Combatting illicit arms flows

Piles of guns on fire
Destruction of weapons is one of the tactics to prevent them doing further harm. But it is an uphill struggle. Each year, over 8 million light arms are produced. (Credit: Reuter/Antony Njuguna)

The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is a key driver of conflict and instability around the world, including in the vast majority of the conflict situations on the Security Council’s agenda.

Small arms and light weapons are intrinsically linked to terrorism, piracy and transnational crime. They impede peacebuilding efforts and pose threats to civilians, peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and civil society organisations. The illicit trade and misuse of small arms and light weapons lead to serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. In many cases, these activities are in violation of existing Council resolutions and arms embargoes.

Within Australia’s own region, we have seen the devastating effects of illicit arms and weapons. Australia has worked with our regional neighbours and the UN to take forward practical measures to address this problem in Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands and Bougainville, PNG. These experiences underline the importance of global and regional cooperation in tackling these challenges.

As part of its UN Security Council Presidency, Australia championed a resolution to address the threats posed by the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and the misuse of such weapons. Resolution 2117 in September 2013 became the first ever Security Council resolution on small arms and light weapons and built on the key role Australia played in securing the General Assembly’s adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty in April 2013.

The resolution elaborates practical steps for States to help prevent illicit transfers to terrorists and to inhibit illicit brokering, illicit financial activities and suspected traffickers and trafficking routes. For the first time, the resolution directly links the misuse of these weapons to risks to civilian populations, particularly women and children, and calls on all parties to conflicts to ensure the protection of civilians from misuse of these weapons. The resolution supports UN peacekeeping efforts to limit the impact of these weapons on post-conflict societies including by helping countries to address flows over borders and to manage their stockpiles; strengthens capacity building efforts to prevent and address threats, especially in Africa; and calls on Member States, the UN system, regional and international organisations to support such efforts. Significantly, the resolution urges states to consider signing and ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible.

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Last Updated: 18 March 2015