The 8th Biennial Meeting of States (BMS8) on the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA), took place from June 27-July 1, 2022, in person, at the UN Headquarters in New York. The BMS8 concluded with the successful adoption by consensus of its Outcome Document.
Adopted in 2000, the PoA is a politically (non-legally binding) document that establishes a normative framework aimed to “prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects”. With the adoption of the PoA, UN member states have committed to develop and strengthen national legislation, regulations and systems including transfer controls, stockpile management related to small arms and light weapons in order to prevent their illicit trade and diversion. The PoA was complemented by the adoption of the International Tracing Instrument (ITI) in 2005. The ITI enables States to identify and trace, in a timely and reliable manner, illicit small arms and light weapons.
As agreed at BMS7 last 26–30 July 2021, the main focus of BMS8 was to enhance modalities and procedures of international cooperation assistance. Noting “the benefit of coordinated action, with a view to preventing and reducing the risks of diversion, illicit manufacturing and trafficking of small arms and light weapons” (para. 59), the BMS8 outcome document contains several references to the importance of strengthening cooperation, subregional, regional and cross-regional coordination, promoting information sharing and reinforcing national control measures.
SYNERGIES WITH OTHER INTERNATIONAL INSTRUMENTS AND FRAMEWORKS
One of the main contentions during the BMS8 open debate was the formal recognition of synergies between the PoA and other instruments and frameworks, including the ATT, Firearms Protocol, Women Peace and Security, the Secretary General’s Agenda for Disarmament. A number of states from Europe, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific pointed to the importance of linking the PoA with other international frameworks as a way to ensure harmonization and coordination of implementation efforts at the national and regional level.
In particular, the EU emphasized that the prevention of diversion of illicit small arms and light weapons constitutes the undeniable link between the PoA and ATT, especially with the incoming first meeting of the Diversion Information and Exchange Forum, expected to take place at the Eights Conference of States Parties to the ATT (CSP8). However, other UN Member states, including Cuba, Egypt, Iran, remain firm in their belief that the PoA, which was adopted by consensus, must not be linked to documents which do not benefit from the universal support of all UN member states.
In support of synergies with the ATT and other instruments, the BMS8 final document included in para. 34 a commitment by states to “ensure that international humanitarian law and international human rights law are taken into consideration in national small arms and light weapons transfer decisions.” This paragraph reaffirms and strengthens the original provision in the UNPoA which requires states to assess the risk that the goods will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of relevant international law. The ATT, through Article 7, includes a list of the potential risks states should and must consider when making an export decision, including whether the arms could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law or human rights law.
FOCUS ON NEW TECHNOLOGIES
The outcome document also includes provisions related to 3D printing (see 13, 37, 69, 73, 75, 81) and the establishment of an open-ended technical expert group to develop recommendations to fully implement the PoA and ITI in light of recent developments in SALW manufacturing (para 75). Gender mainstreaming was also retained in the final document in para. 9, encouraging states to address the differential impact of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons on women, men, girls and boys in the implementation of both the PoA and the International Tracing Instrument (ITI). Similarly, the document stressed the importance of equal, meaningful, and effective participation of women (para 50), the collection of data dissaggregated sex, age, and disability (para 51), and the differential impact of illicit SALW on women, men, girls and boys (para 54) while paragraph 53 recognize that “eradicating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons contributes to combating gender-based violence and sexual violence in conflict.”
After much discussion at BMS8, ammunition remains outside of the final document.The only reference to this important issue in the outcome documents is simply the recognition of the establishment of the Open-ended Working Group addressing existing gaps in through-life ammunition management (para 19). References to ammunition were included for the first time in the outcome document of the 3rd Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms (June 2018). However, since then, states, particularly from Latin America and Africa regional groups, have been unsuccessful in securing support for the inclusion of references to ammunition in subsequent outcome documents.
BMS8 concluded with positive developments with regard to gender and measured progress in terms of incorporating new technologies into its scope. However, its omission of ammunition continues to limit the PoA in following a comprehensive approach toward combating armed violence fueled by the illicit arms trade. Also concerning was the continued firm stance by a number of states to limit reference to consensus-based international instruments, rather than taking an inclusive approach when it comes to synergies with other instruments, limits cooperation among states at national, regional and international level. Failing again this year to directly acknowledge and identify mutually reinforcing international instruments, such as the Arms Trade Treaty and the Firearms Protocol is a missed opportunity.
With the advancement of the technology around the production of SALW, and the ever complex contexts of conflicts all over the world, discussions on consensus around the PoA must expand to include all other existing efforts to stop armed violence. States now should seize the opportunity to build stronger PoA implementation in these and other ways in the upcoming fourth United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in 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 in 2024 (RevCon 4).
The final BMS8 document, along with the daily briefings, are available through the website of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), the official coordinator of civil society participation at BMS8. Access these documents here.