular OSCE perspective, the areas for an eventual future OSCE contribution have been identified and guidance has been provided regarding possible solutions. On this basis, participating States may look forward to an exciting follow-up in the Forum for Security Co-operation. The intention is that the Chairperson of the FSC together with the FSC Troika and the Co-ordinator on SALW, should approach the discussions of the preparatory period, the three-day Seminar and the follow-up as an integrated process. I am convinced that as a result of that process the OSCE will be able to play a role in the field of SALW in line with its international significance and its traditional features.

At the end of the Seminar, the Chair would like to express his thanks to the moderators, rapporteurs and key-note speakers for the excellent job they have done, to SALW Co-ordinator Mr. Clive Wright and Working Group B of the FSC for the preparation of the Seminar, to the Conflict Prevention Centre and the Secretariat for the organization, to the interpreters for facilitating the exchange of views and, last but not least, to all participants for the substantive and useful discussions.



Monday, 3 April 2000
Report of the Working Session Rapporteur
Agenda item 2: Norms and Principles

Working session I of the Seminar on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) offered participants an opportunity to discuss how the OSCE could contribute to the establishment of norms and principles in the field of SALW. Such a regional approach would further the work to be done in preparation for the United Nations 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects.

The discussion was structured in four parts, which were each introduced by a keynote speaker.

1. The first keynote speaker introduced fourteen principles which could underlie a common approach of the participating States in the field of SALW, based on arms control, confidence-building and transparency. A common approach should be comprehensive and aim to deal with both licit and illicit trafficking in SALW, including exchange of information on both aspects. A catalogue of best practices could assist in the development of harmonized standards that would take into account the legitimate security needs of the individual participating States and provide them with a framework within which to control the spread of SALW.

Some delegations supported the view that the OSCE could effectively work on harmonizing existing national approaches to combating illicit trafficking in SALW through the structured exchange of information. Such exchanges of information could include production and transfers of SALW by both the public and private sectors. It would be important to establish clear distinctions between licit and illicit aspects of SALW.

Some delegations indicated that account should be taken of work already being done in this field in other forums and organizations, like in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), in order to avoid unnecessary duplication. Some delegations warned against endeavouring to define SALW. Agreed measures should be effective and be put in place quickly.

Other delegations added that the OSCE would be well equipped to formulate a common approach based on existing documents, such as the European Union (EU) Joint Action on SALW and the "Firearms Protocol" supplementary to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.

2. The second keynote speaker elaborated on the different aspects of a comprehensive mechanism of information exchange aimed at registering transfers and holdings on the one hand and providing information on national legislation and best practices on the other. Such a mechanism would provide participating States with a foundation for the development of further measures in other fields of SALW.

Some delegations pointed to the need for transparency measures to be effective and to fully take into account legitimate security needs. It would be useful to develop a common understanding within the OSCE of possible transparency measures. In this connection, delegations suggested that a step-by-step approach would be the appropriate way forward. Other delegations cautioned against being insufficiently ambitious, and suggested that possible measures should aim to distinguish between licit and illicit trafficking, as a first step, and should assist participating States in further strengthening their national legislation.

3. The third keynote speaker underlined the importance of marking, record-keeping and tracing in order to track the flow of SALW from production to destruction and enhance accountability. He emphasized the importance of taking all three aspects into account for effective control. Measures in this field should be taken nationally and shared through extensive information exchange and co-operation. They should take into account work already done in other forums, such as the United Nations, and complement them where necessary.

Delegations stressed the importance of marking and record-keeping and pointed to the possibility of developing best practices in this area among participating States as a first step. To effectively track and control flows of SALW, co-operation at all levels, including between law enforcement authorities, was necessary. Participating States could assist each other in effectively enforcing national legislation in this field. The OSCE could also develop standards for marking together with other organizations. It was further suggested that the participating States could exchange information on their records in order to more effectively combat illicit flows of SALW.

4. The fourth keynote speaker elaborated on the possibilities of strengthening export control criteria through a combination of national legislation and regional measures based on best practices. The exchange of information would aim at establishing a common approach to export controls among participating States. Such a common approach would start out from the existing principles governing conventional arms transfers and effectively use criteria developed in other forums.

Some delegations emphasized the importance of information exchange on national export controls so that countries could assist each other in further strengthening their national legislation in that field. Such exchange of information should also help towards harmonizing criteria among participating States. Several delegations pointed to the comprehensive scope of the EU Code of Conduct in this regard.

In his conclusions, the Moderator noted a general sense that the OSCE could effectively engage in the development of norms and principles in the field of SALW, especially with a view to the United Nations 2001 Conference. Although a comprehensive approach was desirable, a step-by-step approach, taking into account legitimate security needs and work already done in other forums, would seem more feasible. The Moderator noted broad consensus on the development of a mechanism of information exchange within the OSCE as a confidence- and security-building measure. He noted that for a majority of delegations such exchanges of information could aim at establishing best practices in the field of SALW and could refer to national legislation in the field of export controls, transfers, marking, record-keeping and tracing. On the basis of these information exchanges, participating States could enhance co-operation in order to combat illicit trafficking in SALW more effectively. Furthermore, participating States could develop common approaches in these fields, which could be based on instruments and documents already available such as the Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers and the EU Code of Conduct. Delegations would be prepared to engage in further discussions on these aspects in the coming months with the aim of arriving at a comprehensive and stand-alone document, covering norms and principles of the OSCE participating States in the field of SALW, which would also be a significant signal for the success of the United Nations 2001 Conference.


Tuesday, 4 April 2000


Report of the Working Session

Rapporteur Agenda item 2: Combating Illicit Trafficking in All Its Aspects

The keynote speaker, Lt. Gen. Smirnov from the Russian Federation, raised four themes to which delegations returned throughout the course of the working session: the important role that the OSCE could and should play in combating illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons; specific measures taken by the Russian Federation in this regard; the need to strengthen controls and legislation at the national level; and the need for co-operation at the international level.

The leading role of the OSCE was stressed by many delegations, especially in assisting progress at the United Nations 2001 Conference. One delegation pointed to the strength of the OSCE as being its comprehensive approach to the issue. Another delegation presented a food-for-thought paper, also stressing the need for a comprehensive approach by the OSCE, encompassing practical measures as well as norm-setting. It noted the need for early warning of accumulations of small arms and light weapons, and the possible role of the OSCE Missions. Addressing the problem of possible duplication, two delegations pointed to the important role the OSCE could play in implementing agreements established in other forums, particularly the United Nations Firearms Protocol.

The Moderator raised the issue of the relationship between legal transfers and illicit trafficking. Several delegations stressed that illicit trafficking and legal transfers were two sides of the same coin, and that attempts to combat illicit trafficking needed to go hand in hand with strengthening of controls over legal transfers. One delegation noted that the difficulty of arriving at a definition highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach, covering both aspects.

Several delegations informed the Seminar about their national systems of export controls. Two delegations in particular shared information on recent confiscations and destruction of illicitly trafficked weapons.

Whilst all delegations agreed that national export controls needed to be clear and rigorously enforced, there was a difference in approach between those who wanted to strengthen existing mechanisms and encourage co-operation between States in their implementation, and those who wanted to go further to bring about greater transparency and establish agreed norms. A number of specific elements were outlined by several delegations relating to control over manufacturing and transfer procedures:

- State sanctioning of manufacture of small arms;

- Proper regulation and authorization of brokering activities;

- Legislation to impose penalties for the violation of United Nations or other embargoes;

- Legislation to establish illicit trafficking as a criminal offence under domestic law;

- No transfer of inadequately marked weapons;

- An effective system for licensing of import, export and transit of weapons;

- No transfer until the receiving State issues the corresponding authorization;

- No re-transfer without authorization from the original exporting State;

- An authenticated system of end-use and end-user certificates;

- Verification procedures for end-use certificates;

- Adequate record-keeping;

- Interagency co-operation at national level to co-ordinate policies.

A number of delegations saw a role for the OSCE in establishing best practice on export control procedures through the exchange of information on national practice. One delegation suggested the possibility of establishing an OSCE manual of best practice. Another delegation noted that information exchange on legislation was already taking place in at least one subregion, as were bilateral exchanges of technical information relating to export controls.

Delegations agreed on the importance of co-operation between States in export control practice and law enforcement. Suggested areas for co-operation included:

- Tracing;

- Identifying routes used in illicit trafficking;

- Providing mutual legal assistance;

- Close co-operation between law enforcement and customs officials and regional and subregional training programmes;

- Technical and financial assistance to improve enforcement agencies.

Delegations noted that regional and subregional co-operation was already under way in some cases. One delegation drew attention to the Sofia Declaration of 1999 as an example of a subregional effort to improve co-operation, particularly with regard to attempts to harmonize end-use documentation. Another delegation drew attention to the Warsaw Call for Action.

The final part of the working session related to confidence-building and transparency measures. A few delegations mentioned that information exchange should not be considered as an end in itself, but as a tool in combating illicit trafficking. Several delegations noted the value of exchanging information on:

- National practices and legislation;

- Confiscations and destruction of illicitly trafficked weapons;

- Official agents;

- Authorized brokers.

A few delegations also pointed to the value of information sharing relating to holdings, legal transfers and transfer denials of small arms and light weapons.


Tuesday, 4 April 2000


Report of the Working Session

Rapporteur Agenda item 2: Reduction

Beginning with the issue of how to improve stockpile management and security, the first keynote speaker discussed what the practical steps involved in stockpile security and stockpile management of SALW should be. With reference to stockpiles of surplus SALW made to military specifications for military purposes, practical aspects should include location of stockpiles, access control measures, reaction forces, protective lighting, intrusion detection devices and lock-and-key security controls. As regards management inventories, these should include hand receipting, reporting of losses and training of personnel. Possible contributions by the OSCE to improving stockpile management and security could cover a collective commitment to attend to these practical aspects and the development of a technically oriented "best practice" guide.

Whereas one delegation considered the issue as too technically specific for the OSCE, some other delegations advocated the setting of key guidelines by the OSCE with regard to stockpile management and security. Complementary to what the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) is doing in this field, the OSCE's approach would also touch on the various stockpiles held by forces other than the military, such as police and paramilitary forces. Furthermore, delegations stressed the importance of the issue for the recognition of surpluses and the prevention of loss and theft of SALW. Another delegation emphasized the need for norm-setting with a view to taking into account the capacities of recipient States as a condition for SALW transfers.

The OSCE was considered to be an appropriate institution for the exchange of views on stockpile management and security, in order to identify best practices. In this connection, one delegation suggested following the example of the Code of Conduct on politico-military aspects of security by establishing principles and exchanging information, e.g. on national legislation.

The issue of indicators of a surplus of SALW is closely linked to the definition of legitimate security needs. While no one disputed that ultimately it is up to each State to decide on its individual security needs, one delegation recommended that the OSCE should try to reach a common understanding with regard to the establishment of general indicators for the existence of a surplus of SALW. In this connection, one delegation gave as an example a review of security policy implying a reduction of armed forces and the replacement of old by new weapons implying a reduction of weapons. Another delegation suggested that arms supplier States also have a responsibility to judge whether a potential recipient had a surplus, and to refuse to supply such States unless the surpluses were eliminated.

The second keynote speaker focused on purposes and methods of destruction of SALW. He underlined the need for weapons disposal programmes to be aimed not only at reducing excessive and destabilizing accumulations of SALW, but also at preventing their unlimited availability and possible accumulations. While there were key features inherent in each destruction technique, it would be up to the designers of specific weapons destruction programmes to address the specific need of the programme concerned. The OSCE should promote a legal framework at the national level to cover destruction, establish guidelines on the most reliable destruction methods and possibly perform clearing-house functions with regard to destruction programmes. A clearing-house function, addressing specific needs and requirements, could operate in complementarity to the work of the EAPC, and bear in mind the experience acquired by NGOs.

In the subsequent discussion, some delegations reported on their domestic programmes for the destruction of SALW. An exchange of information on this practice might help the OSCE in its future work. One delegation suggested that the OSCE should provide mechanisms to encourage further destruction programmes and provide those countries in need with financial and technical assistance for that purpose. It was noted that the EAPC already possessed such a mechanism: a Partnership-for-Peace Chapter. Another delegation put forward the idea of supporting a central destruction facility, an idea which originated from discussions in the framework of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, though other delegations noted that in most cases local destruction is more efficient and less expensive. In general the OSCE, one delegation argued, could voice support for destruction projects proposed in the Stability Pact.

The proposal to employ OSCE personnel on the ground for the monitoring of destruction processes and technical assistance in such processes met with some approval and some scepticism. With regard to the costs of destruction, one delegation stressed that the social benefit of destruction would outweigh its cost.


Tuesday, 5 April 2000


Report of the Working Session

Rapporteur Agenda item 2: Post-Conflict Stabilization

The discussion was structured around four clusters of issues, and two keynote speakers were featured. A broad approach to security sector reform was both emphasized and advocated, including the reform not only of the police and military, but also of the paramilitary, justice and the penal system, as the goal is to restore and consolidate the rule of law. It was noted that this concept could be extended to include such areas as free and democratic elections as well. Two possible scenarios were mentioned: a situation where substitution for local forces was required, and one where local forces needed to be assisted in restructuring or otherwise adapting to new roles (recruitment and restructuring were involved as factors in both areas). The OSCE’s contribution is to supervise, and assist in, the creation of a public security sector that has the confidence of its citizens.

When undertaking a security assessment, it is necessary to decide who is to undertake the assessment. There is a requirement to involve local authorities. Other OSCE instruments exist that could be relevant in establishing standards. By making use of the High Commissioner for National Minorities, field missions or other mechanisms, different synergies could be established in this type of assessment, depending on the local situation.

The usefulness of establishing guidelines in these areas was referred to, and it was also noted that the Code of Conduct and Vienna Document 1999 could be utilized in this connection as far as restraint, democratic control and weapons production were concerned.

It was noted that security sector reform required a network of efforts to build confidence in the future. A proportional and integrated approach was important.

It was noted that the question is two-way: the spread of small arms affected security, but equally important was creating a safe environment to counter the perceived need for personal gun ownership. Security sector reform is a precondition for effective weapons collection, as without confidence in the security sector no weapons would be turned in.

In this regard, building on current experience under the Dayton Accords for disbanding groups of armed civilians was noted as a possible precedent for future work in this area as part of post conflict stabilization.

The core role of the OSCE in promoting democracy and human rights was mentioned as a basis for this work. Confidence in police and judicial system is part of this task in general. The requirement in security sector reform however is to apply this more immediately to the question of small arms and light weapons.

The Moderator concluded from the discussion that security sector reform was recognized as an essential part of efforts to deal with small arms and light weapons, and that there was a need to take a broad approach dealing with the overall question of insecurity as part of the context of post-conflict stabilization. Further work could be undertaken in developing guidelines for security sector reforms, taking into account the relevance of existing instruments, experience gained in specific contexts, such as the Dayton Accords, and established OSCE norms and standards.

On Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), the discussion closely followed the themes put forward by the keynote speaker. Several speakers noted that DDR was essential, that it involved both short-term and long-term measures, and that it could not be implemented in isolation. It had been realized relatively recently that these concerns and programmes needed to be integrated into the mandate of peacekeeping missions, but that was critical to the success of these missions. Incentives for both ex-combatants and civilians must be included. While the window of opportunity taking into account the euphoria created by the cessation of hostilities was critical, the long-term aspects were related to public confidence and security sector reform. The public awareness aspects were also important to these programmes. Immediate action was critical to success, but long-term sustainability was needed if the rule of law was to be restored.

The possibility of developing operational practices to be used in OSCE missions was discussed at length. The possibility of OSCE mission personnel being utilized to monitor or provide guidance on DDR was also mentioned, as was the potential usefulness of a guide in this regard. The question of developing guidelines was raised in particular in the context of better preparation for future missions, with the aim of avoiding a repetition of past mistakes. The work that has been done on "lessons learned" by other organizations should be utilized.

Reference was made to the need for flexibility, recognizing that each situation was different and required different approaches to DDR; inevitably measures must be ad hoc in order to respond to the differing requirements of each situation. It was thought that, while recognizing this need for flexibility, a useful contribution could be made through the development of case studies based on recent OSCE experience. General guidelines could be useful to clarify the OSCE approach to this issue. A manual could be developed to incorporate the conclusions and added to the OSCE tool box.

The question of inclusion of DDR in the mandates of OSCE missions was also addressed. It was noted that, in the case of new missions, there was a need to sensitize the Permanent Council in particular to the need to deal with the issue of small arms and light weapons, both in general and in the new context of new missions. The mandate had to be agreed on with the host State, which provided an additional opening for OSCE missions in this area. The need to match mandates with appropriate resources was recognized, as was the fact that expansion could not be automatic. While differing views were presented on the possibilities of incorporating a small arms component into existing mission mandates, it was noted that this could be done if there was consensus; it might not require additional resources, but only a political decision in favour of such an approach. The possibility of creating a small unit or point of contact within missions to deal specifically with small arms issues was also suggested. An early warning function could also be an element, particularly as part of regular reporting by missions on the local situation. One speaker noted that, while OSCE experience in dealing with small arms elements of DDR was limited, certain elements had already been incorporated into specific missions.

The possibility of a role for the Conflict Prevention Centre (CPC) was also addressed. It was noted that, while monitoring would be difficult with current resources, the CPC could act as a clearing-house for information exchange, co-ordination of requests for assistance, etc. It was noted that expertise was not necessarily required for monitoring and that, while the capacities might not exist within the CPC, participating States could still possibly respond to specific requests for this type of assistance.

The need to address the question of future work by the OSCE on this issue was also referred to by several speakers, and specific proposals were made as to points of contact in delegations and in capitals. Two food-for-thought papers on this subject will be made available to delegations for their reference. One speaker noted that there were several means available besides field missions for addressing small arms issues, such as fact-finding missions.

There was a brief discussion of the role of public awareness in facilitating programmes to deal with cultures of violence. Reference was made to the need for continuing OSCE co-operation with NGOs and other international organizations, the publicizing of OSCE norms and standards such as the Code of Conduct, and the importance of training in respect for international humanitarian law.


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