Small Arms & Light Weapons: Actors & Activities

Targets and beneficiaries of SALW control programs

The main targets of small arms and light weapons (SALW) control programs have been official security forces; criminals and organized criminal gangs (including drug cartels); irregular armed groups (which may include insurgent forces and terrorist groups), private militias; community self-defense groups, refugee and internally displaced persons camps.1 Different types of relationships exist between these various groups. Indeed, unlike major conventional weapons, SALW easily cross the dividing line separating military and police forces from the civilian population. One key issue is to define and identify individuals or groups that have been key players and targets: both men and women, boys and girls who act either as perpetrators of armed violence or victims of violence.2

Young men as perpetrators and victims of armed violence

Armed groups including rebel insurgent, government-backed militias, and vigilante groups, have been the primary perpetrators of armed violence in contemporary conflict. Within this category, young men represent a disproportionately high share of the perpetrators and victims of gun-related violence.3 Some individuals join armed groups out of a lack of better economic opportunity, or due to political or ideological convictions, others because of forced conscription or are motivated by revenge, sense of injustice, or a shared sense of common identity. Young men are easily attracted to armed groups such as gangs, militias, paramilitary groups, which often carries a perceived sense of respect and social advancement. For example, heavily armed youth gangs or 'maras' in Central American countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala or Nicaragua are often engaged in deadly rivalries and violent criminal activities.4 Violence perpetrated by young men with small arms is sometimes considered 'a display of manhood.' For instance, in some countries, "young men participate in [cattle] raids in order to be accepted by their peers, liked by women and praised by society."5 However, while studies of youth violence have long considered the role played by young men, small arms-specific research on the issue is nascent.6  Go to DDR

Communities afflicted by a surplus of SALW

Communities are the ultimate beneficiaries of SALW control programs. In recent years, there has been a tendency to move from individual disarmament programs to community-based SALW programs that are more participatory in nature and attempt to reinforce socio-economic development in a particular community. Since SALW rob communities of scarce public health resources, impedes opportunities for investment, development programs, and reconstruction, many of the community-based programs are grounded in a development framework. For instance, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has initiated microdisarmament projects in various post-conflict countries (e.g. Albania, Mali, Sudan), increasingly known as "Weapons for Development" programs to address the two-fold issue of insecurity at the community level and also provide development programs through a consultative approach.

Women and girls in armed violence

Women and girls are clear victims of SALW violence. There is in particular a gender-specific violence (domestic violence, rape and other sexual abuses) committed by men (including law enforcement officers) using SALW.7 Less known, documented and openly discussed is sexual violence targeting males, often committed with the threat of weapons. Here again, SALW do not create the violence, but the probability, affordability, and utility of these weapons may dramatically increase the lethality of violence. This also concerns the violence perpetrated in the domestic sphere, a pattern that has been observed in most post-conflict situations.

When dealing with gender issues, it is also important to remember that the relationship between women and weapons is far more complex. For example, in some cases women are also perpetrators of gun violence (in the case of female combatants); therefore, they should not be viewed as just the passive victims of armed violence. Moreover, even when women have been excluded from military combat during conflict, they may have been associated with other aspects such as smuggling weapons. Therefore, they often have key information on arms routes and caches.8 Girls and women have been also associated with and play multiple roles in criminal gangs or fighting forces. Female combatants and gang members increasingly receive the same initiation and training in the use of weapons as their male counterparts. For all these reasons, "in drawing in women and children as both victims and perpetrators of deadly aggression, such weapons have forced us to think differently about who properly constitutes an actor and who a victim of armed violence."9  Go to Psycho-social Recovery: Women and Gender Issues

Children as perpetrators and victims of armed violence

Children are often forcibly conscripted into armed militias or rebel insurgencies. Thus children, both boys and girls have been exposed to and involved in armed conflicts. A US Department of State human rights report on child soldiers notes that 30 countries have used and recruited child soldiers.10 The most egregious cases continue to take place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sri Lanka, and Uganda. At the same time, arms analyst Rachel Stohl has noted that "How small arms affect children in particular is often difficult to ascertain. Intuitively, if small arms affect civilians in conflict, their toll on children must be considerable. The challenge is determining how considerable this toll is. The conditions in areas devastated by small arms-fuelled conflictincluding poverty, malnutrition, disease and injury, lack of education, and the absence of health careare all among the risk factors for children in these conflict zones. Such conditions directly affect all civilians, but it is children who feel the long-term effects."11
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Official military forces and private security

Officers from the public and private security bodies are also key targets of SALW programs, in particular in their regulation and training components. Private security guards may constitute a very specific target considering the mushrooming of private security companies in post-war countries. "The role played by private military and security companies relates not only to provisions contained in the contracts they sign with their clients to provide large amounts of weaponry, but also how the military and security services and training that they provide contributes to the demand for these weapons in the regions where they operate. In this way private military and security companies contribute to the negative impact small arms proliferation can have on conflict transformation, human rights, and humanitarian law, as well as pos-conflict stability and development."12 In addition, disgruntled and poorly salaried government soldiers have been known to rent or sell their weapons to rebel insurgents or groups interested in fomenting violence.13  Go to SSR

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Policy makers/implementers of SALW control programs

National and sub-national level actors

At national level, local NGOs, business, media, and individual experts, as well as national governments play a major role in highlighting, researching, and documenting the small arms problem, developing policy tools and programs to deal with the issue, and monitoring their implementation.14 Regional and international agreements, conferences and groups of experts have been significant in raising general awareness and a need for action to address the problem of SALW proliferation, but it is at the national level where change needs to occur. National regulation of SALW is at the foundation for implementing broader control measures. However, in many instances, the problem of SALW is also a transnational problem requiring harmonization and decisions at the sub-regional level. For instance, in the sub-region of West Africa, each state appointed a national focal point and created national commissions on SALW to coordinate national activities. Although the level of participation varied from state to state, local civil society organizations (CSO) also participated in helping set the agenda to improve a comprehensive set of laws and administrative procedures that covered all aspects of SALW transfers.

"States have demonstrated little inclination to implement effective laws."15 The UN Programme of Action that was adopted in 2001, during the United Nations Conference on the "Illicit Traffic in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects" in July 2001 emphasized national measures to control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.16 Particularly, states agreed to "establish or maintain an effective national system of export and import licensing or authorization," and "measures on international transit, for the transfer of all small arms and light weapons, with a view to combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons"; "put in place and implement adequate laws, regulations and administrative procedures to ensure the effective control over the export and transit of small arms and light weapons, including the use of authenticated end-user certificates and effective legal and enforcement measures"; and to "assess applications for export authorizations according to strict national regulations and procedures...consistent with the existing responsibilities of States under relevant international law."17 However, the 2005 independent review of progress on the UN Programme of Action found that "more than 100 states have failed to enact what is considered to be a minimum step towards implementation-- that is, establishing governmental bodies to coordinate action on small arms at a national level-- while more than 120 countries have failed even to review their laws and regulations on small arms."18 In post-war settings, national governments may face even more problems in that respect. In countries where a more comprehensive approach of the small arms issues has been taken, reaching deep into the domestic governance arrangements of states, this has allowed new alliances between local NGOs and governments or between international and local actors.

A full range of local actors are also involved to ensure that SALW control strategies are inclusive and that the development and implementation is context appropriate. Some of these actors include local chiefs, village elders, religious leaders, local militia, womens associations, youth associations, and district officials. The incorporation of local CSOs into the SALW control policies and decision-making are beneficial since they have the ability to advocate policy proposals that may be a better fit with the needs, culture, and security dilemmas of the local communities.

Regional actors and instruments

Regional organizations have been key actors in the evolution of a global public policy framework on SALW. For example, during the 18 months preceding the 2001 UN Conference on SALW, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union (EU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) intensified efforts to prioritized common approaches to dealing with the illicit trade of SALW within their region. Many of the recommended measures were based on existing national laws however it was felt that the process could trigger the development of new multilateral norms. Indeed, many of the various regional measures have influenced the character of UN Programme of Action.

Regional agreements have been able to move forward from politically binding agreements to legally binding commitments much faster than at the international level. For example, the issue of firearms first appeared on the agenda of the OAS in 1990, in the context of guns and drug trafficking. Currently, the Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions, the European Union Code of Conflict on Arms Exports, the Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, the South Africa Development Community Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials, and the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons are all legally binding agreements. Regional level activities have focused on issues of violent crime, conflict, and drug trafficking, and have incorporated building on common capacities within law enforcement, border control and customs as a top priority.

"Small arms transfer control efforts at the national and regional level may be more effective, comprehensive and sustainable. States in regional groupings often share more common understandings of the nature of the small arms problem in a particular geographical area and may therefore be more attuned to what is required to address the issue successfully. This is already evident in existing regional or sub-regional agreements such as the Economic Community of West African States Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and other Related Materials (ECOWAS Convention) and the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and other Related Materials."19 Regional agreements allow states to share information on the commonalities of SALW proliferation in a specific region and facilitate the successful intervention mechanisms.

International actors and instruments

The United Nations (UN) has dedicated substantial effort in researching the nature of the SALW problem and providing a central forum to develop an international regime to regulate the illicit trade of SALW. Indeed, the UN first document to identify SALW as an important instrument of violence in internal violence was the UN Secretary-Generals Supplement to An Agenda for Peace in 1995. In 1998, the UN created the Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) composed of 16 different departments, agencies, funds and programs to coordinate the activities on SALW taking place within the organization and to provide assistance to UN Member States.20 The topic of SALW has been discussed most frequently in the General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies than other parts of the UN system.

Of the international UN agreements, the UN 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 (UN Firearms Protocol), which entered into force in 2005, is currently the only legally binding agreement adopted so far. The two other relevant politically binding agreements are the UN Programme of Action and the International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (International Tracing Instrument), which were adopted in 2001 and 2005, respectively.21 In 2006, the majority of delegates to the General Assemblys First Committee endorse a resolution calling for the creation of an Arms Trade Treaty, calling for common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.22

The universal consensus process at the UN has made pushing forward multilateral agreements on SALW a slow and frustrating process. Key blocks of countries such as Iran, Zimbabwe, Russia, China, Cuba, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Israel, and the US have consistently objected to global efforts to regulate weapons they feel to be an indispensible right and a vital part in maintaining national security. During the 2006 SALW review conference, these key states objected to so many parts of a working agreement that they effectively blocked consensus of the entire outcome document. Despite efforts like these to knock the issue of SALW control entirely off the international agenda, the General Assembly First Committee stepped in to resolve the uncertainty over the fate of the SALW issue by adopting a resolution to resurrect the biennial meetings. Nevertheless, at a UN Security Council debate on SALW mentioned the UN Secretary-Generals report on April 30, 2008, demonstrated that although there has been an increasing attention to the issue, no concrete progress was taking place.

The Peacebuilding Commission, as a new actor helping to forge new spirit of partnership among key stakeholders, could potentially play an increasing role on the subject. In particular, the long-term political compacts known as strategic frameworks for specific countries hold the potential of offering a more comprehensive answer to the issue of small arms in areas where the levels of small arms circulating may be higher than before the conflict ended. Connections with different institutions inside and outside the UN as well as better coordination with existing instruments will be necessary.23

Other international organizations have also been involved on the subject including INTERPOL, which developed a global police communication system known as "I-24/7" providing member countries law enforcement authorities access the organizations databases. Information on international organized crime, terrorism and money-laundering could help combat the illicit trade and small arms brokering. The organization is also establishing the INTERPOL Weapons Electronic Tracing System in order to facilitate national law enforcement agencies to track firearm illicit movements and uses.24

In addition, the World Customs Organization (WCO) is another organization involved to prevent, combat and eradicate illicit trade and brokering of SALW by improving the capacity of national customs authorities.25 To facilitate the implementation of the WCO Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade, the organization is engaged in programs to improve the capacity of national customs authorities.

Lastly, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have set up standards that are regularly updated to govern the conduct of their members and control the transport of dangerous cargoes, including ammunition and explosives.26

Epistemic communities

Similar to the campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines, the role of "like-minded" states and civil society organizations (CSOs) has proliferated. They have been called "norm-entrepreneurs" stimulating awareness and advocacy of the indiscriminate use SALW. Many of the same "middle power states" that played a key role in the ban on anti-personnel mines also vigorously promoted the control of SALW. Two groups kinds of like-minded states have developed: (1) States with a history of multilateral arms control agendas (Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands; (2) States that have been adversely affected by SALW either directly or indirectly (Colombia, Mali, Mexico, and South Africa).

Many CSOs have participated in local awareness raising campaigns and lobbied both governments and international organizations on the problems of SALW proliferation and diffusion. The number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has grown exponentially from 13 in 1998 to more than 500, organizing themselves under the umbrella of International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).27 Many of these organizations within IANSA have also created national, regional, and sub-regional networks to address more specific concerns relevant to their geographical area.
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There has also been a rapid expansion of research organizations focusing specifically on SALW. Databases generated from public sources on SALW production, export, and transfer has become more available due to the efforts of research organizations. The Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT) and UN Comtrade created databases containing information on SALW imports and exports. The Center for Defense Information (CDI) has published various books and monographs analyzing the proliferation of SALW. The Small Arms Survey an independent research project based at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland has produced a large body of surveys examining on the use of firearms in specific countries and regions. They have been one of the principal international sources of public information on all aspects of small arms. It serves to monitor national and international (governmental and non-governmental) initiatives, and acts as a clearing house for the dissemination of best practices in the field.28 The UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) has also played an important role in generating knowledge on various aspects of SALW, including microdisarmament, stockpile management, regional initiatives to deal with SALW, and creating participatory evaluation and monitoring techniques.

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Managing and controlling SALW

The overall objective of small arms and light weapons (SALW) control programs is "to secure a safer environment and control small arms and light weapons within society in order to promote the conditions that will encourage the continued return of the region to normalization."29 From a human security perspective, the issue of SALW focuses on individual and community safety and welfare, emphasizing that "reducing the number of arms is a means to an end rather than an end in itself - the real objective is not just fewer guns but safer people."30

Small arms measures and initiatives are adopted and implemented at the community, national, regional, and international levels. National and community components are crucial, in particular in post-conflict settings, but they cannot succeed if these measures are not complemented by regional and international efforts. Despite considerable differences in the level of regional commitment to the SALW issue, many regional measures have established important precedents for broader, global action. International measures including those adopted by the UN and other arrangements, fill gaps in regional activity and bind states worldwide to essential minimum standards.31 Yet, the impact of all those measures remains limited.

Control in the manufacture and production of SALW

Although new weapons production and manufacture is concentrated in a small number of states (with the US, Russia, and China being major producers), SALW are a 'mature technology' with the know-how widely distributed. In many parts of East-Central Europe (in particular Ukraine) large surplus stockpiles exist, posing a greater proliferation challenge than new production itself, especially for military-style automatic weapons. In addition, many third world countries (including Ghana, Pakistan and Colombia) manufacture small arms and light weapons on their own with licensing agreements with major suppliers or simply copying international designs in individual gunsmiths or small factories.32 More than 1,000 companies in about 100 countries are estimated to be involved in some aspects of small arms production.33

With such plentiful producers and manufacturers of SALW, efforts to restrict the global supply of weapons have been challenging. the only binding international instrument that sets out common procedures to prevent and suppress the illicit manufacture of firearms, is the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, which supplemented the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Firearms Protocol).34 However, the Firearms Protocol does not include state-to-state transfers. Comprehensive and stringently enforced licensing systems controlling manufacture (including licensed production overseas), transfer and end-use of SALW are a crucial element in combating the illicit SALW trade. At present it is inadequately controlled in many countries.35

Marking, tracing, and record-keeping

Marking and tracing of weapons is the basic prevention mechanism as it "allows law enforcement agencies to identify the sources and routes of weapons in case of their diversion or criminal use and to punish those responsible. This is especially important in conflict zones, since illicit weapons used by non-state armed groups almost always were originally legally produced or exported."36 Estimates suggest that 80 percent to 90 percent of the SALW traded on the black market originate in state-sanctioned trade. While the value of the black market trade in SALW may be relatively small-scale worth around $1 billion it is almost impossible to control. In addition, the durability of small arms means they can easily be recycled from one conflict to another, or passed between the hands of different criminals. The conflicts in the sub-region of West Africa are but one arresting example of this, with SALW being recycled from conflict continuum to another.37 Marking the weapons upon production and import, and keeping records, would help reconstitute transfer routes and find out where the weapons enter illicit channels. This would also help better implement UN embargoes.

The International Tracing Instrument, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2005, covers marking of new production and government stocks and of import of arms. It allows states to file SALW tracing requests and respond to tracing requests from peacekeeping missions. However, it is a political act which does not legally bind member states. There is no monitoring mechanism and there has been no tracing request to date. Effective implementation is based on the cooperation of manufacturers and exporting states, and faces the challenges of "unmarked weapons produced before marking became compulsory, weapons that have had their marks removed by specialists or even by the manufacturers, and stolen weapons that have passed through the hands of numerous brokers who have successfully covered their tracks."38 Last but not least, the document omits the marking or tracing of ammunition, which is a key component of small arms (see ammunitions).

The idea of having end-use certificates goes in the same direction but without a standard or agreed format, they are not very reliable. Delivery verification is also generally low and small arms end-use monitoring is largely neglected.39

Brokering controls

Arms brokers are middlemen who organize arms transfers between two or more parties, including buyers, sellers, transporters, financiers and insurers. Arms brokering is not illegal per se. However, arms brokers have been linked to illegal transfer of weapons or 'undesirable users and destinations' such as countries under embargos,40 armed groups, repressive governments and conflict zones. Arms brokers benefit from the absence of international legal frameworks and weak national legal frameworks, conducting business in less regulated countries or sourcing arms from third countries in which their business are not located.41 So far, few of them have faced prosecution for lack of jurisdiction or evidence.42 Brokers partner with transport agents to facilitate the delivery of arms by air, sea or road.43 Transport agents usually develop outside the state system while retaining close contact with government security agencies as they were used to transfer arms to 'political friends' during the Cold War period.44 The lack of harmonized national systems in the areas of standards for licensing, extraterritoriality, registration and reporting requirements and penalties remains a serious problem.45

At the international level, the issue of illicit arms brokering has gained considerable attention during the past decade, in particular in the context of constant violations of UN embargoes. At the request of the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General established a Group of Governmental Experts that met in three sessions between November 2006 and June 2007 to "identify steps to enhance international cooperation in preventing, combating and eradicating illicit brokering." The Group's report contains important contributions, in particular the first agreed description of what constitutes illicit brokering in small arms.46 However, it is unclear whether this effort can result in an international legally binding instrument.47 As a result, arms brokers continue to operate with limited constraints.

International export, import transfer and cross border controls

Beyond the measures dealing more specifically with broking or the tracing of weapons, international export, import, and in-transit movement of small arms, light weapons and ammunition should be addressed. Major gaps in export criteria and end-use monitoring too often allows diversion of small arms to unintended end-user and end uses. Different initiatives have been launched to build broad-based transfer controls but they largely remain at the stage of discussion.48

In practice, cross-border measures are also needed. They generally request capacity building to strengthen border control to curb small arms and light weapons trafficking, such as police and customs personnel training in border areas. Regional as well as sub-regional initiatives are also necessary to curb illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons. Activities involve fostering information exchange to improve border control and anti-trafficking; regional seminars/ workshops and training for police and customs personnel in border areas; capacity building to strengthen small arms and light weapons related border control; and promoting regional harmonization of firearms possession legislation and implementation.

UN arms embargoes

UN arms embargoes have been increasingly used as a tool. They are supported by the UN Security Council sanctions committees established to oversee their implementation. Regional structures (such as OSCE and the European Union) can also decide arms embargoes. Over the time, the design and monitoring of arms embargoes has improved, thanks to the action of independent monitoring groups and peacekeeping missions who can assist directly (if this is part of their mandate) or indirectly in such monitoring. Otherwise, the UN sanctions committees have to rely largely on member states themselves to monitor and implement the embargoes. In all cases, the effectiveness of arms embargoes is still under question.49 Critics have long argued that such embargoes were usually late and blunt instruments. Major UN arms embargos are often violated by major producers of weapons and individual targeted countries and non-state armed groups. "The embargoes that have been introduced since 1990 have been assessed as having a limited impact on both arms flows to, and the behavior of, embargoed targets."50 Groups of experts appointed by the UN Security Council to monitor embargoes have regularly pointed out the limits of these measures. Critics have also regularly point the fact that these investigative teams are given woefully inadequate resources and time to do their difficult job given the inherently clandestine nature of such traffic and its grave consequences.51 Only few arms embargo violators have faced legal action.52

Stockpile security and surplus weapons destruction

The secure management of stocks is a key tool to help limit the entry of licit weapons into the illicit market as official stores can become key targets of insurgents, criminals and rebel groups. Weapons and ammunition are taken through theft, raiding of storage depots, and capture in combats or simple neglect especially in conflict regions.53 Losses are due to poor storage practices and the lack of personal responsibility.54 Ensuring arms stockpile security and destroying surplus and obsolete arms are key measures of particularly vital importance in post-war environment to prevent surplus arms from falling into black market. Appropriate inventory controls, clear stockpile management measures, and destruction of surplus and confiscated or collected small arms, in particular under disarmament programs are also essential.55 The Programme of Action, which was adopted at the 2001 United Nations Conference on the "Illicit Traffic in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects" encouraged States to establish adequate and detailed standards and procedures. While the Program does not insist on the destruction of surplus weapons, it does call for 'their responsible disposal, preferably through destruction' (sec. II, para. 18) and urges the provision of 'assistance in the destruction or other responsible disposal of surplus stocks of unmarked or inadequately marked small arms and light weapons' (sec. III, para. 14). The Program also encourages the public destruction of surplus weapons and the voluntary surrender of small arms in co-operation with civil society and NGOs (sec. II, para. 20). The effectiveness of this provision was limited by the fact that states could not agree on criteria for determining what constitutes a small arms surplus.

These measures do not always receive appropriate support in post-conflict peacebuilding aid programs.56 Destructions are typically conducted by local authorities or through bilateral agreements.57 UN peace operations have often partnered with local authorities to destroy arms in public for symbolic reasons. Examples of bilateral agreements include the cases of South Africa and Mozambique, or South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.58


Ammunitions are crucial as they turn small arms into lethal tools. The recent report of the UN Secretary General notices: "In contexts of sustained use, such as conflict situations, ammunition stockpiles are rapidly depleted, contrasting with the relative longevity of arms. Preventing their resupply in situations conflicting with the rule of law should be a matter of prime concern."59 Two distinct problems need to be addressed in the post-conflict environment. First, "where researched, it has been demonstrated that much of the ammunition circulating among armed non-state actors has been illicitly diverted from State security forces."60 Second, "warehouses of ammunition, sometimes placed in densely populated areas, have recently exploded in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Albania, Mozambique and Nigeria, causing thousands of casualties. Therefore, security as well as safety measures with regard to ammunition stockpiles need to be urgently addressed."61

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Managing social violence

The main programs to regulate social violence include national regulation of civilian possession and use, practical disarmament (both in relation with DDR and Security Sector Reform programs), prevention programs based on awareness and communication strategies, and finally small arms surveys that aim to understand why people want to acquire and use weapons.

SALW surveys

Surveying the nature and extent of SALW spread and impact within local communities and a society at large is the first stage in implementing a SALW control program in any given country; it generally needs to be complemented by a regional contextualization.62 Four major components of a survey can be distinguished:

1.A small arms distribution assessment: collection of data on the type, quantity, ownership, distribution and movement of SALW within the country or region, and examines local resources available to respond to the problem;

2.A small arms impact survey: collection of data on the impact of SALW on the community, and social and economic development;

3.A small arms perception survey: collection of qualitative information on the local community attitudes towards SALW ownership and possible interventions;

4.A small arms capacity survey: collection of information on the local capacity to conduct an appropriate, safe, efficient and effective SALW intervention.63

This may be done as part of a DDR weapons survey (disarmament component) but the nature of the information required is slightly different. Here, the emphasis is clearly more upon the community than on former combatants and the emphasis is clearly put on gathering qualitative information.

Efforts are also still needed to develop knowledge at the international level. As underlined by the UN Secretary-General report, "reliable data sets on the small arms issue can only be built if States provide information on production, holdings, trade, legislation and use. However, of all transparency measures on weapons systems, those on small arms are the least developed.[...] As a consequence, there are no accurate figures for the number of small arms and light weapons currently in circulation globally."64

Regulation of civilian possession and use of weapons

Most of the worlds firearms are held, not by national armed forces or police, but by civilians. Regulation of civilian ownership, storage, carrying, and use of small arms is therefore key to broader efforts to minimize accidents and the use of these weapons in human rights abuses.65 "This implies stricter governmental controls over small arms, though some make the argument that where democratic institutions are weak, curtailing civilian possession may simply be a means of strengthening the control of authoritarian regimes."66Indeed, in certain instances, the international community has come to view civilian use of SALW as legitimate self-defense against a tyrannous state, even in violation of the laws of such a state.67In post-conflict settings where the basic security of citizens is not guaranteed because armed groups of all kinds are still controlling most of the territory, many may feel that preventing civilians to defend themselves would be very unfair.

Measures to control SALW in civilians' hands include defining categories of prohibited firearms, restricting the purposes of lawful firearms ownership, and defining limited conditions for the use of legal arms.68 This implies developing and implementing national legislation to regulate civilian firearms licensing and ownership, and concrete dispositions to control their application. Some countries, such as South Africa, have legislation that strictly controls, but does not completely prohibit, the civilian possession and use of light weapons.69 Regulations concerning the use of weapons by official security forces as well as by private security companies (which tend to mushroom in the aftermath of war) are equally important. All those measures "require the sort of institutional capacity within the ministries of defense, justice, and the interior, and the legislature that SSR seeks to develop."70

Regulating civilian possession of weapons in itself will not eradicate violence and it is certainly not a panacea. However, regulations can help modify the trend. "The reality for states such as South Africa, Brazil, Sierra Leone and Cambodia is that armed violence has been tackled through reform of the national regulatory framework, targeting such things as specific types of weapons, registration, and licensing requirements, safe storage and appropriate use."71 Such regulatory efforts need to be supported by long-term comprehensive strategy with a view toward reducing the number of weapons available to civilians commensurate with the improving security.72  Go to DDR and SSR

Practical disarmament

Practical disarmament deals with collecting and destroying small arms, light weapons, ammunition, and explosive remnants of war. As noted by some specialists of the subject, to date, there is a lack of strong empirical evidence to assess disarmament programs. But what is known is that "a failure to disarm such as in Central America after the civil wars leads to persistent high levels of armed violence and hinders reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts."73 Practical disarmament is usually combined with disarmament aspect of DDR programs. Although disarmament of civilians and ex-combatants may require distinct types of programs, they need to be articulated as, in too many cases, collected weapons among ex-combatants are diverted to illegal markets.

The concept has expanded in recent years beyond simply a technical intervention and now encompasses a broad-based agenda including strengthening public security, human rights, and development perspectives. The understanding of the different rationales, values and norms beyond the possession of weapons, as well as the identification of local structures (in particular at the community level) to ensure the legitimacy of the disarmament process and its effectiveness are equally central to the approach of that issue. This sensitivity to local mechanisms also needs to include the identification and use of local conflict prevention/dispute mechanisms, which can actually facilitate weapons reduction.   Go to Disarmament

Among alternative mechanisms used to support civilian disarmament are UNDP "weapons for development" programs. Although many programs focus on ex-combatants, some favor a more community-based approach in order to reach the whole community including refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees, or reduce or avoid cash payments. Some projects have also offered to build schools and hospitals in exchange for the weapons held in the communities to benefit from those projects.74 Other initiatives by UNHCR and UNICEF have sought to reduce vulnerabilities of their primary stakeholders by introducing programs that reduce their exposure to firearm-related incidents.75 All those measures underscore the importance of "security as a pre-condition for sustainable development" and focus on the demand aspect of SALW.76

SALW awareness and communication strategies

"No SALW program can succeed without the backing of both the people and the government."77 The SALW awareness program should be put in place early, to build up the support needed to ensure acceptance of the program. "The SALW program shall be used as the opportunity to educate the local population about the risks of holding such weapons, as well as provide risk reduction advice."

Education and workshops at provincial, district and town/community levels may serve as confidence building measures. They offer opportunities for community members and security sector officials to meet and gradually get to know and trust each other. Destruction ceremonies where community members can witness the disposal of weapons, and gun-free declarations can also greatly contribute to the confidence building of the community.78 This may lead to reducing the demand for weapons. Here, disarmament is mainly conceived as "a confidence-building measure aimed at increasing stability in a very tense, uncertain environment with nervous participants and a wary population."79

One such example is the UNDP's "Illicit Small Arms Control (ISAC) Project" in Kosovo.80 The project had three regional "Youth Awareness Projects," and involved 38 youth groups and 18,000 young people. To mobilize youth against illicit small arms and violence, the project members wwww ere involved directly in implementing and participating in coordinated campaign events using radio, television, public demonstrations, concerts, community forums, sporting tournaments, art and photography exhibitions, concerts, and dramatic presentations. An important result of this initiative was the Kosovan youth documentary, entitled "In the Hands of Youth," which broke taboos on speaking publicly about the possession, use, and effects of arms and has been used in Police training curriculum, and integrated into the Kosovan education curriculum.

From the state's perspective, disarmament has the objective of reasserting its monopoly on the legitimate use of force.81 From the society's perspective, disarmament is more than just about putting weapons beyond use and facilitating their collection; it is also about changing attitudes. How different people conceive the ownership of a weapon in a specific cultural and political context is very important in this respect. In many countries, to deprive a male inhabitant of his gun is like questioning his virility. Here the preliminary realization of good SALW surveys helps contextualize the work to be done.

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Principles for SALW programs

The UN highlights a certain number of basic principles for SALW programs: safety, control, transparency, sustainability, replicability, impartiality and legitimacy.82 "They are to a certain extent interrelated, and can be adapted to fit any type of SALW control program."83 These recommendations reflect the lessons learnt from the practice in many different settings. They reflect the difficulties of implementing any SALW programs, even though they tend to focus more upon the control dimension of the approach.


Safe movement of ammunition and explosives is necessary to minimize the risk to human life. The international community shall have a duty of care to the local population to ensure that the program is carried out as safely as possible, and that the risk to human life is reduced to a minimum. Any loss of life as a result of an internationally mandated or supported program could be argued to be as a direct result of the establishment of that program. Such a loss of life will inevitably have an impact on the way that the program is perceived by the local population, without whose support the program will fail.


The operational aspects of any SALW program (i.e., small arms collection and destruction) should be carried out in a planned and controlled way. The program shall be properly managed to ensure a smooth, progressive, safe and secure collection and destruction plan. SALW collection and destruction operations require large logistic resources, and therefore the resources necessary to support them shall be controlled to ensure maximum effectiveness.


Transparency is an important principle in order to gain and keep the support of the local population or former warring factions. All the actors concerned should be allowed complete access to the process of collection and destruction, within the bounds of operational security. They must be confident that the weapons that they surrender are not going to be used against them by a rival faction or by the government. To ensure fairness and natural justice, it is important that all parties to the conflict are adequately represented in the decision-making process. Such involvement also helps to ensure that all interests and concerns are adequately dealt with. Transparency is also an important principle in the verification of the final disposal of the recovered weapons and ammunition.


The sustainability of the program is related to the principle of transparency. For operational reasons, it is necessary to start the collection or surrender process at a specific place in the community and then expand into other areas. Sufficient financial and logistic resources should be made available to sustain the surrender process until the whole community has been covered. No one part of the community will be persuaded to surrender weapons unless everyone is convinced that the process will be applied throughout the entire community.


The capacity of the program to be repeated in different contexts ensures that similar operating methods can be used throughout, resulting in improved training, better use of resources, safe collection and destruction, complete visibility of weapon and ammunition accounting, and easily understood operating procedures. Application of this principle also helps to ensure the sustainability of the program.


Legitimacy is important to the development of a secure environment and the provision of resources to support a SALW control program. The organization responsible for the program must be legitimate, and operate according to a national or international mandate given by an appropriate body. This mandate could come from the UN Security Council, a regional organization or the recognized national government of the country. An unmandated program is very unlikely to succeed, as it will fail to attract the donor resources necessary, or the support of the community it is trying to disarm.
Go to Cross-Cutting Challenges: Methodology

1. UN Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre, "SALW Control, Security and Development," in Integrated Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) (UN-DDR Resource Centre, New York); UN General Assembly, Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms (A/52/298, August 27, 1997); and Robert Muggah and Eric Berman, Humanitarianism Under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons Special Report No. 1 (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, July 2001), viii.
2. Thomas Jackson, Nicholas Marsh, Taylor Owen, and Anne Thurin, Who Takes the Bullet? The Impact of Small Arms Violence, Understanding the Issues 3 (Oslo: Norwegian Church Aid, 2005), 22-26.
3. Small Arms Survey, "Perpetrators," Small Arms Survey.
4.Jackson, et al, Who Takes the Bullet? The Impact of Small Arms Violence, 21.
5. Ibid, 31.
6. Small Arms Survey, Perpetrators.
7. Jackson, et al, Who Takes the Bullet? The Impact of Small Arms Violence, 26.
8. Ibid, 28.
9. Vanessa Farr, "The New war zone: The ubiquitous presence of guns and light weapons has changed the definitions of war, victim and perpetrator," Womens Review of Books 21, no. 5 (February 2004): 16.
10. US Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (2007).
11. Rachel Stohl, "Targeting Children: Small Arms and Children in Conflict," The Brown Journal of World Affairs 9, no. 1 (2002): 282.
12. Sami Makki, Sarah Meek, Abdel-Fatau Musah, Michael Crowley and Damian Lilly, "Private Military Companies and the Proliferation of Small Arms: Regulating the Actors" (BASIC, International Alert and Saferworld, 2001), 4.
13. Kiflemariam Gebrewold, "The Relationship between Human Security, Demand for Arms and Disarmament in the Horn of Africa," in Medicine, Conflict and Survival 18, no. 4 (2002): 400-406.
14. Edward Laurance and Rachel Stohl, "Making Global Public Policy: The Case of Small Arms and Light Weapons," Occasional Paper No.7 (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, December 2002), 26.
15. Global Policy Forum, "Small Arms: The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction," Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 2006.
16. UN Department of Disarmament, "Small Arms and Light Weapons," UN Department of Disarmament.
17. Laurance, et al, "Making Global Public Policy: The Case of Small Arms and Light Weapons."
18. Ibid.
19. Kirsten, et al, Controlling the Transfer of Arms Progress and Challenges in the African Context.
20. Consisting of the Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) currently the Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Department for Political Affairs (DPA), the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the Department of Public Information (DPI), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG/CAAC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
21. For a summary of multilateral processes to date, see Keith Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy" Coping with Crisis Working Paper Series (New York: International Peace Academy, March 2007), 11-13; and UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General S/2008/258 (April 17, 2008).
22. UN General Assembly Resolution 61/89, "Towards an Arms Trade Treaty" (December 6, 2006)
23.UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 13 para. 50.
24. Ibid, 13 para. 51-54.
25. Ibid, 14 para. 55-56.
26. Ibid, 14 para. 57.
27. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 13.
28. Robert Muggah and Eric Berman, Humanitarianism under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons Special Report No. 1 (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, July 2001), x-xi.
29. UN Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre, "SALW Control, Security and Development," in Integrated Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) (New York: UN-DDR Resource Centre).
30. Jackson, et al, Who Takes the Bullet? The Impact of Small Arms Violence.
31. Small Arms Survey, "Measures and Initiatives," Small Arms Survey.
32. Neila Hussain, "Proliferation of Small Arms and Politics in South Asia: The Case of Bangladesh" (RCSS Policy Studies 7, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, May 1999), Chap. 1; Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 2.
33. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, S/2008/258 (April 17, 2008), 4 para. 10.
34. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Handbook of Best Practices on Small Arms and Light Weapons (Vienna: OSCE, 2003), 3.
35. Michael Crowley, Roy Isbister and Sarah Meek, "Building Comprehensive Controls on Small Arms Manufacturing, Transfer and End-Use," Briefing 13 (London and Washington, DC: BASIC, International Alert, and Saferworld, 2002), 2.
36. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 5; See also Glenn McDonald, "The International Tracing Instrument: Challenges and Opportunities" (PrepCom side event, 2006 Small Arms Review Conference, New York, January 13, 2006).
37. Global Policy Forum, "Small Arms: The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction," Integrated Regional Information Networks, May 2006.
38. Ibid.
39. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General.
40. Brian Wood and Elizabeth Clegg, "Controlling The Gun-Runners: Proposals for EU Action to Regulate Arms Brokering and Shipping Agents" (Briefing, NISAT, BASIC, and Saferworld, February 1999); and UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 5 para. 15.
41. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 6.
42. Ibid.
43. Brian Wood and Johan Peleman, "The Arms Fixers: Controlling the Brokers and Shipping Agents" (Joint report by BASIC, NISAT, and PRIO, 1999), Chap. 1.
44. Ibid.
45. Krause, 'Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 6.
46. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 10 para. 34.
47. Ibid, 10 para. 34.
48. For a brief presentation of the main ongoing initiatives, see Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 7-8.
49. For a general presentation of UN arms embargoes, see UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 11-13.
50. Damien Fruchart, Paul Holtom and Siemon T. Wezeman, "United Nations Arms Embargoes Their Impact on Arms Flows and Target Behavior" (SIPRI Arms Transfers Project, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2007).
51. Ibid.
52. Control Arms, "UN Arms Embargoes: An Overview of the Last Ten Years" (Control Arms Briefing Note. Amnesty International, Oxfam international, and International Action Network in Small Arms, March 16, 2006).
53. Owen Greene, "Stockpile Security and Reducing Surplus Weapons," Briefing 3 (London and Washington, DC: BASIC, International Alert, and Saferworld, 2000), 5.
54. Small Arms Survey, "From Chaos to Coherence: Global Firearms Stockpiles," in Small Arms Survey 2004: Rights at Risk (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 2.
55. Ernie Regehr, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: A Global Humanitarian Challenge," Working Paper 01-4 (Waterloo, Canada: Ploughshares, July 2001).
56. Michael Von Tangen Page, William Godnick and Janani Vivekananda, Implementing International Small Arms Controls: Some Lessons from Eurasia, Latin America and West Africa (London: International Alert, 2005).
57. Ettienne Hennop, "Small Arms and Light Weapons Destruction in Africa," PaxAfrica Vol. 3, No.1 (February-May 2006): 24-26.
58. Ibid.
59. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 6 para. 19.
60. Ibid.
61. Ibid.
62. UN Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre, SALW Control, Security and Development, in Integrated Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) (New York: UN-DDR Resource Centre).
63. Ibid.
64. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 3 para. 8.
65. Derek Miller and Wendy Cukier, "Regulation of Civilian Possession of Small Arms and Light Weapons," Briefing 16 (London: International Alert, Saferworld, and University of Bradford, 2003), 5.
66. Ibid.
67. Regehr, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: A Global Humanitarian Challenge."
68. Ibid.
69. Peter Cross, Rick de Caris, Ettienne Hennop and Angus Urquhart, The Law of the Gun: An Audit of Firearms Legislation in The SADC Region (London and Pretoria: SaferAfrica and Saferworld, June 2003), 10.
70. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, DAC Guidelines and Reference Series Security: System Reform and Governance (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2005), 43.
71. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 10; Miller, et al, "Regulation of Civilian Possession of Small Arms and Light Weapons."
72. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Best Practice Guide on Small Arms and Light Weapons in Disarmament, Demobilization & Reintegration (DD&R) Processes, in Handbook of Best Practices on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
73. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 9.
74. Julio Godoy,"Development and Security in Exchange for Small Arms," Inter Press Service, November 28, 2007.
75. Muggah, et al, Humanitarianism Under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons, x-xi.
76. Ibid.
77. Ibid.
78. Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "SALW Issues from the Perspective of the Protection and Empowerment of the Peaceful Community" (Chairperson's Summary, Tokyo Workshop on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Tokyo, March 13, 2007).
79. Institute for Security Studies, Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR).
80. UN Development Programme, "Small Arms and Light Weapons" (Essentials No. 9, UNDP, October 2002), 6.
81. Alex de Waal, Post-conflict demilitarization," in Demilitarizing the Mind: African Agendas for Peace and Security, ed. Alex de Waal and Justice Africa (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2002), 144.
82. UN Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre, "SALW Control, Security and Development," in Integrated Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) (New York: UN-DDR Resource Centre).
83. Ibid.

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