Small arms trafficking poses a grave danger towards the civilian population and currently it is an ongoing issue for the international community. If we go by the common definition, the term “small arms and light weapons” refers to weapons “intended for use by military and civilians” and light arms are “weapons intended only for military purpose.” Small arms mean revolvers, pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns, while light weapons comprises heavy machine guns, hand held under barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti aircraft guns, anti tanks, guns and other advanced weapons. The costs of these weapons if compared to human lives is beyond imagination. It is without a doubt that these small arms and light weapons are widely used in modern warfare, conflicts and insurgencies.
At the request of UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council held its first conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons in 2001. During the conference member nations unanimously adopted Program of Action (PoA) to combat and stop Illicit Trade of small arms in all aspects. By adopting the PoA member nations agreed to strategise the working and implementation and limiting this illegal growing trade. Additionally, member nations also agreed to submit a report yearly on the status of the PoA in their individual nations. Between 2002 and 2010 out of 192 member nations, 152 submitted yearly reports. However this count decreased gradually and by 2013 only 37 nations submitted their report on the PoA.
In spite of world nations signing the PoA, the UN General Assembly agreed to form an official definition for SALW. This definition was coined by the UN General Assembly established working group to deal with the problems and scenarios during illicit trade of small arms. They were also responsible for creating prosecution guidelines for perpetrators convicted under the legal provisions of the PoA.
In the report submitted to the UN General Assembly by the Working Group in 2005, they defined SALW as “any man portable lethal weapon that expels or launches, is designed to expel or launch, or may be readily converted to expel or launch a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive.”
To review the progress made by member nations, the UN called a conference on June 2006. However the conference ended without a result and reports indicated that no decisions were taken on the next phase of the PoA. Surprisingly member nations such as China, Cuba, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, openly opposed any development in the implementation of the PoA. They discussed the importance of implementing previous programs rather than adopting the new ones. On the contrary European nations and countries of Latin America, Pacific, and Africa demanded new regulations. They supported the fact that implementing more laws would significantly stop illicit arms trade. Moreover they agreed on intensifying laws in “crucial” areas such as control on arms transfers, ammunitions and civilian possession of arms.
Hence by November 2008, the UN General Assembly, member nations agreed to mark legal Small arms and ammunitions with a specific identity so that they could be easily traced. However by January 2009, only 53 member nations agreed to mark small arms and weapons within their arms production.
One of the reasons that hindered the success of the SALW treaty was that the nations supporting SALW regulations decided to bring these provisions under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to provide maximum effectiveness, curbing the rate of illicit trade not only in small arms and ammunitions but also in advanced weaponry such as tanks, planes and cruise missiles. The need for such a treaty has always been debated and discussed throughout the world but effectively it began when three international organizations, Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), and Oxfam came together and started the Control for Arms Campaign.
In 2006, Control Arms presented the UN Secretary General with a petition signed by 1 million people who supported the provisions and developments under ATT. In October 2006, the UN General Assembly called for a vote to form an ATT. The Resolution was passed, which stated “the right of all States to manufacture, import, export, transfer and retain conventional arms for self-defence and security needs, and in order to participate in peace support operations.”
It is imperative to curb the illicit trade of small arms specifically in the Middle East. Only if arms trafficking is stopped, can stability in the region be ensured.