International assistance and capacity-building

May 13 2011, 10:33 AM  by Ray Acheson

Thursday afternoon saw the introduction of the final theme of the Meeting of Government Experts (MGE), international assistance and capacity-building. As the Chair and many delegations noted, this theme has been an underlying issue for many of the other discussions throughout the MGE, for without effective capacity and assistance it is difficult for states to develop sufficient marking, record-keeping, and tracing mechanisms and procedures.

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Daniel Prins of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)’s Conventional Arms Branch gave a presentation highlighting UNODA’s work on “reporting, compiling, and alerting” that it undertakes in order to assist states in implementing theInternational Tracing Instrument (ITI) and UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA). Mr. Prins explained the new online reporting template, available at www.poa-iss.org, which is a tool for communicating a country’s implementation efforts, assistance needs, and information on available resources. He noted that the online tool integrates the reports for both the UNPoA and the ITI and that its standardized format will allow for easy analysis and assessment.

A representative from Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA), the small arms coordination mechanism within the UN, also spoke briefly in the course of this thematic discussion. He explained that CASA brings together UN partners whose activities are affected by illicit weapons and provides a framework for the UN’s armed violence prevention programme. He noted that CASA is currently developing international small arms and ammunition control standards, which should be out by the end of the year.

Several countries, including Belgium, Germany, referred to specific assistance they have offered to other states. Belgium sponsored a research project on tracing of illicit arms in Colombia, done by a university in cooperation with Colombian NGO and authorities. Switzerland’s delegation highlighted its projects in Mali and Bosnia while the German delegation mentioned the seminars it has held for Arab states to demonstrate how SALW control is organized and implemented in Germany.

Others offered explamples of assistance they have received. Belarus’ delegation highlighted the joint OSCE-UNDP project it has been implementing since 2007, which focuses on capacity-building for storage and safety of small arms stockpiles at 15 military sites. The delegation also noted that it is prepared to share the software it has for automated record keeping with other countries.

Other delegations noted where more assistance is required. Algeria referenced its efforts at cross-border cooperation with its neighbours and said more assistance is needed in this area, especially with the continuously deteriorating situation in Libya. Algeria’s delegation also pointed out that good legislation is not enough—a country needs resources, good governance, and socioeconomic development. It appealed for international assistance to give substantial targeted assistance to states that are structurally incapable of fighting illicit flows of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and also specifically to development programmes of developing countries, which would indirectly help them eliminate or mitigate illicit trade in SALW. Kenya’s delegation also highlighted the importance of integrating developing into disarmament programmes.

A number of countries, including Cuba and Iran, highlighted the importance of non-discriminatory assistance. Cuba’s delegation also noted the importance of the assistance bearing in mind specific needs of states and giving priority to national capacity-building, including legislative systems, procedures, training, and coordination. Cuba’s delegation also called for donor countries to provide more information on available resources and for greater participation of UN Regional Centres in helping states implement the UNPoA and identifying available resources.

Some delegations focused on the challenges to provision of assistance. The US a delegation emphasized the comprehensive nature of assistance, saying that a donor cannot just provide funds or equipment but that it also needs to consider the training needed to use the equipment, the provision of support equipment, the provision of logistical support such as vehicles or gas, etc. It argued that follow-up by donor countries is important to ensure that training and equipment is being maintained and that the initial momentum has not been lost, with equipment gathering dust in a warehouse. Switzerland’s delegation likewise noted the importance of an holistic approach to assistance and capacity-building.

The Japanese delegation noted that it might be prudent to have foreign aid specialists in the room when discussing international assistance as the budgets of many governments are controlled by different departments than the substantive branches. And the Regional Centre for Small Arms (RECSA) highlighted the need for coordination among donors that are supporting programmes in regions that have regional mechanisms, noting the importance for donors to bear in mind regional priorities so that countries can coordinate, especially those with shared problems.