Enhancing traceability of small arms and light weapons flows: Biting the Bullet - Briefing 5

This briefing in the Biting the Bullet series looks at developing an international marking and tracing regime. It recommends that the UN 2001 Conference should establish a set of international principles and standards on marking, record-keeping and tracing of SALW. It should further launch negotiations for a detailed (and preferably legally binding) tracing agreement, which sets out necessary rules and obligations and establishes appropriate programmes and mechanisms for international co-operation and assistance to promote implementation.

Efforts to combat and prevent illicit trafficking and proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) are obstructed by lack of capacity to trace sources and lines of supply for arms.

Such efforts are necessary in order to identify points of diversion or loss of responsible control so that actions can be taken to tackle the problems. This hampers efforts to prevent future loss and diversion, for example, or to close down unauthorised or destabilising arms supply networks.

Measures to enable tracing of sources and lines of supply of SALW are therefore a priority. Because of the international scope of the flows of SALW, such measures need to be taken by all states and all other relevant members of the international community. International standards and mechanisms to enable tracing need to be established and developed as a priority.

An effective international system to enable tracing of sources and flows of SALW requires three essential elements: adequate marking to uniquely identify each weapon; detailed and accessible record-keeping; and mechanisms for international co-operation in tracing sources and lines of supply of SALW. At present there are substantial weaknesses and problems in each of these three areas.  

International Alert, in collaboration with BASIC and Saferworld, is working to facilitate the dialogue between government and civil society in order that an effective programme of action follows from the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. The Biting the Bullet series provides governments and NGOs with information and policy recommendations on issues addressed at the conference.