By Lucas Musetti
On Tuesday, October 17, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) held a panel at a side event for the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on disarmament. The panel, called Scrapping the Surplus: Failures and Successes in Destroying Excess SALW and Ammunition, focused on the destruction of surplus stockpiles of small arms and light weapons (SALW). IANSA’s YouTube video, “Silencing the Guns,” played as an introduction to the panel. The video offers the views of IANSA and UN personnel on the proliferation of SALW and the upcoming Review Conference on the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
The meeting was chaired by Ivor Fung, Deputy Director, Secretary of the Conference on Disarmament at the UN Office at Geneva, and Baffour Amoa, Chair of the International Advisory Council for IANSA. The panel was accompanied by a publication from IANSA entitled, “Surplus and Illegal Small Arms, Light Weapons and their Ammunition: the consequences of failing to dispose and safely destroy them,” written by Peter Danssaert and Brian Wood. Mr. Wood was also joined by Melanie Regimbal, Director of UNRILEC; Juan Camilo Diaz Reina, Election Officer of the Colombian Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Christof Baldus from Technische Hilfswerk; Jones Borthley Applerh, Executive Director of the Small Arms Commission; Arben Idrizi of the OSCE and Albanian government; and Maya de Leon of IEPADES. Read below for a breakdown of their remarks at the panel.
Brian Wood- Mr. Wood analyzed eight case studies of nations that experienced large-scale disasters involving SALW stockpiles, beginning with Libya, whose weapons are, as he phrased it, “hemorrhaging” into Sub-Saharan Africa due to poor stockpile management.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, a study showed that 22% of weapons sent from the US government could not be accounted for, partly due to the fact that when older weapons were replaced with newer models, the older guns were never recovered. These include assault rifles and pistols, not to mention ammunition.
In Brazil, there are about 17 million firearms and less than half of them are in the hands of licensed gun owners. Mr. Wood cites a figure of 70% of 60,000 homicides caused by such firearms. He also says that corruption is a common factor in many states that relates to why so many weapons divert from stockpiles into circulation in the populace.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there have been accidental explosions in storage sites and systemic human rights violations, as in Kasai, due to poor management of stockpiled weapons.
El Salvador has seen more gun deaths than during their civil war simply from crimes involving legal and illicit firearms.
In Rwanda, fake certifications helped people secure weapons, including some that may have been used in the genocide according to a lawsuit leveled against French bank BNP Paribas.
In South Sudan, surplus stockpiles are pouring into the country from Uganda through traffickers. In all, Mr. Wood made a compelling case for giving better attention to stockpile management.
Mr. Wood closed his presentation by giving a call to action. Arms management and destruction (AMD) needs to be improved in four main areas according to his research. First, the capabilities for tracing serial numbers needs to be improved. Second, we need to re-evaluate our methods of destruction and decommission to ensure that all parts of disposed weapons are put beyond use. Third, storage facilities need to be improved to prevent theft, explosions, or other incidents relating to poor management. Fourth and finally, bodies responsible for overseeing the disarmament process need to be held more accountable and improve their record keeping in order to heighten the efficiency of disarmament efforts. He also warned that the expanding global capacity of weapons production is leading to even more surplus as old weapons that are being replaced by new ones are not being destroyed.
Melanie Regimbal- The UNLIREC Director made clear that the Latin America- and Caribbean-based organization had been working for over a decade on surplus stockpile destruction. She also stressed the danger of approaching weapons destruction with a “get in and get out” attitude, and instead stressed sustainable and tailored national action plans.
The first step is create an assessment mission to determine the capacities of states to work with disarmament programs. As the Director says, it is often the Ministry of Finance that will provide most of the information for this capacity assessment as they monitor a state’s resources and supplies. There are three main assessments in developing these plans:
1. What can be done internally in the state?
2. What can be done with international NGO involvement? and
3. How can the plan include a sustainability component? UNLIREC also incorporates ideas of best practices from the International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS) and the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATGs).
UNLIREC has already destroyed over 100,000 obsolete surplus firearms and 70 metric tons of ammunition, including 57,000 weapons in Caribbean countries between 2000 and 2016. UNLIREC utilizes five main forms of weapons destruction: cutting, crushing, incineration, smelting, and detonation. Smelting is often the most cost-effective method but it is not always an option as some states do not have smelting facilities designed for weapons destruction. In addition to the physical act of destruction, Director Regimbal stressed the importance of including public relations opportunities as symbolic events for partnered governments as a way to raise awareness about the importance of disarmament efforts. One recent success that she pointed to was the destruction of old weapons from private security forces in Costa Rica, preventing them from introduction to public circulation.
Juan Camilo Diaz Reina- As a representative of Colombia, Mr. Diaz provided an intimate look at the disruption of small arms and light weapons trafficking in his country. He specifically focused on the recent case study of the destruction of the FARC’s weapons as part of an arrangement with the Colombian government. By June 27 of this year, the FARC had turned over the majority of their weapons to one storage area monitored by the government. This was part of still-ongoing negotiations between the parties. From July to August, the stockpile was moved to Bogota to be destroyed. On August 16, the destruction process began.
In the meantime, the government and FARC collectively recognized more than 1,000 remaining caches of weapons and by September 15 about 750 were destroyed. On September 22, the last of the main stockpile was announced as destroyed. This included around 9,000 arms, nearly 2 million rounds of ammunition, several thousand kilograms of explosives, over 1,000 grenades, over 3,000 landmines, and 51 kilometers of detonation cord. As Mr. Diaz recognizes, the future challenge lies in looking for remaining caches.
Christof Baldus- Mr. Baldus also built on the case of Colombia, although from a different, albeit parallel, angle. Technische Hilfswerk (THW) assisted in the weapons destruction process that Mr. Diaz outlined just previously. He also acknowledged that a large problem is finding the rest of the weapons caches. THW sent 18 experts to assist in decommissioning the weapons and assisted in the destruction of 8,994 firearms and more than 30,000 magazines. Mr. Baldus also recounted an incident where a gun could not be fully unloaded due to a malfunction and discharged during the destruction process. Luckily, no one was harmed and from that point on there was an additional safety procedure, though there were no other incidents mentioned.
Jones Borthley Applerh- Director Applerh also addressed a case study, though in this case it was Ghana’s relationship with small arms and light weapons. In Ghana, the Small Arms Commission focuses on firearms used in the commission of crimes rather than those owned by people as a means of protecting their farms or for hunting. Still, Mr. Applerh acknowledges a large occurrence of illegal arms ownership in Ghana, which he partly blames on income disparity causing increasing crime and vice. Mr. Applerh claims that a large number of the illicit firearms come from surrounding nations as a result of improper stockpile management. In recent years, Ghana has tried to stem the tide of arms proliferation by offering amnesty periods for gun surrendering and gun buyback programming, though they haven’t met with overwhelming success. Still, Mr. Applerh notes that one less gun in circulation could be the literal difference between life and death.
Arben Idrizi- Mr. Idrizi presented the successes Albania has had with surplus weapons disposal. After the fall of communism, the Albanian Armed Forces inherited weapons surpluses beyond its capacity to maintain, including landmines and weapons but with help from agencies like the UNDP, it was able to effectively manage the situation. Between 1998 and 2005, Albania destroyed 100 weapons stockpiles, reducing their number to 57. In 2005, 140,000 weapons and 22,000 metric tonnes of ammunition were destroyed. With the UNDP SEESAC, Albania designed a program to enhance their infrastructure for stockpile management, destroyed 1,987 surplus weapons, and trained experts on physical security and stockpile management in 2016. Albania has also undertaken to introduce electronic weapon registries in police departments and implement awareness campaigns on illegal possession and misuse of firearms in addition to helping enhance police capabilities for safe storage. Recently, Albania had a four-month amnesty program wherein 1,863 small arms and light weapons, 751,109 pieces of ammunition, and 2,629 pieces of explosives were surrendered. They are now considering creating another amnesty period.
Mayda de Leon- Mayda de Leon spoke about small arms and light weapons in Latin America and their accumulation as a result of unclear procedures for disposal. In countries like Guatemala and Honduras, weapons that were used in the commission of crimes remain in evidence lockers in police stations and courthouses because there is no clear mechanism for deciding when to dispose of them. Ms. de Leon cites three reasons for the accumulation:
1. There is a lack of attention given to the issue by disarmament advocates,
2. Prosecutors and court authorities do not give it proper attention, and
3. Laws are unclear about who has the authority to authorize their destruction.
Some countries have laws relating to their disposal, but others decide it based on judgment by ministries on individual bases.
The meeting closed with a brief question and answer period moderated by Mr. Amoa and Mr. Fung gave concluding remarks, which included call on parties to consider how surplus destruction relates to the sustainable development goals, particularly 16.4. He also stressed that these are the kinds of issues that need to be addressed in order to meet the goals by 2030. In all, IANSA put on an illuminating panel on an issue that must be addressed for the sake of human security. Nonviolence International looks forward to helping our partner organizations work on this and other issues.