Security Council Open Debate on Small Arms and Light Weapons, May 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Wednesday (13 May) the Council, under the Lithuanian presidency, held an open debate to discuss the Secretary General’s biennial report on small arms (S/2015/289) with focus on the human cost of the illicit flow of small arms and light weapons (SALW). The 65-speaker debate began with a briefing from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who cited the widespread availability of weapons as a major factor in over 250 conflicts over the past decade. Proliferation of small arms and light weapons leads to denial of education and health, criminality, illicit plundering of natural resources, decreased trade and investment, violence against women and girls, gang violence, and the collapse of Rule of Law. As SG Ban notes, “among the complex causes of conflict, [regulation and management of] weapons could be most clearly addressed.” The Secretary-General’s report included recommendations focused on the importance of including ammunition in all measures against illicit small arms; the need for further research to assist policy-makers in addressing the causes and consequences of armed violence; the importance of including a gendered perspective to armed violence and of women’s participation in all efforts aimed at combating illicit small arms, such as disarmament initiatives and peace processes.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein addressed the Council, highlighting the flow of small arms as a direct catalyst for lawlessness and violence against the most vulnerable civilian groups, specifically violence against women and gender-based violence. As Prince al Hussein stated, “the most bullet-ridden humans are ordinary people, not combatants, and the most vulnerable members of society: women, children, and the elderly.” The High Commissioner echoed the Secretary-General’s calls for incorporating capacity into United Nations operations for arms management and for the universal ratification and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) as a formidable instrument for strengthening small arms management.

The Debate also included an intervention by the president of the Côte D’Ivoire chapter of the West Africa Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA), Karamoko Diakité, who spoke on the human cost of illicit small arms - a key issue for the debate in the concept note circulated by Lithuania. Diakité recounted violence in his country following an electoral dispute that was exacerbated by the distribution of small arms and ammunition by leaders in violation of the arms embargo. In advocating for mechanisms to stem the flow of such weapons, Diakité urged for universal accession to the ATT. Furthermore, his statement highlights the connection between the illicit arms flow and gender-based violence. Diakité also called for the strengthening of inclusion efforts in order to increase women’s participation in disarmament, peacekeeping operations, and peace processes

Lithuania has proposed a draft resolution, which reflects on key issues highlighted in the concept note and also includes recommendations made by the Secretary-General while building on agreed language from UNSCR 2117. The resolution seeks to provide more detailed and "operational" guidance on combating the illicit arms flow while also incorporating new operative elements such as mission assessments to measure progress in disarmament initiatives and the establishment of clear objectives regarding host country capacity in areas such as stockpile management when adjusting or lifting an arms embargo. At press time, the resolution is still under negotiations due to a block by the P3 over the issue of small arms transfers to non-state actors. 

Gender Analysis

The proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, both domestically and in conflict settings. The Council must show dedication to gender mainstreaming within sanction regimes, throughout monitoring mechanisms, and in DDR programmes and initiatives. The Council must also show commitment to increasing women’s participation in both conflict prevention and in peace processes.

As conflicts continue to evolve, the gendered perspective of armed violence is increasingly becoming recognized internationally. Of the 65 statements, 33 speakers (51%) made reference to the gendered perspective of small arms proliferation and armed violence, with 11 speakers (17%) discussed the impact of small arms and light weapons on gender-based violence and sexual gender-based violence.

In 2013, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was signed and entered into effect on 24 December 2014. The ATT is the first legally binding international agreement that makes a clear connection between the global arms trade and gender-based violence. Throughout the debate, many speakers urged for universal implementation of the ATT to combat the devastation caused by small arms and light weapons on populations throughout the world. As was stated in the statement from Italy, the ATT has the potential to contribute to international peace and security, especially with the inclusion of gender-based violence prevention, which is seen as critical to the protection of women and children in conflict. While 49 speakers mentioned the ATT (75%), only 3 (5%) - the United Kingdom, Finland, and Ireland - directly mentioned the ATT in the context of gender. 

Speakers, such as the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Argentina, Chad, and Jordan, cited the disproportionate impact of the arms proliferation on gender-based violence and violence against women. While many speakers referenced the flow of illicit arms on “vulnerable groups” such as women and children, there was limited reference to women in the call for action against SALW. Lithuania, the European Union, and Thailand called for women’s participation in addressing SALW proliferation through inclusion in disarmament initiatives and post-conflict capacity building. Sweden highlighted the need for mainstreaming gender by addressing “male societal norms” behind the concept of men as perpetrators in order to shift the conversation surrounding weapons proliferation and armed violence.

Algeria, the United Kingdom, and Ireland spoke directly to UNSCR 1325 (5%), with Ireland also calling for stronger efforts for promoting women’s participation in peace and security efforts. 14 speakers total spoke of women's participation to combat the effects of armed violence and arms proliferation (22%). Sweden and Ireland (3%) urged for an increased presence of women protection advisers (WPAs), while Sweden and Thailand urged for the utilization of sex and age disaggregated data collection and analysis (3%).

18 speakers mentioned the need for structural and sectoral reform of existing disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programmes and initiatives (28%). However, only Sweden and Ireland spoke directly to the role of women in DDR. 

General Analysis

As was stated by Lithuanian Ambassador Murmokaité, “small arms and light weapons are not regularly discussed in the Security Council, but it is a matter of life and death for thousands globally everyday.” Throughout the debate, Council members highlighted several key themes. Nearly every speaker highlighted the humanitarian cost involved with the proliferation of illicit arms globally and its socio-economic impact on civilians and states. The vast majority of speakers also called for universal accession to the ATT as a tool for combating the illicit flow issue. There was some dispute regarding the question of illicit small arms transfers by governments to non-state armed groups. Chad, Angola, and Russia spoke directly to this issue, stressing the importance of differentiating between legitimate and illicit trade in weapons, while other speakers such as Venezuela called for the immediate halt of arms to non-state actors, citing the effects on Syria as an example. Speakers also debated the issue of ammunition tracking and management, with many speakers calling for ammunition controls as well. Other themes addressed included improvement of stockpile management, increased and assurance of host country capacity, and stronger verifications and monitoring of export certifications.

Negotiations are still ongoing on a draft resolution proposed by Lithuania, which would seek to provide more detailed and operational guidance on how to achieve the agreed objectives of UNSCR 2117 on small arms adopted on 26 September 2013 while highlighting the human cost of illicit small arms. The question of small arms transfers to non-state armed groups has become the major obstacle in the negotiations with Angola and Chad raising issue with existing language on the illicit transfers of weapons and ammunition, including small arms, to non-state armed groups in armed conflict situations. Russia, Nigeria, and Venezuela supported the call for new language while the P3 remained strongly opposed. Following four rounds of negotiations last week, remaining differences centered on the question of transfers to non-state actors. In an attempt to address the issue, Lithuania proposed compromise language in the preambular section recognizing that states should prevent the transfer of weapons and ammunition to "armed groups and criminal networks targeting civilians and civilian objects," which was included in a text put under silence on Friday (7 May). Subsequently, Angola, Chad, and Nigeria refused to join consensus, which led to a series of bilateral discussions in order to try and resolve remaining differences. At press time, the question of arms transfers to non-state actors remains the major obstacle in finalizing the resolution text, as the Council has yet to adopt the resolution due to strong opposition from the P3 - three of the world's largest exporting countries. During the debate, the United States stressed, in this context, that nations had the right to defend themselves and their citizens and that "the lawful and appropriate manufacture and purchase of small arms must be respected." Reiterating its stance, Venezuela countered, stating that "the transfer of conventional weapons to non-State actors must end, whether they were so-called democratic opposition groups or militias. The Council must adopt a decisive resolution that clearly prohibited the transfer of arms and ammunition to all such groups. We cannot have a two-faced approach to this."

Following the debate, the Security Council passed UNSCR 2220 (2015) on small arms and light weapons; the Council’s second-ever thematic resolution on small arms. The current text contains elements highlighting the impact of illicit small arms on women and children. The draft resolution encouraged member states to strengthen collection of sex and age disaggregated data (SADD) in order to better understand the impact of small arms and light weapons on civilians holistically. While the resolution includes language directly calling for women's participation in the prevention of armed violence and disarmament, for instance. The Council adopted resolution 2220 (2015) on 22 May by a vote of 9 in favour, none against and the abstentions of Angola, Chad, China, Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela.


S/2015/289: SG Report on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW)

S/2015/306 - Lithuania Concept Note: Small Arms