Human Cost of Arms Trafficking ‘Runs Deep’, Disarmament Chief Stresses as Security Council Debates Halting Illicit Trade on ‘Dark Web’
At a time of deepening regional tensions, expanding terrorist and criminal networks, and traditional and non‑traditional conflicts wreaking havoc on communities, the pressing issue of the spread of small arms, light weapons and their ammunition were key determinants of crises, demanding swift action to curb their illicit trade, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs told the Security Council this afternoon.
Introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on the matter (document S/2017/1025), Izumi Nakamitsu said the multidimensional and cross‑cutting nature of small arms was indisputable — from arms embargoes, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, child soldiers, counter‑terrorism and the protection of civilians in armed conflict to transnational crime.
“The human cost of the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms runs deep,” she said, adding that the increased links among transnational organized crime, illicit small arms trafficking and terrorism, as well as the mounting use of the Internet, including the “dark web”, were of growing concern. Nearly all violent deaths were caused by firearms, and the rate of firearms‑related homicides in post‑conflict societies frequently outnumbered battlefield deaths. Small arms were also key determinants in the lethality and longevity of conflicts, and their rampant spread contributed to violations of international humanitarian and human rights, often playing a role in the deaths of United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian workers.
“To invest in effective management of small arms and light weapons, including their ammunition, is to invest in conflict prevention,” she said, noting that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development had acknowledged the inextricable link between peace and development.
In the ensuing debate, delegates agreed that the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons constituted a serious threat to peace and security around the world, contributing to instability, violence and insecurity while undermining development efforts. Their spread also contributed to terrorism and international organized crime.
Representatives also suggested ways to disrupt the network of transnational organized crime syndicates, including by controlling arms trafficking online, in particular through the “dark web”. They urged for mainstreaming the issue into all relevant Council discussions and called for coordinated action to tackle the problem at the national, regional and international levels.
The representative of Italy, recalling that arms trafficking usually began with legally produced weapons, emphasized the importance of implementing the International Tracing Instrument. In addition, the Arms Trade Treaty was a crucial instrument carrying the potential to mitigate risks.
Several delegates said Africa and the Middle East were regions deeply affected by the illegal arms trade. Egypt’s representative noted that the core of the current challenge was due to the deliberate contributions of some countries that provided illicit weapons to terrorists and armed movements.
Bolivia’s representative said the seriousness of the problem had its roots in the breadth of the illicit trade, which reached $6 billion in 2014 alone. At the same time, trafficking produced parallel profits in the financial system and tax havens, he said, adding that the global arms trade required international controls.
The representatives of Kazakhstan, China, Ethiopia, United States, Sweden, United Kingdom, Senegal, Russian Federation, Uruguay, France, Ukraine and Japan also spoke.
Taking the floor a second time were the representatives of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
The meeting started at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 5:06 p.m.
IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that at a time of deepening regional tensions, expanding terrorist and criminal networks, and traditional and non‑traditional conflicts wreaking havoc on communities, small arms, light weapons and their ammunition were key determinants of crises.
Introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on the matter (document S/2017/1025), she said the multidimensional and cross‑cutting nature of small arms was indisputable — from embargoes, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, child soldiers, counter‑terrorism and civilian protection in armed conflict to transnational crime.
She said the impact of their wide availability, misuse and destabilizing accumulation was well documented. Nearly all violent deaths were nowadays caused by firearms, and the rate of firearms‑related homicides in post‑conflict societies frequently outnumbered battlefield deaths. Small arms were force multipliers and key determinants in the lethality and longevity of conflicts.
High levels of illicit arms also contributed to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and were often used in killing, maiming, rape, torture and recruiting children, she said. Small arms often played a role in the deaths of United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian workers. “The human cost of the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms runs deep,” she said.
Listing growing concerns, Ms. Nakamitsu pointed out the increased links among transnational organized crime, illicit small arms trafficking and terrorism, as well as the mounting use of the Internet, including the “dark web”, and the issue of improvised explosive devices manufactured with diverted ammunition. Weapons and ammunition management had become a critical component of United Nations peacekeeping operations, she said, citing examples of operations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali.
She said that the Secretary‑General had made 48 concrete recommendations to the Council on how to best address small arms, light weapons and ammunition, including on their management, peacekeeping, embargoes, community safety and law enforcement, civilian protection and armed violence. Consideration had also been given to gender mainstreaming. The Secretary‑General had also examined best practices from various mechanisms in United Nations field missions.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development had acknowledged the inextricable link between peace and development, she continued, adding that target 16.4 closely connected adequate arms regulation with properly functioning institutions and would create security conditions conducive to social and economic development. Arms regulation should be pursued through the concept of measurability. The sixth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects had noted that the illicit trade had implications on the realization of several Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to poverty reduction, economic growth and health. “To invest in effective management of small arms and light weapons, including their ammunition, is to invest in conflict prevention,” she said.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons constituted a serious threat to peace and security around the world, contributing to instability, violence and insecurity while undermining development efforts. Security Council resolution 2220 (2015) underscored the need to implement urgent measures. Addressing arms disposal efforts was critical in post‑conflict situations, he said, noting how illegal trafficking could contribute to institutional instability. In that vein, he highlighted actions and tools that could be deployed by Member States. Turning to the Programme of Action on Small Arms, he said its third Review Conference in June 2018 was an opportunity to achieve concrete progress by mobilizing stakeholders. Recalling that illegal arms usually began with legally produced weapons, he emphasized the importance of the implementation of the International Tracing Instrument. Meanwhile, the Arms Trade Treaty was a crucial instrument with the potential to mitigate risks. Pointing at the acute impact of small arms and light weapons in Africa, he expressed support for any initiative taken by those States, including the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and all Parts and Components that can be used for their Manufacture, Repair and Assembly (Kinshasa Convention).
BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan), emphasizing that the spread of illicit weapons impeded the goal of sustainable development, called for the universal application of measures such as improved stockpile management and the protection of military arsenals. Raising other issues of concern, he said it was equally necessary to take a range of actions, including those aimed at disrupting the network of transnational organized crime syndicates and eliminating their weapons storage sites. In addition, efforts should aim at controlling arms trafficking online, in particular through trading platforms of the “dark Internet”. For its part, Kazakhstan had been actively implementing the Programme of Action on Small Arms and had put in place strict export, manufacture and supply control measures to mitigate any possible illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons, he said.
WU HAITAO (China) said the illicit arms trade fuelled regional conflicts and facilitated the spread of terrorism while being detrimental to efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. China had proposed that the international community must commit to implementing diplomatic solutions to achieve peace and stability. There was also a need to strengthen peacekeeping in order to swiftly restore stability. Only a multi‑pronged approach could root out the problem of small arms. China paid great attention to the Secretary‑General’s latest report and supported his efforts, various United Nations organs and Interpol in playing an active role in combating the illicit weapons trade.
IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD (Egypt) said illicit trafficking and supply of small weapons had a great security and economic impact, especially if such weapons fell into the hands of terrorist groups and armed movements. The Middle East and Africa were most affected by the rise of that phenomenon, he said, noting an increase in a number of civilian and security force injuries in that regard, stemming from some countries who deliberately supplied illicit arms to terrorist and criminal organizations. He called upon the international community to spare no effort to combat that dangerous trend. On the Secretary‑General’s report, he said many recommendations, which were directed to the Security Council, should be directed to the General Assembly and the Review Conference on the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) underscored the devastating consequences of small arms and light weapons in her region. Such weapons enabled international conflict and civil war, resulting in major harm to civilians. Concerned about the risk of such weapons falling into the hands of domestic and transnational terrorist groups, she supported mainstreaming the issue into all relevant Council discussions and called for coordinated action to tackle the problem at the national, regional and international levels. Highlighting the African Union’s strategy on combating the illicit trafficking of such arms and its corresponding action plans, she called on Member States to support such regional efforts. Already, positive progress had been made at the national level in confidence‑building measures, she said, also underscoring the importance of addressing resources and capacity constraints.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said her country remained committed to the landmark Programme of Action on Small Arms and the International Tracing Instrument. The United States was a leading donor in the field, including through its conventional weapons destruction programme. However, challenges persisted and more needed to be done. Instead of trying to identify every gap, the international community needed more countries to sign up to existing commitments. Turning to the Secretary‑General’s report, she said it went beyond its remit in discussing domestic misuse in countries that are not in conflict, and the United States did not support its reference to the International Small Arms Control Standards, as they were not in fact standards, and had been created by a small group of self‑selected experts. She expressed hope that future reports would more accurately describe the control standards as voluntary guidelines and not practical recommendations. The United States was taking concrete steps to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and urged all countries to strengthen the implementation of existing related obligations.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said his was a peaceful State that did not produce, store or export weapons, and that mitigation in the trafficking of light weapons was vital for stabilizing countries in conflict. The fight against illicit trafficking had not been won by the United Nations or the international community, and the use of such weapons promoted terrorism and transnational organized crime. The seriousness of the problem had its roots in the trade of those weapons, which amounted to $6 billion in 2014, as highlighted in the Secretary‑General’s report. Illicit trafficking produced parallel profits in the financial system and tax havens. Further, non‑State actors to whom weapons were provided illegally helped to worsen conflicts, leading to war crimes and massive violations of human rights. The global arms trade required international controls to make progress on reducing the risk of small arms proliferation, which endangered the lives of millions of people. Also important were effective mechanisms to prohibit the supply of those weapons.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said preventing armed conflict and building sustainable peace hinged on addressing the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. For that reason, the issue must be mainstreamed into all relevant discussions on the Council’s agenda. Welcoming the inclusion in the Secretary‑General’s report, he underlined the complex linkages between illicit trafficking and the vulnerabilities of post‑conflict States. Improved arms control was also necessary to achieve the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda. Welcoming the report’s focus on gender, she noted Sweden’s support for projects aimed at increasing women’s participation in disarmament work. Underlining the importance of controlling ammunition as well as weapons, she noted the issue’s inclusion in the European Union’s strategy. He also pledged Sweden’s continued commitment to combating the illicit small arms trade.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the majority of deaths in conflict situations in developing countries were the result of small arms and light weapons. They facilitated the most heinous human rights violations, and in many countries were the preferred instrument of war. He cited South Sudan as an example, where local disputes were resolved with guns, and small arms had become the norm. In a culture of weapons, such disputes escalated faster and resulted in widespread casualties, he noted, adding that the transfers of weapons only spread that threat to other States. To tackle those challenges, the international community must strengthen arms control, with the Arms Trade Treaty being one of the most powerful tools in that fight. Its universalisation was a priority. However, such efforts must go hand in hand with the implementation of existing commitments. He praised the Programme of Action on Small Arms, while encouraging States to devote resources for stockpile security and destruction efforts. If the world embraced action and quelled conflict, 1.2 million lives could be saved by 2030, a fitting goal for the body charged with upholding international peace and security.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said arms control was crucial for the maintenance of international peace and security. Given current tensions around the world, the Secretary‑General’s report had come at an opportune time, especially in Africa and the Middle East. Achieving peace and stability was a battle that was far from over. West Africa and the Sahel could not escape the scourge and faced many threats, such as the proliferation and trafficking of conventional weapons and drugs, as well as terrorist attacks. Small arms and light weapons also fuelled conflict. Such challenges were an obstacle to sustainable development, which depended on peace and security. Nevertheless, the last two years witnessed success in the management of conventional weapons, he said, citing among other steps the outcome document from the sixth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action on Small Arms and the recommendation of confidence‑building measures. Highlighting the importance of the Arms Trade Treaty, he called for universalization of the instrument and its firearms‑related protocol.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said that his country had spoken in favour of enhancing the role of the United Nations to tackle the illicit arms trade. The pace of implementing the Programme of Action on Small Arms remained insufficient at a time when the black and grey markets supplied terrorist groups and street gangs and fuelled conflicts. It was time to add to the Programme of Action on Small Arms; to provide, for example, controls over States for brokerage activity in areas of their jurisdiction related to exports. There should also be a ban on the re‑export of small arms without the consent of the initial State. The Russian Federation had very developed legislation in that area and stood ready to provide assistance to States wishing to draft their own legislation. Turning to the Arms Trade Treaty, he said the openly weak document failed to tackle all the tasks it contained and did not include a direct ban on provisions regulating the re‑export of military goods.
LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay), noting that the Secretary‑General’s report highlighted the negative consequences of the unjust use of small weapons, said his country was committed to disarmament and had joined relevant regional and international treaties. The proliferation of small arms was a fundamental part of armed conflict and a means of perpetuating them. Selling small arms to warring parties had a direct impact on the suffering of civilians. Access to small arms and light weapons and the lack of adequate controls negatively affected human rights and sustainable development, he said, citing the Secretary‑General’s report and noting that the illegal trade had topped $6 billion in 2014. To combat that trade, international cooperation and the provision of assistance should be strengthened, with particular emphasis on developing national capacity. States should adopt national standards to strengthen arms controls, and weapon‑producing countries must honour their responsibilities. In that regard, the Arms Trade Treaty was a game changer toward the international regulation and responsible trade of small arms.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said small arms and light weapons led to the highest number of victims in the world and were responsible for 90 per cent of conflict casualties and more than 500,000 deaths every year. The illicit trade also fuelled conflict, organized crime and terrorism. Like others, France had faced terrorist attacks, he said, urging Member States to mobilize. Potential areas of collaboration included the development of national legislation, reduction of stockpiles, improving the security and physical management of stocks, and police and customs controls. Increasing international cooperation on marking and tracing small arms was also essential, as was the exchange of information. Moreover, international assistance was needed and must be adapted to the needs of beneficiaries. Looking at the challenges ahead, he called on Member States to strengthen efforts and accede to all relevant instruments, including the Arms Trade Treaty. Concerning the Programme of Action on Small Arms, he said France would preside over its third Review Conference in 2018, which was a unique opportunity to move forward and take steps toward mobilizing actors in various areas and tap into existing synergies.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) said that while fuelling armed conflicts, the illicit arms trade had a wide range of negative human rights, humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences, in particular for the security of civilians. Armed conflicts driven by the spread of those weapons also served as the main cause of people fleeing their homes in search of a more secure environment. There was an increased link among transnational organized crime, illicit arms trafficking and terrorism. Ukraine was facing a challenge with regard to the spread of illicit conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons, as a result of the Russian Federation’s military aggression against his country, including the occupation of Crimea and a part of the Donbas region. His delegation had drawn the Council’s attention to the continued illicit supplies of deadly weapons, ammunition and gunmen to Ukraine by the Russian Federation through the uncontrolled sections of the Ukrainian‑Russian border.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said that small arms and light weapons prolonged and intensified conflicts, hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid and reconstruction and development efforts, even in post‑conflict areas. The Secretary‑General’s call for “disarmament that saves lives” represented an important vision, he said, welcoming the latest report’s recommendations and best practices. Especially in post‑conflict areas, he called for a focus on capacity‑building for national institutions. For its part, Japan had provided approximately $3 million to Côte d’Ivoire from 2015 to 2017 and had, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme, provided capacity‑building assistance for the national commission in charge of the collection and disposal of such weapons, and helped to set up arms control guidelines. While emphasizing the importance of the Arms Trade Treaty and expressing Japan’s support in universalizing the instrument, he pointed out that since its entry into force in 2014, only 93 States had joined, including just 6 in the Asia‑Pacific region.
Mr. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) took the floor a second time, saying the implementation of the Minsk agreements was being hampered by general instability in certain areas. Tracing the turnover of weapons was something that the authorities were incapable of doing.
Mr. VITRENKO (Ukraine), also taking the floor a second time, noted that given the number of deadly weapons used by Russian separatists, including the famous missile that took down an airplane, killing almost 300 people on board, the Russian Federation had no right to lecture any Council member.
Mr. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said that Canada had publicly stated that it would issue its companies licenses to supply arms to Ukraine. Companies from the United States, particularly manufacturers of electronic grenade launchers, were already providing Kyiv with weapons, even though the United States had said there had been no official decision on that matter. Pumping Ukraine with American and Canadian weapons of war was sabotaging the Minsk agreements, he said.
Mr. VITRENKO (Ukraine)said his Russian counterpart had forgotten to mention that Ukraine was defending its territorial integrity against the Russian Federation’s aggression. His counterpart had very seriously prepared for the meeting and for making his statement, which had sounded ominous, as though the Russian Federation was preparing another stage of its military aggression against Ukraine.
Mr. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said that his delegation prepared very carefully for every single session.