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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Identification matters: Small Arms Survey weapons ID workshops for journalists

Tobin Jones/UN Photo

by Benjamin King and Emilia Dungel

Acts of armed violence naturally peak our curiosity. We want to know what happened, how it happened, and why?

Some of these answers lay with the arms themselves and the ammunition that feeds them. Answers that can speak to the capabilities of the armed actor(s), and, if properly traced, to the supply sources and possible alliances that enabled the action. We need journalists to find these answers. Whether reporting directly from the battlefield or from their desks while scrutinizing images of weapons, journalists play a significant role in relating well-informed and accurate stories.

The Small Arms Survey is convinced that improved reporting on the weapons used in conflict will inform both public opinion and understanding of weapons trafficking issues, thus precipitating policy makers to develop more effective solutions to tackle them.

To help reporters in this quest, the Small Arms Survey has conducted nine journalist workshops on the nuances of weapons identification and research. Over 150 journalists have been trained in Juba, Istanbul, Belgrade, Nairobi, New York, and Tunis.

The courses are tailored for journalists working in and covering areas of violence and conflict. By providing participants with the skills and tools necessary to record and identify arms and ammunition and contextualize their significance, we help them process what they find to inform their reporting.

Our journalist workshops include training modules on the legal arms trade, the means of diversion, weapons and ammunition characteristics, field data collection techniques and safety considerations, international and regional control instruments, and important data sources for research.

We also use these workshops to develop deeper ties with the journalist community, including at the institutional level. For instance, students at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism have both participated in Small Arms Survey workshops, as well as received in-depth briefings during their classes on campus.

Judith Matloff, Lecturer, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism commented: ‘[The Survey] shared sites where [the students] can seek verification and provided an out-of-class exercise to test this new investigative skill. The students will need further practice in order to master this highly specialized art. Once they become proficient I hope they will collaborate with [the Small Arms Survey] in the field, not only on deeply researched stories but also to share raw data that can be circulated more widely.’

And the results? For example, one Small Arms Survey journalist training participant published a story about Kenyan reservists dealing with livestock thieves; another wrote about how online arms sales fuel the Libyan conflict.

We very much look forward to continuing this work; to help reporters find the information that the public deserves, and to help policy makers find the answers they need to come up with solutions. 

The Small Arms Survey is holding its tenth weapons identification workshop for journalists in Tunis from 28
–30 November 2017.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Revised Indicator 16.4.2: A useful, but limited, step towards 2030

UN Statistical Commission Website

by: Glenn McDonald

Today, 10 March, the UN Statistical Commission wraps up its 48th session in New York after agreeing on revisions to several indicators that assess progress made in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Among the SDG indicators revised in this round is Indicator 16.4.2, designed to measure implementation of the arms component of SDG Target 16.4: ‘By 2030, significantly reduce illicit [. . .] arms flows’.

How to measure such a reduction? An initial answer came in March 2016 when the Statistical Commission approved the first version of Indicator 16.4.2:

'Proportion of seized small arms and light weapons that are recorded and traced, in accordance with international standards and legal instruments' - UN doc. E/CN.3/2016/2/Rev.1, p. 58

Work conducted in 2016 by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators led to a new formulation of Indicator 16.4.2, now agreed by the UN Statistical Commission:

'Proportion of seized, found or surrendered arms whose illicit origin or context has been traced or established by a competent authority in line with international instruments' - UN doc. E/CN.3/2017/2, pp. 35, 41

There are four major changes between the first and new versions:

1) The reference, in the new version, to arms ‘found or surrendered’, as well as ‘seized’, underlines the relevance of the International Tracing Instrument (ITI) (small arms ‘found’ in a country), as well as the UN Firearms Protocol (firearm ‘seizure’), to the determination of the illicit nature of an arm.

2) The new reference to ‘arms’, rather than ‘small arms and light weapons’, ensures consistency with SDG Target 16.4 (‘arms’) and ensures that weapons other than small arms/light weapons are also under scrutiny.

3) The earlier reference to the recording of seized small arms has been lost—a weakness of the new language since record-keeping, along with marking, is essential to tracing. But the purpose of Indicator 16.4.2 has been spelled out: that states (‘competent authority’), through tracing or other means, determine the illicit nature (‘origin or context’) of arms that they seize, find, or that are surrendered to them.

4) Finally, the new version expands and narrows the reference to applicable norms: ‘expands’ since the new mention of ‘international instruments’, rather than ‘legal instruments’, brings the politically-binding ITI clearly into the picture; ‘narrows’ since the failure to mention ‘standards’ arguably takes the International Small Arms Control Standards and other, similar guidelines off the table. This is as far as the global indicator is concerned. National-level indicators, essential to assessing the implementation of Target 16.4, can take inspiration from a broader range of sources than those referenced, generically, in Indicator 16.4.2 (see Research Note 50).

The new global indicator for illicit arms flows clarifies the measurement challenge. In order to generate better information on illicit arms flows, states need to determine—for example through tracing—the illicit nature of the arms that they seize, find, or that are surrendered to them. More specifically, states need to increase the proportion of arms subjected to such a determination. Only then can broader patterns and trends be revealed.

If the objective is now clearer, numerous obstacles remain that preclude an accurate determination of changes in illicit arms flows over time. These include: patchy reporting for the instruments that support Target 16.4 arms reduction aims, and the need to distinguish seized arms (their parts, accessories, and ammunition) according to their specific features (including type, model, and circumstances of seizure) (see Research Note 50 and Research Note 57).

Measurement also depends on country-specific circumstances and capacities. Although they may share similarities, every country is unique—as the Small Arms Survey describes in case studies examining Honduras, Somalia, Niger, and Ukraine (publications for both forthcoming).

Measurement on its own, however, does little to fulfil the aim of reducing illicit arms flows in line with Target 16.4. As explained elsewhere, reducing such flows largely depends on the extent to which existing arms control instruments are given practical effect, in particular those at the global level (Arms Trade Treaty, ITI, UN Firearms Protocol, UN Small Arms Programme of Action). This is an ongoing challenge; yet, more than any other factor, it will determine whether the goal of reducing illicit arms flows over the coming years is achieved or not.

Glenn McDonald is Managing Editor and Senior Researcher at Small Arms Survey

Later this year, the Small Arms Survey will publish a Briefing Paper that provides a more detailed analysis of Indicator 16.4.2 and associated measurement challenges.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

La Convention de Kinshasa sur les armes légères entre en vigueur: et après ?

Crédit photo : armes saisies à des groupes non-étatiques par la MONUSCO à Goma, dans l'est de la RDC (source : UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti)

Lauriane Héau et Clément Hut

L’utilisation des armes légères et de petit calibre (ALPC) est omniprésente dans l’ensemble des conflits armés actuels en Afrique, alimentant la violence, entravant la sécurité humaine et le développement. Relativement faciles à se procurer, très meurtrières et aisément dissimulables pour échapper aux contrôles, on compterait quelque 100 millions d’ALPC en Afrique, et la lutte contre leur prolifération est donc devenue un enjeu majeur pour le continent.

Tout comme dans les sous-régions de l’Afrique australe, de l’Est et de l’Ouest, les pays d’Afrique centrale ont décidé de mettre en place un instrument contraignant pour le contrôle des ALPC. Disposer d’un instrument sous-régional est d’autant plus important que le trafic d’armes est transnational, géré par des groupes criminels organisés qui traversent allègrement les frontières. Une approche seulement limitée au niveau étatique ne peut donc suffire à juguler les trafics d’ALPC.

La Convention de Kinshasa, ou « Convention de l’Afrique centrale pour le contrôle des armes légères et de petit calibre, de leurs munitions et de toutes pièces et composantes pouvant servir à leur fabrication, réparation et assemblage » – selon l’appellation officielle – a été adoptée le 30 avril 2010 par onze États d’Afrique centrale. Il s’agit des onze membres de la Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique centrale (CEEAC), soit l’Angola, le Burundi, le Cameroun, la République centrafricaine, la République du Congo, la République démocratique du Congo (RDC), le Gabon, la Guinée équatoriale, le Rwanda, Sao Tomé-et-Principe et le Tchad. L’entrée en vigueur de la Convention, permise par la ratification par l’Angola le 6 février 2017, est prévue pour le 8 mars. Si cette entrée en vigueur marque une nouvelle étape importante dans la mise en œuvre du contrôle des ALPC, qui s’ajoute aux divers autres instruments régionaux et internationaux, de nombreux défis se posent toutefois.

Genèse de la Convention de Kinshasa

L’idée d’un instrument sous-régional pour la lutte contre la prolifération des ALPC en Afrique centrale a pris naissance dans le contexte de la mise en œuvre des instruments de contrôle de ces armes. Dès 2003, un programme d’activités prioritaires pour la mise en œuvre du Programme d’action sur les armes légères en Afrique centrale a été adopté à Brazzaville.

Ce fut ensuite l’adoption et le début de mise en œuvre d’instruments sous-régionaux, en particulier le Protocole de Nairobi couvrant l’Afrique orientale et la Convention de la CEDEAO sur les ALPC en Afrique de l’Ouest. En 2007, l’initiative de Sao Tomé marque le début des travaux en vue de l’adoption d’une convention similaire en Afrique centrale. Mandaté par le Comité consultatif permanent des Nations unies chargé des questions de sécurité en Afrique centrale (UNSAC), le Centre régional des Nations unies pour la paix et le désarmement en Afrique (UNREC) est chargé de l’élaboration d’une Convention pour le contrôle des ALPC dans cette région particulièrement affectée par la prolifération d’ALPC. Cette convention s’inspirera des instruments légaux existants, ainsi que des recommandations d’experts indépendants et des États. La version finale de la Convention est finalement présentée en avril 2010, et ouverte à la signature à Brazzaville le 19 novembre de la même année. La plupart des pays la signent ce jour-là, suivis par le Burundi, la Guinée équatoriale et le Rwanda en 2011, après des consultations nationales.

La Convention devait ensuite être ratifiée par au moins six États pour pouvoir entrer en vigueur trente jours après la sixième ratification. Cependant, fin 2012, on ne comptait que quatre États parties : le Tchad, le Gabon, la RCA, et la République du Congo. Si les autres États s’engagent à accélérer le processus pour permettre des ratifications courant 2013, cela prendra en fait beaucoup plus de temps, et c’est seulement début 2017 que six États ont enfin ratifié le document (le Cameroun le 30 janvier 2015, puis l’Angola le 6 février 2017), ouvrant ainsi la possibilité à l’entrée en vigueur pour ces États.

Un instrument régional ambitieux

La Convention liste une série d’obligations concernant le contrôle des APLC, de leurs munitions, parties et composantes. À l’inverse de la Convention de la CEDEAO qui interdit, sauf exemption, les transferts d’ALPC, la Convention de Kinshasa autorise mais régule les transferts entre États, qui doivent être justifiés par la nécessité du maintien de l’ordre, de la défense, de la sécurité nationale ou de la participation à des opérations de paix menées sous l’égide d’organisations internationales. Elle interdit par contre les transferts vers des groupes non-étatiques. En ce qui concerne les civils, la possession d’armes légères est interdite et celle d’armes de petit calibre soumise à conditions (obtention d’une licence, etc.). La fabrication et la distribution des ALPC, des munitions et de leurs composantes est elle aussi soumise à une série de règles : par exemple, les armes doivent être marquées et les courtiers enregistrés. Les États doivent aussi mettre au point des règles concernant la sécurisation des stocks d’armes et de munitions, qu’il s’agisse de ceux des fabricants, des distributeurs ou des forces de sécurité. Les points d’entrée sur le territoire national sont limités et contrôlés. Enfin, les États doivent coopérer et échanger des informations, au moyen de bases de données sur les ALPC et de rapports annuels, mais aussi de manière plus spontanée, à la suite de saisies d’armes par exemple, ou lors d’une demande de traçage. Toutes ces mesures demandent une révision, une adaptation et une harmonisation des législations nationales au niveau sous-régional, ainsi que des ressources humaines, financières et techniques importantes, que les États s’engagent à fournir. Les mesures présentes dans la Convention couvrent donc un large spectre de la lutte contre la prolifération des ALPC illicites et du contrôle des armes détenues légalement.

Les défis de la mise en œuvre : harmoniser un espace contrasté

Les États parties présentent des caractéristiques très variées, affectant la capacité de la sous-région à agir de concert en matière de contrôle des ALPC. La situation intérieure, en ce qu’elle influe à la fois la capacité de l’État à contrôler ses frontières et peut peser sur la demande d’armes des acteurs privés, est un facteur à prendre en compte. En matière de contrôle des frontières et du territoire, on observe de fortes disparités au sein de la CEEAC, entre d’une part des États disposant d’un fort contrôle sur leur territoire, à l’instar du Rwanda ou de l’Angola, et d’autre part des territoires où l’autorité de l’État s’exprime peu, à l’instar de la RDC ou de la RCA. Dans ces derniers pays, les groupes armés non-étatiques opèrent de part et d’autre des frontières, à l’instar de la Lord Resistance Army. De plus, les disparités nationales sont dues à différents facteurs. Dans certaines situations, le manque de contrôle du territoire est principalement dû à un manque de moyens affectés à la sécurité – comme c’est le cas en RCA ou RDC. D’autres pays, par contre, ont été accusés de vouloir déstabiliser leurs voisins en favorisant le financement et l’armement de groupes armés, tel le Rwanda accusé par l’ONU de soutenir la rébellion du M23 en RDC.

De plus, les différences en termes d’adaptation des législations nationales aux exigences de la Convention soulignent les disparités persistantes entre les États parties. Ceci représente un défi pour la mise en œuvre de la Convention. Par exemple, le Tchad, l’un des premiers États à avoir ratifié la Convention en 2012, a encore un arsenal légal obsolète en matière de contrôle des ALPC. Si cette absence de réforme de la législation n’est pas en soi un manquement à la Convention – celle-ci ne devenant contraignante qu’à compter de son entrée en vigueur –, le chantier législatif s’avère énorme pour nombre de pays.

La saillance de ces obstacles à une dynamique régionale efficiente est renforcée par le faible taux de ratification de la Convention – cinq pays sur onze n’ayant toujours pas mené à bien ce processus. Parmi ceux-ci, certains sont déjà membres d’autres conventions régionales sur le sujet, à l’instar du Burundi, du Rwanda ou de la RDC, dans le cadre du Protocole de Nairobi, regroupant plus de dix États d’Afrique de l’Est (la RDC a également signé le Protocole de la SADC). Pour ces trois États – qui n’ont pas encore procédé à la ratification de la Convention de Kinshasa – la redondance des instruments régionaux semble diminuer l’attrait d’un nouvel instrument. Enfin, les tensions pré et post-électorales que traversent certains pays, à l’image du Burundi et de la RDC, diminuent la probabilité de nouvelles ratifications à court terme.


Amorcée avec l’entrée en vigueur du Protocole de la SADC sur les ALPC en 2004, une série d’instruments juridiques de contrôle des ALPC a été adoptée dans l’ensemble de l’Afrique subsaharienne. L’Afrique centrale est la dernière sous-région à se doter d’un tel instrument, et l'entrée en vigueur de la Convention de Kinshasa marque donc une étape importante dans la lutte contre la prolifération des armes légères. Plus ambitieuse que les précédentes, la Convention est également plus aboutie, ayant su tenir compte des faiblesses des autres instruments. Cependant, les différences en termes de situations intérieures vont peser sur la capacité de la sous-région à combattre de façon conjointe les trafics d’armes. Outre le manque de ressources, l’avenir de la Convention de Kinshasa dépendra de la volonté politique des États à agir pour la mettre en œuvre.

À titre d’exemple, la RDC, signataire de trois instruments sous-régionaux différents mais n’en ayant ratifié qu’un seul d’entre eux - le Protocole de Nairobi – et dont la capitale a pourtant accueilli l’adoption de la Convention, n’a démontré aucune volonté de traduire les dispositions des Conventions dans son arsenal juridique. De facto, le chantier reste énorme avant de pouvoir atteindre l’objectif de réduire au silence les armes à feu d’ici à 2020, visé par l’Union Africaine avec sa stratégie Silencing the Guns 2020.

Lauriane Héau est chercheuse assistante au GRIP et étudiante au sein du Master Conflits et Développement à Sciences Po Lille.

Clément Hut est chercheur assistant au GRIP et diplômé de relations internationales.

The Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP) is an independent research institute founded in Brussels in 1979. With its 20 permanent staff members and a network of dozens of associated researchers from different countries, GRIP has acquired a recognised expertise in armament and disarmament issues (production, legislation, transfer control, non-proliferation), conflict prevention and crisis management (particularly in West and Central Africa), European integration in the area of defence, as well as in strategic challenges in the Asia-Pacific region and on issues related to security and climate change.

Disclaimer: This post is reproduced courtesy of the Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP) and was originally published on the GRIP website.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Do UN arms embargoes ‘work’?

Photo: Felipe Loey/UN Photo

It depends on how you define success.

By Emile LeBrun

Recently, a multi-stakeholder attempt to support the imposition of a UN arms embargo on South Sudan, where conflict is ongoing, once again brought targeted sanctions to the forefront of discussions around how to protect conflict-affected populations and avoid humanitarian disasters. On 23 December 2016, however, the Security Council fell one vote short of imposing an embargo.
Arms embargoes are one tool among others that the international community applies in contexts where illicit arms flows fuel or exacerbate conflict or where arms in-flows can destabilize a country or increase the risk of conflict. Currently, 13 mandatory UN (conventional) arms embargoes are in place, typically—but not always—covering specific conflict parties.

Embargoes require the cooperation and compliance of target states and individuals (the embargoed parties), neighbouring states in the region, and all UN member states. Arms embargoes are almost always applied together with a wider set of sanctions, including asset freezes and travel restrictions. The implementation of and compliance with embargoes are monitored by teams of independent investigators called panels of experts. Panel members are hired by the UN Security Council and report to the relevant sanctions committees.

A healthy debate is in progress both within and outside the UN system as to how targeted sanctions should be designed and implemented, and how to measure their success. In 2015, the High Level Review of UN Sanctions took up some of these questions and made a series of recommendations for improving the UN’s sanctions-monitoring architecture.

So, do UN arms embargoes ‘work’? It really depends on how you define success.

If success is defined as the elimination of any new illicit flows of arms and ammunition to targeted states and individuals, arms embargoes are bound to be judged failures. Compliance and monitoring mechanisms are frequently not robust enough, and political will not committed enough, to prevent all new arms in-flows. In fact, panels frequently document new embargo violations. But even without punitive action from the Security Council for violations, conflict parties know that violations are documented at the highest levels, and this can and does affect their behaviour. In some contexts it clearly raises the costs for embargoed parties to access certain types of weapons; for example, larger conventional weapons systems.

Recently, the Small Arms Survey systematically interviewed sitting and former members of panels of experts on their experiences in monitoring UN arms embargoes (access the report here). The intention was to better understand the challenges that these panels face and how their work could be better supported. In the course of the interviews, the experts noted many cases of changes in the behaviour of individuals, companies, and other targeted entities following their identification in panel reports as embargo violators. Tangible outcomes included the revocation of transport companies’ licences to operate, the listing of new embargoed items, improvements in weapons and ammunition marking and record-keeping practices, and a reduction in the support that elements in neighbouring countries give to sanctioned groups.

At the same time, panel members insisted that expectations for embargo monitoring need to be both calibrated and modest. As one panel member said: ‘Reductions in flows of weapons cannot be the only criterion for judging [monitoring] impacts—impacts are much broader, and relate to the increase of peace and stability. You have to see the big picture, to create a better political environment to encourage peace.’ These insights and others like them from key actors in the area of embargo monitoring are useful points of reference when thinking about whether arms embargoes ‘work’.

Related report: Monitoring UN Arms Embargoes: Observations from Panels of Experts. Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper No. 33.

Emile LeBrun is the co-author with Christelle Rigual of 'Monitoring UN Arms Embargoes: Observations from Panels of Experts'. He is also the project coordinator for the Small Arms Survey's Making Peace Operations More Effective project, and editor of the Human Security Baseline Assessment for Sudan and South Sudan publication series.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Building PSSM Capacity in the Greater Sahel

By the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) 

The physical security of weapons and ammunition stockpiles is essential to prevent the diversion of state weapons stocks from legal to illicit markets, particularly in areas where non-state armed groups are active. Effective stockpile management is also necessary to reduce the risk of unplanned explosions triggered by improper storage, and the associated risks to human life and nearby infrastructure. In the Greater Sahel region, where non-state armed groups often cross borders with impunity, and where a recent influx of small arms from Libya has contributed to a growing market for arms, the need for sound Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) is particularly stark.

To address this challenge, in early 2015 the German Federal Foreign Office, the African Union Defense and Security Division (AU-DSD), and the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) began a project to improve PSSM practices across the Greater Sahel. This AU-Germany project is based on the premise that even seemingly small PSSM measures, including regulations for locks, the use of ID badges to restrict access, and proper accounting procedures can help to reduce the risk of diversion from government stocks. In this respect, the project is in line with Sustainable Development Goal Target 16.4, which aims to significantly reduce illicit arms flows by 2030. With Target 16.4 in mind, in October 2015 the project partners established a PSSM Coordination Platform, which annually brings together regional organizations, AU member states, relevant implementing agencies and donors. The Coordination Platform is designed to:
  • Promote the sustainability of PSSM support provided by donors and implementing agencies.
  • Contribute to the effective transfer of PSSM expertise between Coordination Platform members. 
  • Facilitate operational and technical cooperation on PSSM among AU member states. 

The first meeting of the Coordination Platform was held on 11 June 2016, and addressed the possible creation of an AU roster of PSSM experts. This proposal was further discussed at an AU-Germany PSSM Technical Working Group (PSSM-TWG) meeting on 12-13 October 2016. During this PSSM-TWG meeting, the international agencies in attendance acknowledged that current PSSM interventions do not always allow for the sustainable transfer of PSSM skills to national counterparts. This admission was attributed to the fact that donor investment in PSSM training is often one-time only, rather than longer-term. In response, the AU-DSD and BICC agreed to map existing PSSM capacity across the Greater Sahel, and to provide repeated PSSM training to a small number of pre-selected individuals. The overall idea behind this endeavour is to ensure that the African Union has a group of highly trained PSSM experts at its disposal, from Greater Sahel nations, who can be deployed when the AU receives requests for technical assistance. These rostered individuals will also be used to train others across the region in PSSM.

The Coordination Platform and PSSM-TWG meetings also exposed the need for increased guidance on how to secure and manage arms and ammunition in contexts of resource scarcity. To address this need, the AU-DSD and BICC will produce two Operational Guidance Notes (OGNs) and associated training modules throughout 2017. The first of these Guidance Notes will provide information on the incremental steps that can be taken towards improved PSSM in instances where resources are limited and the IATGs and ISACS are difficult to implement in full. The second OGN will address ways to improve the sustainability of PSSM projects by outlining the necessary preconditions for successful PSSM and measures to secure improved national ownership. As currently planned, both documents will be used to train individuals selected for the aforementioned AU PSSM roster. Links to both the roster and the two OGNs will also be made available on a new AU website, dedicated to PSSM, which is scheduled to be online early next year.

The overall progress of the AU-Germany project will be measured in terms of the number of individuals identified and trained for the AU PSSM roster, and the number of deployments undertaken by rostered personnel. While these deployments will initially be limited to the Greater Sahel region, the roster may later be scaled-up to the continental level. First results from the project will be presented at the second annual meeting of the Coordination Platform, scheduled for mid-2017.

The Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) is a Germany-based think tank dealing with global topics in the field of peace and conflict research, including the (de)mobilization of violent actors, global migration, and the use of natural resources. BICC’s research both lays the foundation for policy advice and contributes to the public debate.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Measuring illicit arms flows in Honduras

Photo: Matthias Novak

By Matthias Nowak

The Honduran customs authorities recently reported a spectacular increase in the number of firearms seized at the country’s borders. On average, customs officials seized 35–40 weapons per month in 2016, compared to just 2.5 firearms per month five years earlier. Beyond the numbers, what does this rise in seized firearms tell us about the evolution of illicit arms flows in Honduras?

UN member states are committed to reducing illicit arms flows under Target 16.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Although proposals to monitor this commitment focus on arms seizures, variations in the quantities of arms seized in any location do not necessarily reflect actual changes in illicit arms flows. As a recent Small Arms Survey Research Note on monitoring illicit arms flows in Honduras explains, these variations can instead be the result of, among other things, changes in the number of law enforcement personnel, the availability of the resources at their disposal, or enforcement policy.

Moreover, in addition to cross-border trafficking, illicit arms flows take many different forms in Honduras. These include firearms that are purchased from local illicit markets, that are diverted from the legal holdings of security agencies, and that are lost by or stolen from private individuals. In fact, interviewed Honduran police officials estimate that among the firearms they seize in the context of administrative violations, minor offences, and crime scenes, up to 40 per cent were legally registered in the country at some point.

In short, seizures of firearms at the country’s borders are only one part of the picture—and one that is difficult to interpret. Their reported increase may result from a rise in cross-border arms flows, or from more dedicated efforts by customs and border control authorities, or a combination of both. A focus on border seizures also risks missing the important role played by domestically sourced firearms in trafficking and crime.

So what additional information would be required to better keep track of and measure illicit arms flows in Honduras? If data is to help determine new trends and identify patterns in illicit arms flows in the country, the information needs to reflect the seizures made by all the relevant agencies, not just those that focus on cross-border trafficking. It should also be disaggregated by weapon type, model, and the precise circumstances of each seizure. Furthermore, it is essential to be able to keep track of the proportions of the various types of weapons seized over time, because the appearance of unusual firearms models in the data will often point to changing trafficking patterns.

Finally, seizure data can be meaningfully triangulated through the monitoring of a series of complementary indicators. In the case of Honduras, the Survey has concluded that time-series data on prices for illicit firearms and ammunition in the country has the potential to reveal important trends in their accessibility. Moreover, the significant decrease in violent deaths observed in Honduras since 2011 hints at the possible effectiveness of the authorities’ efforts to reduce illicit arms flows and armed violence, so firearms homicide statistics could be a further indicator of the accessibility of firearms. Putting in place systematic data collection mechanisms that include a combination of such indicators promises a more nuanced and policy-relevant monitoring of illicit arms flows in Honduras.

Matthias Nowak is a researcher at the Small Arms Survey. His work focuses on measuring the effects of lethal violence, and how small arms and light weapons impact security and development in both conflict and non-conflict contexts. Recent fieldwork undertaken in Central America and Western Africa focuses on counter-proliferation and preventing and reducing the illicit use of small arms and light weapons.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Maritime Arms Seizures Point to Iran

Photo: Royal Australian Navy

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones, Armament Research Services (ARES)

US, Australian, and French naval forces operating in the northern Indian Ocean have seized thousands of small arms and light weapons in 2016. Whilst initial reports indicated the first two seizures were heading for Somalia, the types of weapons recovered suggest that the vessels almost certainly originated from Iran, and were likely destined for Yemen. More recent US Navy statements support this analysis.

On 27 February 2016, sailors from the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Darwin (FFG 04) boarded a fishing vessel to conduct a flag verification visit. They proceeded to uncover an arsenal of weapons, including nearly 2,000 AK type self-loading rifles, 100 RPG-7 type shoulder-fired recoilless weapons, 49 PKM type general-purpose machine guns, and 20 60 mm mortar tubes. On 20 March 2016, sailors from the French Navy ship FS Provence (D652) boarded another unflagged fishing vessel, and seized several hundred AK type self-loading rifles, as well as general-purpose machine guns, 64 SVD type designated marksman rifles, and nine unspecified anti-tank guided weapons.

In both cases, initial reports from the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) indicated that the vessels were destined for Somalia, and that the weapons were seized under UN sanctions authorizing the interdiction on the high seas of illicit arms and munitions destined for Somalia. In both cases, the vessels were determined to be stateless. The crew was of ‘various nationalities’.

In both seizures, the recovered weapons strongly suggest that the vessels were likely to have originated in Iran—both ships were transporting North Korean-made Type 73 general-purpose machine guns (GPMG), an uncommon weapon, produced only by DPRK. Iran is the only known importer of this machine gun.

Armament Research Services (ARES) has been tracking the proliferation of the Type 73, and has documented their use in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In Syria, the weapon has been seen in the hands of the Syrian Arab Army and pro-Assad Shi’a militias, whilst in Iraq it has been observed in service with various Iraqi Shi’a militias, including those associated with the Badr Brigade, a group which receives substantial support—both material and financial—from Iran and which has operated under the direct command of Iranian forces in Iraq. Other Iraqi groups have also acquired limited numbers of the Type 73, including the al-Imam Ali Brigade and the Christian Babylon Brigades.

The Type 73 GPMG has also made its way to Iranian-supported Houthi forces in Yemen. Recent videos from 14 and 27 March aired by the Houthi-operated Al-Masirah channel show the Type 73 in the hands of Houthi fighters in governorates of Taiz and Al Jawf.

The common denominator linking the presence of these weapons in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen is likely to be Iran. Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Iran received the only known exports of the Type 73 GPMG from North Korea. Iran made use of these weapons during the Iran-Iraq War and has continued to employ the Type 73 in a reserve role with the paramilitary Basij forces. In recent years, several of the weapons have been spotted in videos of Basij military exercises.

On 28 March 2016, sailors from the USS Sirocco boarded a third stateless dhow, this time seizing some 1,500 AK type self-loading rifles, 200 RPG-7 type shoulder-fired recoilless weapons, and 21 DShKM type heavy machine guns. As with the earlier seizures, this shipment contained visually distinctive items that point to Iran, including Iranian-style RPG-7 type launchers. These weapons feature a distinctive olive green heat shield and pistol grip, and often incorporate yellow factory markings and a round supporting grip that are unique to Iranian and Sudanese production.

Other seizures of Iranian-made weapons aboard fishing vessels off the coast of Oman have also been reported. In September last year, CMF forces from an unspecified Gulf nation seized a number of Iranian-made anti-tank guided weapons and other materiel aboard an unflagged vessel. The US Navy later indicated that the dhow may have been bound for Somalia.

The inconspicuous fishing dhow has long been considered a key tool in smuggling operations operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf. The lack of registry and modern navigation aids is commonplace amongst small fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean, and the swarms of similar craft give cover to pirates and drug smugglers, as well as the illicit transfer of arms and munitions.

It is possible that the weapons in question may have been headed to Somalia for local or secondary sale, but it’s more likely that they were destined for Yemen, either directly or via Somalia as an intermediate port. In previous cases, illicit Iranian arms were shipped through neutral ports and hidden amongst the clutter of maritime traffic. Regardless of their destination, it is highly likely that these illicit shipments originated in Iran.

N.R Jenzen-Jones is a military arms and munitions specialist and security analyst who focuses on current and recent conflicts. He is the Small Arms Survey's technical specialist and director of Armament Research Services (ARES), a specialist technical intelligence consultancy.

Disclaimer: This post was originally published on the Hoplite and is reproduced courtesy of Armament Research Services (ARES).