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On 3rd September 2004, delegations to the EU working group on UN Disarmament (CODUN) met with NGOs for an informal meeting on the current negotiations at the United Nations of an international instrument on tracing illicit small arms. At the meeting, kindly facilitated by the Dutch presidency of the EU, presentations were given by Rebecca Peters and Holger Anders (IANSA), Owen Greene (University of Bradford), and Claudio Gramizzi (GRIP). The following is a summary of key issues raised during the meeting.
The speakers welcomed the start of negotiations of an international
tracing instrument and congratulated the European Union for its support at the
first substantive session of the UN working group on small arms tracing for,
inter alia, the inclusion of SALW ammunition in a tracing instrument and the
desirability of a legally binding text. Pointing to the partnership between
NGOs and governments enshrined within the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms,
speakers encouraged EU member states to support civil society access to negotiations.
In particular, EU member states should request that the currently prepared draft
text of the instrument, once completed and submitted to governments, be made
Several speakers expressed their concern that the negotiated instrument is delineated too narrowly by focussing only on recovered weapons that are physically in the hands of law enforcement officials. Pursuing this approach, they argued, would mean that the majority of small arms diverted from the legal to the illicit market would be unaffected by any new instrument. Rather, what is needed is a system that allows the identification of points of diversion, and the apprehension of the individuals responsible, even before a diverted weapon is potentially recovered.
Several speakers argued in this context that the current lack
of high common standards on systematic physical inspections of SALW shipments
and stockpiles remains a significant loophole in international efforts to combat
small arms diversions. What is needed is the adoption of international standards
stipulating physical checks by customs at points of entry, transit, and exist
to verify that quantity, type and serial numbers of weapons contained in a shipment
correspond to information recorded in the accompanying documents. Such measures
must be complemented with standards on regular inspections and physical inventories
of domestic SALW holdings to verify that weapons in the stockpile correspond
to the information recorded by the manufacturer, dealer, armed services, and/or
competent authorities. It was argued that such controls are technically and
financially feasible and are already implemented by many governments and trade
inspection services in a variety of other commercial sectors.
It was further suggested that there should be greater emphasis on information exchanges between national arms export authorities. There should, for example, be a systematic requirement for the submission of delivery verification certificates. Further, SALW exporting states should send the competent authorities in the importing state, prior to a transfer taking place, relevant information on the shipment and the transferred weapons. By receiving information on imported weapons independently from data collected at customs and otherwise domestically recorded information, authorities would greatly enhance their ability to detect inconsistencies between held weapons and recorded information, and thereby to detect possible diversions. It was pointed out that the need for greater emphasis on physical controls was already accepted by many governments in relation man portable surface-to-air missile systems.
One speaker argued that standards on physical controls and information exchanges on arms transfers could, if not included in the tracing instrument, be promoted in the framework of complementary regional and international initiatives on transfer security and end-use controls. It was argued that EU member states could already start to debate appropriate mechanisms as well as promote these in other multilateral forums.
Several speakers also pointed out that existing standards on marking and record-keeping on small arms need to be further developed. For example, a clear commitment should be made to mark all SALW, including those already manufactured and held in stockpiles. While it may not be necessary to immediately ensure appropriate marking of SALW held in, for example, long-term, secure storage, the application of appropriate markings should be mandatory if these weapons are transferred to active stockpiles or other end users. Also, national record-keeping systems and cross-border information exchanges must ensure that each party in the chain of commerce can document where a received weapon came from, and where it was transferred to.
At the same time, one speaker expressed concern that negotiations may become stuck in discussions on issues that did not gain consensus during negotiations of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and the UN Firearms Protocol. The speaker further argued that the focus on international co-operation in tracing illicit weapons, and the elaboration of practical modalities for such co-operation, should be the present priority for negotiations. EU member states could already engage in efforts among themselves and third countries to trace illicit weapons, particularly those recovered in armed conflict or post-conflict situations. This would allow them to gain greater experience in an area of small arms tracing that, up to now, has remained critically underdeveloped.
In addition, a recommendation was made to extend the right to initiate a tracing request to regional organisations acting on behalf of a state member to this organisation. One speaker added that serious thought should be given to further extending this right to an international point of contact if so requested by a UN member state or the UN Security Council. If responses to tracing requests reveal that the weapon was legally transferred to another state, the regional or international contact point should initiate a tracing request in relation to this further state. This should be continued until the last identified legal user of the weapon and the point of subsequent diversion is identified.
Several speakers emphasised the fundamental need for a dynamic tracing instrument that allows for the future evolution of common standards. This would be of particular relevance if currently negotiated standards were to restrict themselves to affirming that marking and record-keeping are national prerogatives without specifying further and more detailed measures to be taken in these areas. Further, technical requirements for appropriate markings, including security or secondary markings, may change with the advent of new materials used in the manufacture of SALW, as may the scope for consensus on issues such as electronic record-keeping systems. There is consequently a need for strong follow-up mechanisms and review bodies with clear mandates.
Such review bodies should monitor and review technical aspects of the tracing instrument, political aspects relating to the implementation of the instrument, and evolving best practices on national levels. The bodies could also be mandated to draw up recommendations to states party to the tracing instrument for its amendment in the light of, for example, technological developments and changing national practices and capacities. States party to the tracing instrument should negotiate the adoption of these recommendations at regular review meetings of the instrument.
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