Small Arms & Light Weapons: SALW & Peacebuilding Processes

There is now a broad recognition that a "failure to address small arms proliferation and misuse undermine[s] broader peacebuilding and post-conflict development policies."1 In April 2008, in his report on the subject of small arms, the UN Secretary-General noted: "While a build-up of small arms alone may not create the conflicts in which they are used, their excessive accumulation and universal availability tends to aggravate conflicts by increasing the lethality and duration of violence and by increasing the sense of insecurity which leads to a greater demand for weapons."2 In the absence of a basic level of security and safety, it is difficult to ensure development and reconstruction, good governance and respect for human rights, and even deliver humanitarian aid.

Removing SALW in the aftermath of conflict: Creating safe and secure environments

Experts on the problem of small arms and light weapons (SALW) have stressed that "small arms do not cause internal or communal conflicts, but their easy availability can make the resort to violence less costly (in the broader sense of the term), and can make other non-violent forms of dispute resolution less attractive, or less likely to hold."3 The presence of SALW in post-conflict environments makes it more unlikely for combatants to negotiate peace agreements and easier for the resurgence of violence if peace negotiations are perceived as impartial.

In most post-conflict environments, there is a need to address short-term security concerns (e.g. disarming former combatants and civilian populations, and creating confidence-building measures to foster sustainable peace), and long-term security concerns (ensuring that former combatants are successfully integrated as civilians or within military or law enforcement institutions, and ensuring that the institutions responsible for security are fully functioning, transparent, accountable and reliable). The scholar Paul Collier has noted that the combatants pose macro- and micro-insecurity concerns. On one hand, macro-insecurity, he argues, concern former combatants posing a threat to society since they have no gainful or rewarding employment or means of livelihood or a sense of community. Insecurity manifests in the form of uncertainty of the future. In Afghanistan, some commanders took on the attitude that if they surrendered their gun there would be no one to ensure their security and the security of their men.4 Collecting SALW from former combatants and regulating the flow of these weapons is directly related to the implementation of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs. In particular, "DDR programs that meet both the needs and requirements of ex-combatants and of the broader community can make a contribution to limiting the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons in post-conflict situations."5 Experience of the close-woven relationship indicates that unsuccessful DDR programs have caused some former combatant to revert to armed banditry (e.g. Mozambique, El Salvador, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and South Africa) or remobilize and resume warfare.

Micro-insecurity, on the other hand, refers to the fear of crime at the individual level.6 Household-level SALW surveys from the Small Arms Survey often reveal that the presence and availability of SALW fosters feelings of insecurity, both real and perceived, among local populations. In some cases, the insecurity stems from repeated incidents of crime and banditry, underlying communal tensions, and corrupt and ineffective public law enforcement institutions or international peacekeepers, compelling some individuals or communities to acquire arms to provide for their own security. For instance, in Kosovo, the amnesty disarmament program had a low turnout rate among Serbs, since they had a negative perception of the main official security providersparticularly the Kosovo Police Service and the UN Civil Police.7 A Saferworld study noted that there was a common perception on Kosovo-Albanians and Kosovo-Serbs that members of the other ethnic group were well armed and that maintaining SALW was important to sustain a "balance of fear."8 In contrast, in the Horn of Africa, "[...] some pastoralist groups remain largely outside the protection of state security forces. Yet they live in vulnerable circumstances in which access to water and grazing land is increasingly difficult. They also live under threat of cattle raiding from neighboring communities a traditional threat made more deadly through the arrival of automatic rifles." 9 Go to Case Study: Kenya: Cattle, Small Arms, and Indigenous Governance Systems

Security Sector Reform (SSR) and SALW control are often mentioned as import sectors to link up in peacebuilding. For example, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) guidelines on SSR and governance underscored the impact small arms proliferation could have on good security sector practice, and noted that "small arms concerns and the SSR agenda the areas of crime prevention and post-conflict demilitarization...developing and implementing legislation, regulations, and guidelines concerning the use of weaponry by official security forces and by private security firms all require the sort of institutional capacity within the ministries of defense, justice, and the interior, and the legislature that SSR seeks to develop."10 In fragile states, states in transition, and post-conflict contexts, SSR--and therefore concrete action on small arms-- has been acknowledged to be a central policy concern, yet it has not yet been fully incorporated into development or post-conflict policies and programs.11 

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SALW and the rule of law

The increase in the availability of small arms in the aftermath of a conflict has several negative consequences on the establishment of the rule of law. First, it contributes to abusive conduct (such as extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and torture) by making small arms and light weapons (SALW) available to an expanding circle of actors with decreasing levels of training, discipline and accountability, including civilians. This may reinforce a culture of impunity and encourages further human rights abuse.12Second, illegal armed groups and former military also use SALW to kidnap, sexually abuse and kill, sometimes force displacement with impunity. Armed groups sometimes control entire portions of territory or neighborhoods and commit crimes without being challenged by police and other authorities.Third, recently reformed or reconstituted security forces in states making the transition to democracy revert to repression when faced with increased criminal activity or intrastate violence. 13

In all cases, the government holds some level of responsibility. Amnesty International has suggested distinguishing three ways of qualifying the actions of the government: "commission," "omission," or "negligence."14 "Commission means using arms to violate international human rights, including the right to life and security of person. It also is characterized by direct government involvement in the provision of arms to abusive recipients, at times in defiance of international arms embargoes. Abusive recipients of government-supplied weapons may include paramilitary or other proxy groups. Omission pertains to the absence of regulation over the abusive use of weapons by private actors. It also means allowing private traffickers to transfer weapons to further a government's political or commercial interest. Negligence encompasses a failure to implement or enforce arms controls, take steps to prevent abuses by armed individuals or groups and prosecute those responsible, or secure one's borders to prevent illicit gun trafficking."15  Go to Justice & Rule of Law

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SALW & post-conflict political transformation

The unrestrained proliferation and diffusion of small arms and light weapons (SALW) may put into jeopardy post-conflict reconciliation processes and plunge countries and regions coming out of conflict into more violent paroxysms.16 In an unsecured environment, it is difficult to envision any kind of political reconciliation and democratic transition. The organization of elections itself is often put under jeopardy. Politicians and their allies may use small arms to intimidate opponents and voters or for self protection, which poses a threat to the democratic process as voters, especially women and those from marginalized groups are afraid to express their opinions or vote freely.17 In very different contexts, the threats and the increase in the level of delinquency and violence has also served to help disguise political crimes.18  Go to Democracy & Governance: Electoral Processes and Political Parties

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SALW and psycho-social recovery

Small arms and light weapons (SALW) are the major causes of direct conflict deaths.19 The fact that the rate of firearms-related homicides in post-conflict societies remains very high or even outnumbers battlefield deaths has important consequences on the capacity of any society to recover. The number of indirect victims--those people, especially vulnerable groups, who cannot have access to food, water or basic care-- also remains high. Beyond the statistics, this violence and the escalated perception of insecurity that it conveys undermines daily routines, mobility and threatens a number of the rules of coexistence, becoming a serious obstacle at efforts to rebuild a sense of community. "When violence starts to impregnate daily life again, fear sets in and people change their lifestyle; for example, they avoid going out after nightfall. Some forms of solidarity practiced beforehand are dropped; people are barricaded in their hovels."20 The mere threat of SALW availability and use also affects household and individual decision-making regarding (forced) migration and the pursuit of employment or rural livelihoods.21In some countries just emerging out of conflict, large-scale and uncontrolled urbanization is also often accompanied by increased rates of armed violence. The drug trade, availability of weapons, opportunities for criminal gain, and the social dislocation and anonymity of large cities contribute to this trend. In such contexts, it is not uncommon to find that the general security situation in a country improves, but the security conditions are not matched with identical progress in urbanized areas, where many people to acquire small arms such as handguns for self-protection.22 Last but not least, the simple fact of not being able to sleep at night --because of the fear to be attacked and the sound of automatic guns-- has important consequences on the capacity of individuals to lead a normal social life. Psychiatric studies have shown that fear of threat to safety appear to be important factors of post-traumatic disorders and depression for war survivors.  Go to Trauma, Mental Health & Psycho-Social Well-Being

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SALW & socio-economic recovery

"For countries in the midst of long-term conflict as well as States in crisis or in a post-conflict phase and nations otherwise nominally at peace, armed violence can aggravate poverty, inhibit access to social services and divert energy and resources away from efforts to improve human development."23 This diagnosis from the recent report of the UN Secretary- General summarizes the economic challenges posed by small arms and light weapons (SALW). Virtually all sectors of society can be badly affected, but the impact on the poor and the marginalized tends to be most affected.24 Persistent armed violence also typically scares off foreign investments and imperils post-conflict socio-economic reconstruction. It becomes more difficult to conduct development programs, leading to a decline in economic aid from donors who question how their funds can achieve goals in a violent environment.25 The 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development26 has been instrumental in highlighting the interconnection between small arms, armed violence and development. It continues to generate support from Member States. "The Declaration" commits participating States to support programs on reducing armed violence with a development and human rights perspective.27  Go to Economic Recovery

The availability of SALW has also a strong impact on refugee and internal displaced camps which are reported to be increasingly militarized. "Though not endemic to all situations of return or resettlement, arms related insecurity affects camps in a variety of ways: in terms of domestic violence, intra-communal violence and tensions between refugees or IDPs and host communities. The trafficking of small arms to and from camps also affects the communities located 'in transit' as well as humanitarian and development agencies seeking to protect the displaced." 28  Go to Economic Recovery: Community (Economic) Reintegration

The socio-economic costs due to SALW proliferation include "direct medical costs and direct non-medical costs (policing and incarceration, legal services, and post-conflict reconstruction costs), tangible indirect costs (productivity losses, protection and security costs, insurance, and lost investment), and intangible indirect costs (quality of life)."29 The Small Arms Survey has placed considerable emphasis on highlighting the human cost of small arms, particularly emphasizing relief and development action. This research institution has also been advocating for an assessment of the impacts of gun violence from an economic perspective as an essential component in the design, monitoring, and evaluation of violence prevention and reduction initiatives.30   Go to Economic Recovery

1. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 8; see also Laurence, (1998).
2. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, S/2008/258 (April 17, 2008).
3. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 4.
4.Ilene Prusher, "UN Aims to Disarm Afghan Fighters," Christian Science Monitor, December 2, 2003.
5. Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy," 8.
6. Paul Collier, "Demobilization and Insecurity: A Study in the Economics of the Transition from War to Peace," in Journal of International Development 6, no. 3 (1994): 343-351.
7. Anna Khakee and Nicolas Floquin, Kosovo and the Gun: A Baseline Assessment of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Kosovo (Geneva: UNDP and Small Arms Survey, 2003), 2.
8. Saferworld, Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey of Kosovo (Belgrade: South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, 2006).
9. Ernie Regehr, "Reducing the Demand for Small Arms and Light Weapons: Priorities for the International Community," Working paper 04-2 (Waterloo, Canada: Project Ploughshares, July 2004), 9.
10. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, DAC Guidelines and Reference Series Security: System Reform and Governance (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2005), 43.
11. Ibid, 9.
12. Amnesty International USA Small Arms Working Group, "The Lord of Wars: Small Arms and Human Rights," Amnesty International USA; see also Human Rights Watch, "Controlling The Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons-Licit or Illicit-Is a Human Rights Imperative" (Statement, Second Meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, New York, January 18, 2001).
13. Edward J. Laurance, Light Weapons and Intrastate Conflict: Early Warning Factors and Preventative Action (Washington, DC: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, 1998).
14. Amnesty International USA Small Arms Working Group, "The Lord of Wars: Small Arms and Human Rights."
15. Ibid.
16. Njunga Mulikita, "Small Arms Proliferation A Major Challenge for Post-conflict Peace Building in Africa," Conflict Trends 1 (2005): 26.
17. Tara Ashtakala, "Update on the Small Arms Situation in South Asia" (South Asia Partnership, Canada, October 15, 2003)
18. Batrice Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People (London: C. Hurst & Co., 2006): 258.
19. Small Arms Survey, "Victims, Survivors, and Costs," Small Arms Survey.
20. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People, 258.
21. Muggah and Berman, Humanitarianism Under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons, viii.
22. Julio Godoy, Development and Security in Exchange for Small Arms, Inter Press Service, November 28, 2007.
23. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General S/2008/258 (April 17, 2008), 3 para. 6.
24. 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), 13.
25. Mulikita, "Small Arms Proliferation A Major Challenge for Post-conflict Peace Building in Africa," 24; Laurance, Light Weapons and Intrastate Conflict: Early Warning Factors and Preventative Action.
26. See
27. UN Security Council, Small Arms Report of the Secretary-General, 14 para. 58.
28. Muggah, et al, Humanitarianism Under Threat: The Humanitarian Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons, 24.
29. Keith Krause, "Small Arms and Light Weapons: Towards Global Public Policy" (New York: International Peace Academy, March 2007), 3.
30. Small Arms Survey, "Victims, Survivors, and Costs," Small Arms Survey.

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