Followup to the 2001 UN Conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons

Tasneem Jamal

Lynne Griffiths-Fulton

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2002 Volume 23 Issue 1

In July 2001, the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects resulted in the adoption, by consensus, of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (Programme of Action).1 This marked the end of a six-year process to bring the issue of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) to the world’s attention and was a vital acknowledgement by the international community that there is an urgent need to address the problem.

Although a draft resolution followed promptly from the conference, voting in the General Assembly did not take place until December 2001. The resultant Resolution, A/RES/56/24V, The Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects,2 was adopted without a vote.

Resolution A/RES/56/24V mandates the General Assembly to undertake the following:

  • To convene a meeting of States on a biennial basis, commencing in 2003, to consider the national, regional, and global implementation of the Programme of Action;
  • To convene a conference, no later than 2006, to review progress made in the implementation of the Programme of Action, the date to be decided by the General Assembly at its fifty-eighth session (2004);
  • To consider at its fifty-seventh session (2003) further steps to enhance international cooperation in preventing, combatting, and eradicating illicit brokering in small arms and light weapons;
  • To include in the provisional agenda of its fifty-seventh (2003) session an item entitled “The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects.”

Resolution A/RES/56/24V also requests that the Secretary-General (and his office) do the following:

  • Ensure that resources and expertise are made available to the secretariat to promote the implementation of the Programme of Action;
  • Collate and circulate data and information provided by States on a voluntary basis, including national reports on the implementation by those States of the Programme of Action;
  • Undertake a United Nations study, commencing during the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly (within available financial resources) and, with the assistance of governmental experts appointed by him on the basis of equitable geographical representation, examine the feasibility of developing an international instrument to enable States to identify and trace, in a timely and reliable manner, illicit small arms and light weapons and to submit the study to the General Assembly at its fifty-eighth session.

In essence, the Resolution endorses the Programme of Action and encourages Member States to undertake initiatives, which will promote its implementation. Thus, the Programme of Action remains the main focus of attention for Member States, NGOs, and civil society engaged in the small arms issue. However, the length of time taken to bring the draft resolution to a vote remains curious. Queries over budgetary implications might be one reason for the delay.

Because of the delay, in November the Secretary-General released a statement to clarify the way in which the Department for Disarmament Affairs, General Assembly, Social Council Affairs, and conference services would be able to fulfill the requests as outlined in the draft resolution. This statement also had implications for the Programme of Action since the draft resolution was, in fact, drawn up in support of the Programme of Action and its implementation.

The Secretary-General’s statement (A/C.1/56/L.61) outlined how each department should amend their current and future budgets and programs of work to meet the requirements laid out in the draft resolution. It was estimated that an additional $559,800 would need to be added to existing budgets, with $456,100 coming from the Department of Disarmament Affairs. However, no provision has been made under the Department’s proposed program budget (2002-2003) to absorb these costs, and so, the statement concludes, “if additional funds are not provided, the mandated activities may not be implemented.”

To carry out the activities mandated in Resolution A/RES/56/24V, the contingency fund created by the General Assembly to accommodate additional expenditures will have to be drawn upon, and other program work of the Department of Disarmament Affairs may need to be modified or halted. Thus, the provisions contained in the Resolution, which call for the United Nations to provide assistance to States in implementing the Programme of Action, may not be readily met. In this case, any practical results and followup work to the UN Small Arms Conference may fall to NGOs and international organisations, with the leadership of key governments, in the time leading up to the followup Conference in 2006.



1 For a full analysis of the Programme of Action, see Regehr, Ernie 2001.

2 Full text can be found here.

Regehr, Ernie 2001, “The UN and a small arms program of action: measuring success,” The Ploughshares Monitor, December, pp. 11-15.

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