Small Arms Non-Proliferation

(At present no international instrument dealing specifically with small arms and light weapons proliferation exists. Efforts are, however, being undertaken by the United Nations, regional and sub-regional initiatives (OAU, SADC, OAS, EU), by individual states and non-governmental organisations.)

Until recently the disarmament and non-proliferation debate mainly focused on weapons of mass destruction. The issue of small arms and light weapons proliferation was initially focused upon by, among others, the former Secretary General of the United Nations through his Supplement to an Agenda for Peace, 1995, wherein he concentrated on "macro-disarmament".

By this he meant practical disarmament in the context of the conflicts the United Nations is actually dealing with and of the weapons, most of them light weapons, that are actually responsible for the deaths of large numbers of civilians and combatants.
Subsequently, initiatives by the UN, individual governments, regional and sub-regional organisations and NGOs have been initiated.

United Nations

In terms of UN General Assembly resolution 53/77E a decision was taken to hold an United Nations International Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects in the year 2001. The Conference has since been scheduled for 9-20 July 2001 in New York. The preparatory phase to prepare for this Conference commenced in February 2000 and the third and last Preparatory Committee was held in March 2001.

The Preparatory Committee addressed both the procedural and substantive issues for the 2001 Conference, relating to issues such as the Rules of Procedure for the Conference, the Chairpersonship, the modalities for NGO participation, background documentation for the Conference, as well as the Draft Programme of Action to be considered by Member States at the Conference.

The outcome of the 2001 Conference through the adoption of certain action points could signal a political commitment by Member States for further co-operation amongst UN Members on the issue of small arms. Thus, it is important that the outcome of the Conference should not be an end in itself, but it should lay the foundation for future co-operation and action on the problems created by the illicit proliferation of small arms.

South Africa is of the view that this Programme of Action could address clusters of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation issues. Issues to be addressed can for example be transparency, stockpile management and destruction, arms transfers, brokering, marking of small arms and the role of the UN, regional and sub-regional organisations in fostering co-operation on these issues.

Organisation of African Unity

As was the case with the international efforts to ban landmines which ultimately led to the adoption and entry into force of the Mine Ban Treaty, a strong and decisive position by the Organisation for African Unity is crucial to the success of any international initiative to address the problems associated with the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

For this reason, the 1998 OAU Heads of State and Government meeting in Ouagadougou, acting on a South African proposal, adopted a decision concerning the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Africa. This decision reiterated the urgency and need for Inter-African Cooperation in the search for solutions to the problems posed by the proliferation of light weapons and stressed the primary role that the OAU should play in the co-ordination of efforts in this area. At the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in Algiers, Algeria from 12-14 July 1999 the Summit endorsed the holding of a Continental Conference of African Experts on Small Arms in 2000.

At its July 2000 meeting in Lomé, the OAU Council of Ministers subsequently decided that this meeting be upgraded to the Ministerial level. The Ministerial meeting was preceded by the First Continental Meeting of African Experts on Small Arms and Light Weapons in Addis Ababa on 17-19 May 2000, during which South Africa participated actively. The Ministerial Conference was held in Mali from 30 November to 1 December 2000 and ended in the adoption of the "Bamako Declaration on an African Common Approach on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons".

Southern African Development Community

At the sub-regional level within Southern Africa, the SADC Summit of August 1999 adopted a decision to establish a SADC Working Group on small arms with the mandate to develop SADC policies in this regard. SARPCCO (Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Co-operation Organisation) was identified as the implementing agency for SADC initiatives on small arms. In this regard the priority for SARPCCO was to develop a regional instrument on small arms (firearms) which would provide the legal framework for SADC Member States to co-operate on this issue.

SARPCCO finalised and presented this "Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and Other Related Materials in the SADC Region" to the renamed and enlarged SADC Committee on Small Arms in April 2000, where it is presently still under consideration. Although the Protocol will mainly deal with illicit small arms, it will also address legal small arms control by providing for a mechanism through which the disarmament / arms control aspects of the small arms debate could be addressed in future.

At its February 2001 meeting in Gaborone, the SADC Committee on Small Arms finalised and adopted a SADC Draft Declaration on firearms and recommended that it be presented to the SADC Council of Ministers Meeting in February. The Council of Ministers recommended that the Draft Declaration be referred to the March 2001 Extra-Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government for adoption and signature.

On 9 March 2001, the SADC Heads of State and Government Summit adopted and signed the SADC Declaration Concerning Firearms, Ammunition and Other Related Materials, which provides the political context for further work on the Protocol.

At the National Level

The South African Government has declared the combating of small arms (firearms) proliferation as the South African Police Service's (SAPS) highest priority. A coherent strategy to deal with the proliferation of small arms in South Africa has been developed.

The strategy represents an integral and holistic approach to introduce stricter control measures and to eventually remove the causal factors of small arms into South Africa; to prevent arms in legal possession becoming illegal through theft and robbery; to mop up the existing pool of arms in South Africa and to educate South Africans concerning the possession of arms.

A National Firearms Plan is being implemented in terms of this strategy with the objective to reduce the number of illegal small arms in circulation as well as to reduce the flow of illegal weapons into South Africa. It also concentrates efforts to ensure the lawful and proper use of licensed firearms and involves legislative amendments aimed at tightening up the issuing of licences and ensuring that fewer losses occur from legal owners.

In addition, South Africa is committed to a policy of responsibility and accountability in the trade and transfer of all arms. South Africa has established an arms control system which makes provision for a Ministerial control body (National Conventional Arms Control Committee), criteria, principles and guidelines to ensure the responsible transfer and trade in, amongst others, small arms and light weapons.

The South African Government has adopted a policy on the destruction of surplus small arms. The policy stems from the Government's grave concern about the proliferation of small arms and its devastating effect on the socio-economic development and reconstruction of civil societies in Southern Africa.

In terms of this policy the South African Police Service on 6 October 1997 melted down 20 tons of firearms (4 504 confiscated firearms) which included pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and home made firearms with an estimated commercial value in excess of R2 million (approx. US$330 000). Subsequently the South African Police Service destroyed an additional 11 tons of confiscated ammunition and 10 tons of confiscated small arms, 9 tons of obsolete / outdated ammunition and 20 tons of redundant / obsolete small arms.

During February 1999 the South African Government took the decision to effect disposal, via destruction, of all State-held redundant, obsolete, unserviceable and confiscated semi-automatic weapons of a calibre smaller than 12,7mm. This decision was taken in accordance with the UN Secretary General's Report on Small Arms (A/52/298 of 27 August 1997) that recommended, amongst others, that all states should consider the possibility of destroying all surplus small arms.

In this context, the destruction process of the more than 262 000 South African National Defence Force obsolete or redundant small arms and light weapons commenced during July 2000.

In January 2001 the SAPS took another significant step to rid South Africa from the scourge of firearms related violence with the destruction of 102 tons of firearms, parts of firearms and firearm spares, with an estimated value of nearly R26,5 million.

A total of 27816 firearms, including pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns and home-made firearms were destroyed. The firearms, which were destroyed in this batch, include 4524 confiscated and home-made firearms as well as 23292 redundant police firearms. Seven (7) launchers and 20335 parts of firearms and spares were also destroyed.

The destruction of confiscated firearms is the last step to be taken after completion of police investigation. No confiscated firearm is destroyed by the SAPS unless the investigation (including forensic testing) has been completed.

It is a priority of the SAPS to stop the proliferation of firearms into the hands of criminals and to promote responsible firearm ownership with legal firearm owners. The Firearms Control Act that will be implemented soon, will further assist the SAPS to reduce firearm-related violence significantly over the next few years.

Sub-Regional Measures

As the South African Government is committed to stop the flow of illegal small arms across South Africa's borders, it has already entered into agreements with several Southern African States with a view to curb the trafficking of illegal small arms and ammunition. In this regard bilateral agreements have been signed between South Africa and Mozambique and between South Africa and Swaziland to address cross border crime.

These agreements provide for joint investigations as well as exchange of information between the respective police forces. Several joint operations have been conducted between the three countries at both grass roots and national levels. Approximately 60 successful ad hoc ground level joint operations have been concluded between Mozambique and South Africa alone.

The bilateral agreement with Mozambique has led to the launching of the first joint operation for the collection and destruction of uncontrolled arms / explosives caches within Mozambique, known as Operation Rachel.

Since 1995, the South African Government has funded or contributed to eleven official Rachel operations during which thousands of firearms and ammunition have been destroyed in Mozambique. More than 12100 firearms and nearly 104 000 rounds of ammunition have been confiscated since March 2000 in Operation Crackdown.

This includes 6229 handguns and 4578 hunting rifles. In most cases, the serial numbers were removed, which make it difficult or impossible to trace the original owner. As Mozambique is a vast country stretching up the East Coast of Africa, with many uncontrolled weapons caches, it is foreseen that several more operations will be held in the future.

· South African Police Service
· Defence Secretariat
· Organisation for African Unity (OAU)
· Southern African Development Community (SADC)
· Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Co-operating Organisation (SARPCCO)


South African Position Paper on Small Arms and Light Weapons Proliferation
While arms control has traditionally focused on conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction, the devastation wrought by the proliferation of light weapons and small arms on socio-economic development generally, and specifically in the reconstruction of post-conflict societies, can no longer be ignored.

Within countries, unimpeded access to light weapons and small arms and the use of these, have increased the lethality of crime, violence, banditry and civil disobedience. Regionally, the demobilisation of ex-combatants, disarmament programmes and reductions of military-industrial complexes are constrained by the existence of large amounts of poorly regulated and indiscriminately used light weapons and small arms.

The diffusion of existing stocks and the import of new weapons endanger the democratic pursuits which are being consolidated and negatively influence the ability of governments to govern effectively, not only of countries in Africa but around the world.

The challenge in addressing the proliferation of small arms is to marshal the necessary human and financial resources, encourage the sharing of reliable data among national departments and regional partners, co-ordinate action and raise the profile of the issue to gain the support of governments, politicians and non-governmental organisations.

Furthermore, the illicit proliferation of small arms is closely linked to other criminal activities and therefore must be addressed within the context of other initiatives aimed at reducing crime. The close link between licit and illicit weapons must also be recognised and approaches to addressing the one must relate to the other within countries as well as in regional initiatives.

Therefore, South Africa believes that:

1. A holistic approach is necessary to address this problem. Concurrent action must be taken at national, regional and international levels focusing on both licit and illicit small arms and light weapons; and;
2. A regional initiative for the control of weapons proliferation in Africa is urgently needed.
3. Recommended Course of Action

A. Approach
i. Addressing the proliferation of light weapons and small arms in South Africa and its immediate region must be viewed from an inclusive perspective of arms control and disarmament, post-conflict peace building, conflict prevention and socio-economic development.

Through the co-ordination of these approaches, a holistic national strategy should be developed that will assess and identify national priorities and determine achievable steps to be taken to contain and reduce weapons proliferation.

ii. To reinforce national action, it is imperative that a regional approach should be formulated to address the problem of the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons that is based on regional concerns and adopts an incremental approach. This will ensure that as each region of the world develops an indigenous approach, the building blocks will be put in place to effectively deal with this issue globally.

iii. The focus areas in all instances should be placed on illicit and licit small arms and light weapons. Thus, national and regional approaches must be developed for both short-term and long-term gains which could make an impact on illicit as well as licit arms circulation.

B. Practical Measures for Coordination and Cooperation - National:

iv. National efforts should focus on enhancing legislation and regulation to prevent legal small arms from becoming illegal through criminal activity, improving, as necessary, regulation on the import, export and transfer of light weapons and small arms, and increasing the control over stocks of light weapons belonging to security forces.
v. Steps should also be taken to reduce the number of existing weapons through voluntary methods (including programmes of collection and destruction) and increasing the capacity of the security forces to identify, seize and destroy illicit weapons.

vi. Regionally, an important confidence-building measure that will lead to long-term gains for regional cooperation and trust is greater transparency by countries of their transfers of small arms and light weapons.

vii. In affected regions, countries and regional organisations should take immediate steps to stop the inflow of small arms and light weapons through increased cooperation, harmonisation of transfer procedures, tighter border control and intelligence sharing. Attention must also be focused on the recirculation of existing stocks throughout the region and appropriate control measures devised, including increased cooperation among governments regionally, joint operations and harmonisation of priorities.

viii. Co-operative partnership should be established between governments, international and regional organisations and the non-governmental community to mobilise public and political support. The role of the non- governmental community in assisting governments in achieving this support and aiding in the compilation of reliable data regarding small arms and light weapons proliferation in all its aspects should be explored fully.

ix. Aside from this regional initiative, an international conference on light weapons and small arms should be held after 1999 to enable governments and regional organisations to share their experiences, and facilitate dialogue. The aim of the conference should be to increase cooperation and avoid duplication of initiatives to ensure that scarce resources are utilised effectively. The conference should formulate an action plan to combat this proliferation problem based upon the experiences of indigenous regional approaches in this regard. Such regional approaches would put in place measures to effectively deal with this issue globally.

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa