Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A step back in the regulation of SALW transfers

by Hector Guerra, International Action Network on Small Arms

Small arms and light weapons (SALW) were included in the scope of the 20 March President’s Non-Paper. This is a legacy of the enormous pressure exerted by the majority of participating delegations in last July's diplomatic conference and in spite of stern opposition by a few others. Several recent statements expressed how relevant and indispensable this inclusion is, given the role of SALW in armed violence worldwide, both in and outside armed conflicts.

There are approximately 900 million small arms currently in circulation all over the world. Almost 100 million more are produced every year and the majority of the 500,000 individuals who die as a consequence of armed violence annually are victims of these weapons.

Even though SALW have remained as part of the scope in the second President’s Non-Paper from 22 March in article 2(1), they do so in a comparatively weakened way. This weakening is apparent in the provisions included in article 5(4) in the General Implementation section, which reads: “Each State Party is encouraged to apply provisions of this Treaty to the broadest range of conventional arms. No national definition of any of the categories covered in Article 2(1) shall cover less than the descriptions used in the United Nations Register on Conventional Arms [UNROCA] at the time of entry into force of this Treaty.”

The elements of the scope (battle tanks; armoured combat vehicles; large-calibre artillery systems; combat aircraft; attack helicopters; warships; missiles and missile launchers; and small arms and light weapons) place the UNROCA as a ceiling. Regarding SALW, the Register is very limited because it does not have a definition of SALW; it applies only to military weaponry and it lists only SALW that are firearms. Additionally, the scope would be restricted to those weapons included in UNROCA at the time of entry into force of the ATT.

This means that potentially several types of weapons would not be included in the scope of the treaty. These include those that could be developed in the future or that are in their early phases of development, those that are considered for non-military use, or even those which do not fit in the spectrum of firearms at all, like weaponized explosives.

This omission would leave open the doors to uncontrolled transfers of sniper rifles; anti-vehicle landmines; sporting rifles that are easily refitted into fully operational assault rifles with large-capacity magazines; hand grenades; and electronically initiated stacked projectile weapons (i.e. Metal Storm). Such uncontrolled transfers could even include handguns used by armed forces, but available for sale to civilians, which could be diverted to illicit trafficking and into the hands of transnational organized crime actors and other illicit users.

A final draft text of this final round of negotiations, with such a serious SALW loophole, is unacceptable for the majority of the member states taking part in this conference. Indeed, it is a clear obstacle to achieving consensus. Certainly, these weakened provisions on SALW are a step backwards.

Let us not forget that there is a fundamental necessity behind the ATT process. Whether or not it will be met in this conference, the driving need for a robust treaty will not die. Behind this drive for an ATT, there are voices of individuals and communities from the past and present, and from the decades to come. People closely related to us, and people far from us, with whom we share this century. All are demanding better controls to reduce human suffering committed at the point of a gun.