Combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons: Biting the Bullet - Briefing 7

This briefing in the Biting the Bullet series looks at strengthening domestic regulations.

It is estimated that more than 500,000 people are killed each year with small arms and light weapons (SALW). Violence and conflict fueled by illicitly trafficked SALW impedes economic development, good governance and human rights. Studies have shown that illicit trafficking of weapons affects almost every region of the world.

The UN 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects provides a unique opportunity to develop an international strategy for addressing this serious threat. Most illicit SALW began as legal weapons and the diversion of civilian weapons is one source of supply. Consequently, domestic regulation of SALW, which reduces the diversion of legal civilian weapons to illegal markets, is an essential part of this strategy.

The importance of effective domestic regulations in reducing the misuse and proliferation of SALW has been affirmed by the United Nations in several different contexts, including: the UN Security Council Resolution 1209 (1998); the Report of the Disarmament Commission considered at the General Assembly (1999); and the Report of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (1997). These emphasise the importance of effective domestic legislation in reducing the diversion and misuse of SALW.

Virtually every illegal small arm began as a legal small arm, whether in the hands of the state, non-state actors, or civilians. Worldwide there are as many SALW in the hands of civilians as in the hands of states. It is estimated that more than 500,000 of these are stolen each year and enter illegal markets. Indeed, in many regions of the world diversion from civilian supplies is the principal source of illegal SALW.

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.