UN Pact Weakens Small Arms Commitment

Jacob Parakilas

Missing from the final agreement of the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly was a pledge to craft a legal instrument to implement the UN’s plan to combat the illicit trade in small arms. Earlier drafts had included such a pledge, but that provision was excised from the text before the heads of state arrived in New York Sept. 14.

The relevant paragraph, from a draft document dated Aug. 5, read:


We commit to adopt and implement an international instrument to regulate the marking and tracing, illicit brokering, trade and transfer of small arms and light weapons. We also commit to implement the United Nations Plan of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.


The program of action dates back to 2001 and was endorsed by the General Assembly in Resolution 56/24V but has yet to be implemented by a treaty or other international legal instrument. It sets out parameters for creating or improving national laws against the illegal manufacture or trade of light weapons, as well as guidelines to foster regional and global cooperation on various measures of small arms control, including provisions for the universal marking of weapons and ammunition.


A meeting of states to consider the implementation of the plan is scheduled for later this year, along with a review conference in 2006, but without the explicit pledge of support in the high-level meeting’s declaration, the feasibility of the plan is unclear. The final declaration did retain language in support of the same goal, but it is much less definitive: “We support implementation of the 2001 UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.”