2001 Firearms Protocol

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The UN Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (2001 Firearms Protocol) was the first global, legally binding instrument on small arms control. It contains important provisions on manufacturing, marking and tracing, record-keeping, and international transfers of firearms.

The 2001 Firearms Protocol was adopted on 31 May 2001 by UN General Assembly Resolution 55/255 and entered into force on 3 June 2005. The Protocol is acknowledged in the 2001 United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA) for its "complementary" nature to the PoA. The Firearms Protocol and the PoA require implementation by states of many of the same measures on small arms. States that implement the Firearms Protocol are therefore also fulfilling many of the commitments under the PoA.


[edit] Genesis

In December 1998, the UN General Assembly established an open-ended inter-governmental committee to draft a comprehensive international convention that would address the multiple dimensions of transnational organised crime. The resulting UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) was adopted in November 2000. The UNTOC was supplemented by three protocols addressing human trafficking; smuggling of migrants; and the illicit manufacture and trafficking in firearms.

The Firearms Protocol was negotiated at the same time as the July 2001 UN conference on small arms was being prepared. The negotiators used the 1997 Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Material as their model. The intention was to narrowly focus the new Protocol on a crime and law enforcement approach, as opposed to an arms control one. States felt that more sensitive issues could be dealt with more appropriately during the UN conference (i.e., when the public wasn't looking).

The negotiations nevertheless revealed several issues of contention. One related to whether the protocol would apply to transfers from one state to another. States in favour of regulating state-to-state transfers argued that these were just as susceptible to diversion into the illicit market. But strong opposition by other states to broaden the scope of the Protocol and thus restrict states' latitude in responding to national security concerns eventually prevailed. Another issue of contention arose on whether state transfers to non-state actors would be covered. Language was eventually adopted to preserve the right of states to transfer firearms "in the interest of national security consistent with the Charter of the United Nations." In practice, however, the Protocol does not stipulate any condition at which a state may or may not transfer firearms, so that attempts to qualify the type of transfers to which it applies appear, in hindsight, superfluous.

[edit] Provisions and Scope

The Firearms Protocol seeks to combat illicit manufacturing and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components. It was the first global legally-binding instrument on small arms control.

[edit] Manufacturing

At the point of manufacture, states undertake to ensure that firearms be marked "with (a) a unique marking providing the name of the manufacturer, the country or place of manufacture, and the serial number, or (b) an alternative marking using simple geometric symbols in combination with a numeric and/or alphanumerical code, permitting ready identification of the country of manufacture." States also commit to maintaining for at least [firearm registration|[ten years records]] of information pertaining to firearms, and, if possible, their parts and components, so as to allow their tracing.

Illicit manufacturing must be criminalised, as must be the deliberate obliteration, removal or alteration of markings. States commit to confiscating, seizing and destroying illicitly manufactured firearms, their parts and components, and ammunition, unless another means of disposal is officially authorised. In addition, states that do not include deactivated firearms in the scope of the national firearms law must ensure that such firearms are not illicitly reactivated, by inter alia criminalizing illicit reactivation.

[edit] Transfers

When transferring weapons from government stockpiles to permanent civilian use, firearms must again be marked. In addition, many provisions relate to cross-border movement of firearms. First, states must establish a system of licensing or authorization of import, export, and transit of weapons, to ensure that firearms do not cross their border without their awareness and consent. States are encouraged (but not obliged) to regulate arms brokers, for example through registration, licensing or authorization, and transparency measures. Imported firearms must be marked so as to enable identification of the country of import, and, if possible, the year of import.

Illicit trafficking must be established as a criminal offence, and illicitly trafficked firearms must be confiscated, seized, and destroyed, unless some other means of disposal is officially authorized and the firearms have been marked accordingly.

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