Tag Archives: UNPoA

Illicit Cross Border Flows (especially SALWs) as Threats to International Peace and Security

25 Apr

The Security Council, under the presidency of the United States, held an open debate on “Threats to International Peace and Security” on Wednesday, 25 April. Ambassador Susan Rice of the US provided a concept paper prior to the debate. The focus of discussions was on illicit cross-border movements, including trafficking in persons, drugs, weaponry, technology, and other commodities, that constitute threats to international peace and security. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the debate with a statement reiterating his support for the Council’s attention on this issue noting that member states are obliged under international law to secure their borders as well as build the capacity of states that require assistance to do so. Moreover, the Secretary-General rightly stated that border strengthening cannot be done in isolation, but must be a verifiable part of all national and public institutions that deliver sustained security. In a world of increasing globalization and border porosity, this task becomes ever more critical.

Member states, in cooperation with their regional partners as well as the appropriate elements of the multilateral fora, must develop comprehensive and coordinated responses to the causes and harmful byproducts of illicit flows. Illicit flows can constitute anything from illegal narcotics trafficking, illicit arms transfers, money laundering systems, and nuclear, chemical, radiological, and other deadly substance transfers that are often critical components (and financing mechanisms) of terrorist regimes. Indonesia’s representative underscored the danger of terrorist networks exploiting gaps in border security, while France’s delegation referred to the illicit transfer of weapons of mass destruction technology as a direct threat to peace and security. The Russian delegate expressed concern over the network of Somali pirates that has seized on the lack of border control in the region freely transferring sophisticated weaponry and illegal money. The Secretary-General promised a comprehensive assessment report to be released in 6-months in order to assist member states in their battle against illicit flows. The delegate of the European Union referred to it as a “diagnostic assessment” by the UN secretariat to focus national efforts.

Before discussion on substantive issues of cooperation in securing borders or capacity-building to prevent cross-border terrorist activities, the principle that illicit flows across borders can constitute a threat to international peace and security and, therefore, fall under the mandate of the Security Council, was debated by member states. Guatemala’s delegation noted that not all illicit cross-border activities reach the threshold of “threats to international peace and security,” and, therefore, would not fall under the Security Council’s purview. Likewise, the Pakistani delegation noted that the Council must remain in strict compliance with its mandate and that all illicit activities cannot be lumped into a single category, but rather, be treated under the appropriate treaty obligations and other legal frameworks provided for under various UN organs, agencies, and affiliates, which are not necessarily found in the work of the Security Council. India’s delegation agreed that the Security Council should only intervene when illicit flows clearly demonstrate a threat to international peace and security or imposed sanction regimes. The Cuban delegate stated that discussion of illicit trafficking is not an appropriate action for the Security Council, but rather, falls under the coordinated efforts of the General Assembly, where there is universal participation, and other relevant international treaties. The United Kingdom delegation also warned against restricting the flow of goods so much so that the global economy is not given space to develop. Ambassador Wittig of Germany agreed that interconnectedness should not be seen as a threat.

Who has control over border security and the level at which member states should cooperate were issues in focus during the debate. Delegations such as Pakistan, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Azerbaijan and China made clear that securing borders is a sovereign right of all nations and falls under national authority. The delegations of Morocco, Togo, and Germany emphasized coordinated responses among member states to tackle the complex chain of agencies and responsible entities tasked with securing borders and eradicating illicit and threatening flows.  The Togolese delegate went so far as to state that border zones “go beyond the sovereignty of states.” The Japanese delegation underscored the need for coordination among the many multilateral frameworks available for combating such illicit flows—the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the 1540 Committee, relevant sanctions committees, Interpol, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  On a national level, cooperation is required among the officials of customs, immigration, and law enforcement. The German delegation noted the role of peacekeeping operations and UN police in enhancing capacities against illicit trafficking at early stages of reconstruction.

Outside of the Security Council there are indeed mechanisms for dealing with one of the most pressing issues related to cross-border illegal trafficking: arms (most especially small arms and light weapons [SALWs]. Australia’s delegate referred directly to the role of the Programme of Action on small arms (UNPoA) as well as the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in combating these illegal movements. Australia’s delegation noted that although the UNPoA is a political agreement, it should be utilized as a platform for technical assistance in preventing, combating, and eradicating the illicit trade in SALWs. Likewise, the Australians underscored the critical importance of negotiating a robust ATT that includes SALWs and ammunition in July of this year.

As is oftentimes noted by those advocates pushing for a strong humanitarian instrument in the ATT, there are more controls for regulating the trade in bananas than arms. The proliferation of illicit arms funneled across borders indubitably contributes to instability, violence, and insecurity on a local, regional, and international level. Illicit arms are one of the most pervasive threats to a dependable security sector, and illegally diverted arms from the legal market contribute to vast quantities of violence, lawlessness, and conflict. Smalls arms and illegally diverted arms can pose a major cause of concern for international peace and security and require a multi-faceted, international response through multiple points of entry. As such, we encourage the Security Council, under its mandate to protect international peace and security, as well as the already-existing processes (such as the UNPoA and the forthcoming ATT) to robustly and comprehensively address this blight.

–Katherine Prizeman


PoA on Small Arms Prep Com Wrap Up: Looking Forward to August

26 Mar

As the Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) for the second Review Conference for reviewing the progress made on the implementation of the Programme of Action on small arms (PoA) has come to a close, member states are prepared to meet again in August to take a more detailed look at the successes and failures related to combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs). The small arms process is a critical forum for discussing the many human security-related implications of the proliferation of illicit arms as well as the diversion of arms from legal sales. Small arms are indeed an issue to be dealt with in multiple security discussions from sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict to the commission of mass atrocity crimes. Therefore, regular and transparent reviews of the PoA are a vital component of improving security on the national, regional, and international levels.

The second Review Conference for the PoA to be held in August is based on a universally-accepted General Assembly resolution (66/47), thus granting the process a healthy degree of credibility and consensus. Although controversies exist around expansion of the PoA, such as granting it a legally-binding status and expanding its scope to include ammunition, there is little argument that the PoA’s provisions, if adopted according to national needs and conducive to individual challenges, can and will prevent the illicit trade in SALWs and its dire consequences for international peace and security. Successful implementation of the PoA, as it is not legally-binding and puts forth a comprehensive blueprint of national, regional, and international measures to combat illicit small arms trade, requires robust trust and capacity building among member states and other relevant stakeholders such that national implementers have sufficient capacity and investment levels to adopt these measures.

This week’s Prep Com provided member states with the opportunity to adopt rules of procedure and an agenda as well as hold an exchange of views, in light of the time constraints of just five days, on potential elements for discussion in August. Substantive discussion was focused in large part on the need for more robust and comprehensive international assistance and cooperation for full implementation of the PoA. Additionally, member states addressed the follow-up mechanisms of the PoA, in particular the role of future meetings such as Meetings of Governmental Experts (MGE) on technical implementation capacities such as marking, tracing, recordkeeping, and activities around border controls. However, as noted by several delegations during the week, the Prep Com and subsequent Review Conference also provide for a valuable reaffirmation of commitment to strengthening and enhancing implementation of the PoA and the fight against the scourge of illicit weapons.

A Final Report was indeed adopted, although it is entirely procedural and technical in nature. Several delegations also submitted helpful Working Papers over the course of the week that enhanced the exchange of views during the week as well as for future deliberations. These papers included one from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on international assistance and cooperation, one from Japan on follow-up mechanisms, and two more comprehensive papers covering all aspects of the PoA’s implementation from the European Union and Germany, respectively. These Working Papers will certainly add to the bounty of documents to be used during the inter-sessional period between the Prep Com and the Review Conference as the Chair and member states hold informal consultations to determine the best way forward in more effectively implementing the PoA’s provisions. Background documentation for the Review Conference will also include the Chair’s summary from the MGE from May 2011, from Ambassador Jim McLay of New Zealand, representing the first of its kind. Many delegations expressed interest in more meetings of this nature to dissect in more technical terms how implementers from capitals can better adopt the PoA’s measures in practice. The Chair’s summary, under the authorship of Chair Ambassador Ogwu of Nigeria, laid forth views expressed by member states during the week according to the structure of the PoA itself—measures to combat illicit trade at the national, regional, and international levels; international cooperation and assistance; follow-up mechanisms to the Review Conference; and review of the International Tracing Instrument (ITI). The summary was not a consensus document, but did its best to summarize views and recommendations made by member states to improve implementation and does serve as a beneficial starting point for discussions both in informal consultations and in August’s Review Conference.

In looking forward, it is important to bear in mind the significance of the PoA. The PoA directly addresses the scourge of illicit weapons and seeks to garner control over their proliferation by concrete measures including stockpile management and disposal, border control mechanisms, and firearms marking and tracing. This is an instrument, accepted by the international community on the whole, that can in fact prevent and eradicate human suffering associated with armed violence and other forms of conflict committed with SALWs, which is no small contribution to international security.

There are many aspects of the PoA that require further elaboration and information exchange among all member states to deal with this complicated and comprehensive challenge. However, there are several issues that, in our view, merit particular attention:

  • Developing national action plans (NAP) on SALWs would serve as an excellent confidence-building measure, although not without its difficulties given the example found in the women, peace and security framework.  Such NAPs have not been entirely successful in the context of Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 as most states still have not formulated a NAP in the almost twelve years since the Resolution’s adoption;
  • Focusing on the need for peacekeeping operations to address safe storage and disposal of SALWs as part of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs;
  • Discussing SALW issues in other UN frameworks  and mandates including 1325, the Special Representative on children and armed conflict, and the Special Representative on conflict-related sexual violence, among others;
  • Setting up and institutionalizing other MGEs in the PoA small arms process such that there are regular gatherings of national, technical experts directly responsible for implementing the PoA’s provisions;
  • Identifying which of the PoA/ITI commitments will require further elaboration in a diplomatic setting and setting up meetings and agendas to address them in the appropriate forum

The Prep Com offered much hope for addressing the deadly consequences of illicit SALWs. It accomplished its procedural goals as well as initiated a substantive discussion that, although will require much more diplomatic wrangling in order to identify points of viable consensus, was wrought with important security themes. Diplomats and non-governmental stakeholders alike must use the inter-sessional period to prepare in the best way possible for the Review Conference by vetting proposals already presented as well as formulating new ones.

–Katherine Prizeman

Discussion over Chair’s Summary at the Final Day of the PoA Prep Com

23 Mar

The final day of the Prep Com was devoted to a review of the Chair’s Summary, which incorporated much of the previous days’ discussions and seemed to find considerable informal and formal support by states. There were objections of course. In some cases, delegations both lamented the lack of time needed to digest the Draft and then provided very specific criticisms of its contents. This seems incongruous on the surface but perhaps not as much as initially assumed.

While the Chair acknowledged the problem associated with diplomats having to respond to a Draft without sufficient guidance from capitals, it is assumed (by us at least) that most of the controversial matters would already have been vetted with diplomatic colleagues back home. The Draft, after all, is intended to provide guidance not (as some delegations seemed to imply) to create a controversial or preemptive blueprint for summer negotiations. Our view is that, as a rule, objections not raised are more toxic to a consensus disarmament process than those put on the table. In the case of the Arab Group and others, objections should be seen both as an effort to keep consensus options fully in play and as a statement of willingness to be fully active at the summer Review Conference.

As Mexico noted, the Draft is not a consensus document. It is useful as a guide to the Review Conference but does not seek to bind the hands of delegations. For us, this seems to be a document with contents largely consistent with the PoA process itself – implementation that is hopeful but incomplete, effective but not fully binding. When Pakistan spoke of the need to consolidate implementation in local and regional contexts, this is of course the core value of this endeavor. And nothing happened this week to jeopardize future progress. No funding was pulled off the table. No objections were raised that were deal breakers for delegations. No existing commitments were dismantled. No irreparable rifts between stakeholders took place.

It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t solve all problems. But it did no harm. And it reinforced for many delegations the degree to which illicit small arms are, indeed, the true weapons of mass destruction. This Prep Com represented another opportunity for delegations to learn how to work together to enhance what is for now an effective process with no legal standing, but with much creativity and generosity with which to conduct its work.

Moving forward, delegations have at their disposal a Draft that can both organize and promote a successful meeting in August. This is not a Draft to dodge, but a draft to use as guidance to build a new generation of PoA related commitments.

–Robert Zuber

Reviewing for the Purpose of Strengthening the PoA on Small Arms

23 Mar

After a week-long session of the Prep Com for the August Review Conference on the Programme of Action (PoA) on small arms discussing thematic issues such as international assistance and cooperation, follow-up mechanisms, and the International Tracing Instrument (ITI), member states must now channel their efforts towards concrete preparations for a successful second Rev Con in just over five months time. A key discussion among member states on Thursday was determining what exactly the mandate of the forthcoming Rev Con stipulates—to review progress made on the implementation of the PoA or to also strengthen its implementation in addition to reviewing it. The discussion over what on the surface may seem to be a small difference in wording is critical to the long-term success of the PoA and, ultimately, combating the deadly effects of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs).  This distinction is also crucial to the formal small arms review process at large. Reviewing and strengthening cannot be decoupled activities as they both, in tandem, contribute to controlling the spread of illicit SALWs.

The discussion initiated around wording contained in the introductory paragraph of the Draft Report describing the mandate of the forthcoming Rev Con. The discussion began when the representative of Algeria stated that the mandate of the Prep Com does not explicitly include a reference to strengthening or enhancing the PoA and, therefore, member states should only consider the strengthening task if the mandate explicitly indicates this function. A solution was found by including the direct quotation from General Assembly resolution 66/47, which states: “…at the second review conference, to review progress made in the implementation of the Programme of Action, and, subject to the agenda of the conference to be agreed by the preparatory committee, encourages them to explore ways to strengthen its implementation…”

Although a way was found to move forward on the Draft Report, the larger question of ‘reviewing’ versus ‘strengthening’ deserves more attention.  Concerns by members states over expanding the PoA, such as seeking coverage for ammunition or to make it a legally-binding instrument, is a separate and potentially larger and more animated conversation. Furthermore, reviewing implementation of the PoA is not an end in and of itself and, therefore, cannot be conducted in a vacuum. The review process must serve a larger goal—the goal of strengthening implementation of the PoA’s provisions in national contexts so that all member states, in the context of their individual national constraints and unique needs, can more robustly prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in SALWs.  As was stated many times by delegations over the course of the week, particularly during the debate on international assistance and cooperation, the Rev Con and relevant meetings (including possible future MGEs) should serve as forums to review PoA implementation in order to better exchange information and views on best practices and lessons learned to strengthen its implementation.

The concern of some states that the PoA will ‘overstep’ its bounds and become a different type of instrument, whether due to its shifting legal status or its expanded scope, is a valid one that merits a robust and productive discussion among diplomats. Although there were calls this week by some delegations to have ammunition included in the PoA and ITI, there was clearly no consensus on this issue. Moreover, this Prep Com was not necessarily the appropriate forum for vetting such proposals given the time constraints and the distinct mandate to prepare the agenda for the August Rev Con. As such, as it stands now, the work of the upcoming Rev Con must focus on improving and strengthening what already exists in the PoA and ITI—a strong set of provisions and comprehensive frameworks at the national, regional, and international levels for eradicating the illicit trade in SALWs.

The hope is that the PoA would at some point become a legally-binding instrument or that it might also include ammunition such that the multi-dimensional, disastrous consequences of the illicit trade in SALWs would be more effectively prevented. Advocating for an expansion of the PoA is important and should not be overlooked in the Rev Con. Nonetheless, this ‘separate, but equal’ debate should not cloud the purpose and mandate of the August Rev Con, which is to review progress made in implementing the PoA in order to identify ways in which member states can strengthen their national implementation practices and better prevent the illicit trade in SALWs.

–Katherine Prizeman

A Review of the New SG Report on the Support Mission in Libya: Urgent Security Challenges

8 Mar

On 1 March 2012, the Secretary-General issued a new report on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) detailing the major developments in the country since the release of the previous report from 22 November 2011 as well as the activities undertaken by the mission under its mandate from Security Council resolutions 2009, 2017, and 2022. The report outlines the major challenges facing Libya in its political transition as well as recommendations for the future for both UNSMIL and Libyan authorities.

The report offers a recount of the political developments in the country from the announcement of a new interim government by the National Transitional Council (TNC) on 22 November 2011 to the intermittent struggles with the revolutionary ‘brigades’ in Tripoli and beyond. It is clear that the security situation remains highly precarious. The issue of the call for semi-autonomy by local tribal leaders in the oil-rich eastern region has also recently come to the forefront for the TNC among other security sector challenges such as proliferation of weapons, trans-border challenges posed from porous movement across neighboring borders with Chad, Niger, and Mali among others, skirmishes between rival brigades, and attacks against internally-displaced persons (IDPs). Welcome references in the SG’s description of the increasingly active political discourses are youth and women who, according to the report, represent groups that “seek to transform their role from freedom fighters to nation-builders through engagement in making decisions on Libya’s political, economic and social future.”

Among a variety of mandated-activities, UNSMIL is focused primarily on providing support for the upcoming electoral process; protecting human rights, transitional justice and rule of law, in particular addressing the detention of conflict-related detainees and interrogations; securing public security including border security, landmines and explosive remnants of war, and small arms proliferation; and supporting socio-economic recovery in coordination with other international assistance. The Secretary-General has asked for the Security Council to extend the mandate of UNSMIL for another 12 months as an integrated political  mission to help ensure the best possible transition in the post-Qadaffi era. The SG has highlighted the importance of maintaining the Libya mission as a “relatively small special political mission, joining forces with the work of agencies, funds and programmes,” as such a model thereby limits the budgetary requirements.

Most especially in light of the upcoming Preparatory Committee for the Programme of Action on small arms in just two weeks, it is important to underscore the specific references to arms proliferation in the SG’s report. As has been referenced on this blog before, the issue of uncontrolled weapons across the whole of Libya has been a significant challenge in the post-revolution period as Libyans seek to secure their nation and embrace democracy in an extremely tenuous security environment. The report explains that visits to 123 weapons storage sites have been conducted jointly by Libyan officials and international counterparts such as the UN Mine Action Service and have revealed a total of 5,000 registered man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and their components, although the fear of missing MANPADS is still a viable concern. Most alarming is the lack of detailed records of weapons in pre-conflict stocks and weapons used and transferred during the conflict. As such, currently there is exploration of a registration system of weapons– including MANPADS– as well as ammunition and its storage and management. For this type of system to be successfully implemented, it is clear that all those that manage and possess weapons participate, including those tribal brigades that are still engaged in their own internal power struggles. The issue of landmines and other explosive remnants of war has also been addressed by the Joint Mine Action Coordination Team, although the operation has struggled due to a lack of funding. A total of 126,155 mines and explosive weapons have been cleared as of the end of January 2012. The Ministry of Defence has also established the Libyan Centre for Mine Action with this mandate.

The primary challenge of the arms situation in Libya is the lack of transparency and access to the stockpiles controlled by the rival brigades that are still very much a factor in the difficult political situation. Therefore, it seems the most urgent need related to the brigade fighters and their large number of unaccounted for weapons is the integration and unification of these revolutionary fighters into national security institutions. The first step must be adequate demobilization in solid coordination with halting small arms proliferation through a transparent registration system of weapons in circulation. Obviously this will be no easy task. One of the most difficult challenges of small arms is just that– they are small, mobile, and easily collected, traded, and hidden. The same cannot be said for other types of conventional weapons such as tanks, helicopters, or missile systems. Many of these revolutionary fighters are unwilling to forego their weapons due to the weak security sector, which, in turn, remains weak in part due to the wide circulation and hoarding of weapons. It is a dangerous and vicious cycle that must be broken. The Libyan authorities themselves have recognized that their foremost challenge is to address the wide circulation of weapons and the armed brigades fighting for control of territory across the country. Furthermore, these weapons are undoubtedly finding their way across borders fueling conflict and violence in neighboring states such as Sudan wrought with its own set of very difficult internal conflicts.

Libya has a difficult road ahead as it transitions to a new government and seeks to integrate a country fraught with regional and tribal divisions. To do so will require a stable security situation without which the transition will be impossible and such stability in the security sector requires control of arms proliferation.

–Katherine Prizeman