A rare moment for reflection

May 11 2011, 11:35 AM  by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will

On the second day of the Open-Ended Meeting of Governmental Experts (MGE), delegations were asked to perform a rare task—to reflect and comment on the shortcomings of their national implementation of the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA). This acknowledgement of capacity gaps and implementation obstacles by member states allowed the conversation to move toward an unusually candid analysis about the current condition of attempts to combat illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs).

by Jessica Erdman, Global Action to Prevent War

The Chair, Ambassador Jim McLay, framed the discussion by requesting states’ views on marking, and later in the afternoon, record-keeping of SALWs. Ambassador McLay proposed questions ranging from the obstacles of accurately recording data to the difficulties of transferring manual-based records to electronic records. States offered sobering analyses of their best practices, and at times, requested international cooperation and assistance in achieving these goals.

Delegations such as Australia and Kenya noted the difficulties that come with funding shortfalls for reducing SALWs. Without adequate funding, strategic plans can fall short of their functions: to prevent and combat illicit trade in small arms. The Republic of Tanzania suggested looking at Australia’s method of record-keeping for its cost-effective nature. Gary Fleetwood of the Australian Crime Commission offered a comprehensive explanation of the Australian method of recording firearms. Mr. Fleetwood pointed out that first and foremost, the purpose of keeping records is to identify and isolate a firearm against all others. Noting that firearms can exist for over a century, Mr. Fleetwood explained the Australian method of identifying firearms by using descriptors, such as the barrel, manufacturer’s name, caliber, and serial number. The combination of these features allow their entry into a courtroom as evidence when necessary.

Other delegations aptly observed that if record-keeping systems are to be so meticulous as to allow firearms to be used as evidence in a case, those who are responsible for entering and maintaining the data must be provided with the proper training. Trinidad and Tobago and France in particular highlighted the need for strong record-keeping, while Canada and Norway highlighted the need for more training of police officers, as well as training workers in new technologies/software systems.

There is great variance in the methods of record-keeping by states. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Mexico have a system that reports directly to the Ministry of Defense. The United States, on the other hand, has a decentralized reporting system, with legislation that prohibits the creation of a national registry. Norway has a system that combines national and local levels to create a multi-layer record-keeping system.

Mr. David Kimaiyo of Kenya offered another point of view on the issue of record-keeping management during his presentation. Mr. Kimaiyo noted Kenya’s use of best practice guidelines, as well as a regional instrument, the Nairobi Protocol, which was used when creating the database system.  However, no matter the system of record-keeping, all delegations were able to agree that record-keeping is the first step towards combating the illicit arms trade.

States openly recognized the capacity gaps in implementation of the UNPoA, whether due to geographic locations, such as Sudan pointed out, or simply due to inadequate funds, poor training, or lack of national legislation. We can only hope that these reflections will be used not just in an open-ended meeting, but when developing policy and implementation strategies on an international, regional, and national level. By asking states to look inward, Chair McLay has framed the MGE for states to engage in substantive and interactive discussions, rather proclamation of statements in member states’ national capacities.