Prioritizing the UNPoA on small arms

14 Mar

As member states gather next week for the Preparatory Committee for the August Review Conference to assess progress made on the implementation of the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PoA), there is much work to be done on evaluating the ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ of implementation of the PoA and the separately adopted International Tracing Instrument (ITI). As more than a decade has passed since the adoption of the PoA in 2001, member states must be serious about using 2012’s forums—the Prep Com as well as the Review Conference—to thoughtfully and thoroughly identify where weaknesses remain in the implementation of the PoA and promote strong and transparent measures to address these weaknesses through information exchange, international assistance, and solid reporting measures. The PoA offers the unique opportunity to tackle an issue that affects all member states—whether as manufacturer or importer of arms, in post-conflict or conflict-laden societies, or as supplier or consumer.

Following a very successful Meeting of Governmental Experts (MGE) in May 2011 under the leadership of Ambassador Jim McLay of New Zealand, member states must now fight the ‘negotiating fatigue’ that is sure to be a factor this year with the PoA Review Conference held just a few weeks after the month-long ATT Negotiating Conference in July. It is significant to highlight that the MGE was both a success for the PoA and a breakthrough achievement for arms-related processes on the whole as it was the first of its kind. The hope is that this type of meeting will be institutionalized and made to repeat in the PoA process and perhaps other arms control processes as well. The technical discussions held among national implementers who directly apply these methods in their capitals was a true value added as member states could share best practices and lessons learned in marking, tracing, and record keeping with regards to the PoA and the ITI. It is hoped that this positive momentum will be carried through into next week’s Prep Com, now under the able leadership of Nigeria’s Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu.

The importance of the PoA ‘blueprint’ for international, regional, and national action on preventing, combating, and eradicating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs) cannot be understated. It important to note, as has been pointed out by many in the diplomatic and civil society communities, that the PoA lays the groundwork for drying up existing stockpiles of weapons as well as those weapons already in circulation, something that the hoped-for, future ATT will not have the ability to do. Therefore, it is crucial that the PoA be robustly supported in concert with the current work on the ATT. It is critical that this Prep Com—in addition to the Review Conference—be prioritized as an important opportunity for progress on the PoA’s implementation. Moreover, as the PoA is a non-legally binding document that lacks clear benchmarks for success, it is vital that member states use the Prep Com as a means of evaluation to push forward implementation mechanisms in the most vigorous way possible. Furthermore, it is imperative that member states discuss a wide expanse of SALW-related issues in evaluating the illicit trade, including border controls, ammunition, intermediary brokers, and civil society cooperation in addition to the technical aspects of marking, tracing, and record keeping in order to improve implementation. These issues provide a valuable context for devising a comprehensive strategy for the control, prevention, and eradication of trade in SALWs, but also a strategy that is realistic in its implementation related expectations.

A key element of the success of the PoA, and thus also of tracking the progress on implementation, is honest and reliable reporting—something that is still starkly lacking among many member states. More than thirty member states have never submitted a report and others have only done so once or twice over the 11-year period since the PoA’s adoption. Although many states are, in fact, implementing the lion’s share of PoA undertakings, the lack of official and comprehensive reporting makes for a difficult process of analysis of progress made, which is the very goal of this Prep Com and subsequent Review Conference. National reports allow for better matching of needs and resources so that adequate international assistance can be provided to those states that need support in adopting measures in line with the PoA commitments. As such, it is important that this Prep Com encourage those states that have been remiss in their reporting duties to recommit to doing so. Moreover, the lack of benchmarks and of a formal monitoring system is often perceived as a major weakness of the PoA. Improvements in national reporting would certainly help curb the negative implications of the limited oversight mechanisms that exist within the PoA framework as well as help generate greater public awareness around the small arms process.

Illicit trafficking in SALWs is at the forefront of minds this year as many in the diplomatic community are set to tackle this issue through both the PoA and ATT processes. It would be wise to bear in mind the distinctive importance of the PoA in addressing the current challenges of communities awash in weapons and suffering severely from armed violence and other abuses committed at gun point. Illicit SALWs are a true blight on the security of communities by limiting and often preventing the ability to create and sustain a robust security sector with implications for the participation of women, the education of children, and much more. Building on the positive energy of the MGE, the Prep Com must continue its work of evaluating where weaknesses in implementation exist and, in turn, providing the support and pressure necessary to fill those gaps.

–Katherine Prizeman

One Response to “Prioritizing the UNPoA on small arms”


  1. Why the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons matters for the Pacific – Pacific Small Arms Action Group – Discussion Blog - March 8, 2016

    […] to curb illicit flows of small arms and light weapons (SALW). Others have suggested there is a “negotiating fatigue” surrounding international dialogue on how to improve weaknesses in the UNPoA. Furthermore, as […]

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