Lethal arms vanishing “without a trace”: new report

The report by the Control Arms campaign - Amnesty International, Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) - shows that while weapons and ammunition often do carry basic serial numbers, there is no worldwide system to record this information when it comes to the sale and transfer of small arms.

This renders them useless as a tool to identify, locate and trace illegal arms shipments. It has also made it easier for weapons to find their way into the hands of killers in the UK.

Those countries selling arms illegally can simply claim ignorance of how the weapons ever ended up in the hands of killers.

The Control Arms report Tracing Lethal Tools is released as the United Nations Marking and Tracing conference begins today in New York. The report urges the UN to immediately adopt a legally binding international marking and tracing system for small arms, light weapons and ammunition.

“It is outrageous that you have more chance of tracking a GM tomato or a suitcase than you do an AK47 or rocket launcher. A piece of lost luggage can be tracked from London to Liberia within hours, yet deadly weapons disappear without trace on a daily basis. The British government must use its influence to push for urgent change,” said Anna MacDonald, Campaigns Director of Oxfam.

Governments’ resistance to a global system for tracking arms transfers has meant that it is nearly impossible to prosecute people or hold governments accountable for illegally selling arms and breaking UN arms embargoes.

“Every day, Amnesty International gathers evidence of appalling human rights abuses around the world. A marking and tracing system would provide vital evidence to pinpoint who is responsible for arming the abusers. It is time the world had a way to clearly identify those behind this cynical and deadly trade and bring them to justice”, said Amnesty International’s UK Director Kate Allen.

A tracing system would help combat the abuse of weapons by allowing them to be tracked from the time they were produced to the end user. It would help to identify arms brokers who violate national or international law, help enforce arms embargoes and ultimately it would help save lives.

In Britain the recent murder of PC Ian Broadhurst by David Bieber shows that the problem has repercussions close to home. The gun used in the murder was part of a batch of over two thousand weapons licensed for export from Croatia using fictitious paperwork and front companies based in the United States, British Virgin Islands and Nigeria.

An effective marking and tracing system together with the introduction of an international arms tread treaty would help put an end to the transfer of weapons in such circumstances. Had a marking and tracing system existed in this case it would have been much harder for these weapons to be sold onto the black market, by requiring each transfer of the weapons to be fully documented.

In the recent massa e in Gatumba in Burundi in which 150 people were killed, spent cartridges showed that the ammunition used in the attack was manufactured in China, Bulgaria and Serbia. However the lack of any tracing mechanism meant it was impossible to prove how it got there. Had a tracing mechanism existed, those who sold the ammunition to the killers could have been held accountable and future supplies could have been stopped.

International tracing systems already exist for several goods, including food made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which can be tracked from production to supermarket shelves to ensure quality control. Suitcases can also be easily tracked via international computer systems throughout the world’s airports.

“Eight million new weapons are manufactured every year and countless imes and atrocities are committed against civilians around the world. Yet there is precious little chance of prosecuting the perpetrators of violent imes with no global system to prove the origin of weapons,” said IANSA Director Rebecca Peters.

The Control Arms campaign sees a global system for marking and tracing weapons as one vital step towards improving the regulation of the Arms. A comprehensive system requires the adoption of an International Arms Treaty and a convention to control the activities of arms brokers. Hundreds of thousands of people from a oss the world and several governments have already backed the campaign.

View the report at controlarms.org

Notes to editors

Tracking Lethal Tools calls for Governments to work with the UN’s current negotiations on an international tracing and marking instrument as part of the United Nation’s Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, to eate a legally binding treaty on marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons.

This treaty should include:

  • High common standards for the marking of all small arms and light weapons
  • Provisions for marking and tracing ammunition
  • Ways of strengthening governments’ capacities to implement the treaty’s measures
  • Detailed international standards for record-keeping on arms transfers, with Governments required to keep accurate records of arms and ammunition manufactured, held and transferred in and out of their countries, and having access to manufacturer’s records

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