14 June 2010

Day 1: Discussion on border controls and illicit trafficking of small arms

by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

The Fourth Biennial Meeting of States on small arms and light weapons (BMS4), which will look at ways to strengthen the implementation of the 2001 UN Programme of Action on small arms (UNPoA), began Monday morning with brief remarks by the Chair, Ambassador Pablo Macedo of Mexico; the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Mr. Sergio Duarte; and a representative of the Small Arms Survey, Ms. Sarah Parker. The substantive discussion for the rest of the day focused on agenda item 6(a) on border control issues—or more specifically, “Establishment, where appropriate, of subregional or regional mechanisms, with a view to preventing, combating and eradicating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons across borders, including trans-border Customs cooperation and networks for information-sharing among law enforcement, border and Customs control agencies.”

Non-paper on illicit trade across borders
Ahead of BMS4, Ambassador Federico Perazza of Uruguay, in his capacity as “Friend of the Chairman-designate,” circulated discussion paper on the prevention and combating of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons across borders. The paper, which formed the basis for most of Monday’s discussion, takes as its starting point that the “porosity of borders” is an aggravating element of illicit arms trafficking, especially in countries that lack of the technological and human resources and institutional capacity to deal with the problem. The paper recommends a number of initiatives that the BMS4 could undertake, including:

  • asking for reinforcement of legislative and/or regulatory regimes to strengthen border controls;

  • encouraging states to enhance cooperation among institutions responsible for border control;

  • encouraging exchanges of information among relevant enforcement authorities;

  • asking the international community to develop laws, regulations, policies, practices, infrastructure, equipment, information sharing, confidence-building measures, and training programmes to strengthen border controls;

  • stressing that the principle of shared responsibility is essential and recognizing the work of regional organizations in this regard; and

  • stressing the need to have an international guidelines or instrument, in the framework of the UNPoA, to specifically consider this issue and suggesting that the 2011 Open Ended Meeting of Governmental Experts “examine the importance of establishing parameters to prevent and combat the illicit trade in SALW across borders.”

After the discussion today, Mr. Perazza will “fine tune and conclude” the paper, which will be circulated tomorrow.

States’ responses to the paper and positions on border control issues
All delegations agreed that effective border controls are essential to preventing the illicit trafficking of SALW. However, they presented a variety of perspectives on how to best address the problem.

Exchange of information

  • The European Union arguing that such exchange of information, especially on tracked illegal SALW, should not be limited to the bilateral level, as this information at regional and global levels “can significantly contribute to preventing other SALW from being trafficked elsewhere.”

  • Lithuania encouraged governments to collect, maintain, and share data on SALW.

  • India said it expected that issues related to the appropriate level of information sharing and protection of sensitive information would be elaborated during discussions.

  • Colombia supported exchanges of information, including on tracking routes of illegal arms flow.

  • France supported information exchange among border authorities, especially at the regional and subregional levels.

  • France also supported dialogue with private operators.

  • Israel said information sharing needs to be institutionalized, internally and internationally.

  • China said information exchange and cooperation should be led by governments involved within the framework of UNPoA and on a voluntary basis to avoid impinging legitimate rights to manufacture, possess, and transfer weapons.


  • CARICOM and Japan welcomed the non-paper’s recommendation of enhanced practical cooperation among the institutions responsible for effective border control.

  • CARICOM expressed that regional cooperation—including exchange of information, technical assistance, joint exercises, training, and capacity-building—is vital to combating illicit SALW trafficking.

  • Japan highlighted the necessity of the international community strengthening border control mechanisms, including by promoting cooperation between customs authorities, using international and regional networks for information exchange, and sending custom agents to countries that have shipped illegal guns to collect information.

  • India noted that it is committed to enhancing bilateral border arrangements to combat illicit trade of SALW.

  • Pakistan said it was not interested in discussing international mechanisms for border controls, arguing that the primary responsibility lies with national governments.

  • Colombia called for cooperation and assistance between and among states on border controls, including both north-to-south and south-to-south cooperation.

  • The United States said it supported increased cooperation as long as the discussions do not attempt to widen the scope of the UNPoA.

  • Australia and Israel highlighted the importance of international and regional cooperation on border issues, including between border agencies and with international organizations such as Interpol and the World Customs Organization.

  • Mexico said cooperation is needed to increase the transnational criminalization of cross-border crimes.

  • Switzerland noted the importance of regional, national, and global cooperation to consolidate and strengthen border controls, including in the planning and implementation stages.

  • Algeria highlighted the importance of cooperating with neighbouring states.

  • MERCOSUR and Associated States highlighted the importance of strengthening cooperation mechanisms to affect border control through capacity-building and development, such as through customs cooperation.

  • Kenya explained that it has adopted measurable strategies to tackle border issues, including enhanced inter-agency collaboration and approaches to share intelligence; cooperation immigration, customs, and law enforcement; broader based community policing; and marking weapons in a way unique to each country in the region to help differentiate between source of origin.

  • Sierra Leone and Uganda highlighted the importance of civil society to compliment government initiatives in awareness raising and public education.

  • Cuba agreed there is need for enhanced cooperation but said the implications and scope of shared responsibility is not entirely clear and called for more discussions on this matter.

  • Peru said it is important to promote bilateral instruments for cooperation in police and judicial matters that provide a framework for cross-border cooperation and to exchange applicable national standards so that all states and their agents may be informed of the competence and jurisdiction of the authorities with which they have to deal.

  • Guatemala said border issues must be tackled in a comprehensive fashion, including security and development actions from a broader perspective of human development.

  • Guatemala said arms trafficking requires a regional approach and harmonized coordination and mechanisms that generate confidence among the countries concerned.

  • Iran, Senegal, Nigeria, Bolivia, and Jamaica emphasized the importance of subregional and regional cooperation.

  • China called on states to intensify cooperation and communication on the basis of agreements already reached, including on administering brokers and brokering activities to eliminate linkages in chain of illicit trade.


  • CARICOM noted that among the challenges it faces are the lack of required technological and human resources and institutional capacity to monitor its borders and lack of training for border control personnel.

  • Australia highlighted the importance of international assistance on border issues.

  • Dominican Republic said it continues to need advice and technical support from international organizations to train bodies and officials responsible for border control.

  • Iran called for the BMS4 outcome document to include a paragraph stressing the need for facilitation of transfers of technical equipment that could help combat illicit trafficking of SALW across borders and the need for removing restrictions against such transfers.

Focal points

  • India and Japan supported the paper’s suggestion of establishing a national focal point for border control issues.

  • The United States, Israel, and Morocco said they did not want to see more national focal points, noting that states are already supposed to appoint a focal point for implementation of the UNPoA as a whole.

Air transport

  • The European Union highlighted its efforts to develop risk assessment tools to enhance cooperation and coordination among customs, border controls, and police to identify and seize weapons traded illegal via air and explained that it will share its know-how with other countries.

  • The EU also explained that it is developing air-safety mechanisms to target air cargo carriers smuggling weapons, strengthening air surveillance systems, and reinforcing law enforcement capacities.

  • France and Israel echoed the importance of addressing air transport issues.

International Tracing Instrument (ITI)

  • Lithuania cited the implementation of the ITI as an effective measure for combating the illicit trade of SALW across borders.

  • India described the adoption of the ITI as a modest step on addressing border control issues.

  • Israel said states should make use of existing instruments on information sharing, including the ITI.

  • Uganda highlighted its efforts to mark and trace weapons as contributing to combating the illicit trafficking of SALW.

International criteria for SALW transfers

  • The European Union highlighted the importance of such criteria, noting that this could contribute to the wider process aiming at establishing common international standard for the transfers of all conventional weapons through an arms trade treaty.

Arms embargoes

  • Philippines argued that military transfer of arms should be monitored more closely and urged all states to abide by arms embargoes established by the UN.

Export controls

  • China said states need to “regulate from the source” by improving national legislation and export control systems and enhancing the training of officials working in customs and border control fields.

Instrument on border controls

  • The United States said the paper’s suggestion of a new instrument on border control issues is going too far beyond the scope of BMS4 and the open-ended group of government experts scheduled for 2011.

  • Switzerland said such an instrument is “ambitious” under the UNPoA but that discussions on parameters for such an instrument need to begin.

  • Algeria said it supports legal instruments on cross-border arms trafficking at the regional and subregional levels.

  • Cuba said it is not convinced of the feasibility or advisability of such an instrument and said states should focus on the full implementation of the instruments they already have.

Other issues
A few delegations made comments on other issues related to the implementation of the UNPoA.

Implementation of the UNPoA in general

  • Ambassador Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs urged member states to use BMS4 to improve the UNPoA’s measurability, acknowledge the value of web-based information platforms, and match assistance needs with available resources.

  • Almost all delegations called for the full and effective implementation of the UNPoA.

  • Dominican Republic said it supported a legally-binding instrument to implement the UNPoA.

Assistance and cooperation

  • Ms. Sarah Parker of the Small Arms Survey introduced the organization’s findings with respect to the national reports submitted by governments in 2009 and 2010. Ms. Parker noted that while national reports are an opportunity for governments to communicate their needs for assistance, “relatively few states do so.” She highlighted that the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs is developing an online reporting tool that will aim to help match needs and resources. Ms. Parker noted other problems with national reports that raise a number of questions and require study in order to improve the effectiveness of assistance programmes.

  • The Non-Aligned Movement called on the UN and other bilateral and multilateral partners to increase their assistance to developing countries for curbing illicit trade in SALW, but emphasized that such assistance “should not be at the expense of support” for national plans to attain development goals, arguing that socioeconomic progress “will ensure that the actions of national governments to control and eradicate the illicit SALW have effective and sustainable results.”

  • The African Group called for harmonizing regional instruments.

  • India welcomed progress on international cooperation.

Arms production

  • The Non-Aligned Movement called for reduction of the production, possession, and trade of conventional weapons by developed states, with a view to enhancing regional and international peace and security and embracing the “principle of undiminished security at the lowest level of armament.”

  • Philippines noted the “special responsibility” of producer states and called on them “to strictly apply the legal restrictions that prevent the illicit trade of SALW.”

  • Bolivia said SALW issues must be approached from an angle that recognizes the shared but differentiated responsibilities of those who manufacture weapons and those who suffer the result.

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