U.S. Comprehensive Initiative on Small Arms
and Illicit Trafficking
Fact Sheet released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State, February 23, 2000
The United States is taking a wide range of steps to address growing international concern about trafficking in small arms and light weapons. U.S. efforts are intended to promote regional security, peace and reconciliation in regions of conflict and to make the world safer by helping to shut down illicit arms markets that fuel the violence associated with terrorism and international organized crime.
As Secretary Albright told the United Nations in September 1999, "The international community must develop an integrated, comprehensive response -- in countries of origin and countries of conflict, among buyers, sellers and brokers, and with governments as well as international and non-governmental organizations." The U.S. contribution to this effort is summarized below.
OAS Convention Against Illicit Firearms Trafficking. The United States was a leader in concluding in 1997 the "Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms," the first international agreement designed to prevent, combat, and eradicate illicit trafficking in firearms, ammunition, and explosives. First proposed by Mexico and negotiated in just seven months, this agreement strengthens the ability of the OAS nations to eradicate illicit arms trafficking, while protecting the legal trade in firearms. Key provisions include requiring an effective licensing or authorization system for the import, export, and in-transit movement of firearms, an obligation to mark firearms indelibly at the time of manufacture and import to help track the sources of illicit guns, and requiring states parties to criminalize the illicit manufacturing of and illicit trafficking in firearms.
International Protocol Against Illicit Firearms Trafficking. The United States is working toward completion of the United Nations "Protocol to Combat the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components" by the end of 2000. This protocol would build on and globalize the standards incorporated in the precedent-setting OAS Convention. The protocol is currently under negotiation in the UN Crime Commission in Vienna as part of the negotiations to conclude the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.
Arms Brokering Legislation. The President signed legislation in 1996 amending the Arms Export Control Act to give the State Department greater authority to monitor and regulate the activities of arms brokers. Cornerstones of the brokering provisions are the requirements that brokers must register with the Department of State, must receive State Department authorization for their brokering activities, and must submit annual reports describing such activities. The United States is one of the few countries to have instituted such legislation, and we are working to promote adoption of similar laws by other nations and to incorporate such a provision into the protocol being negotiated in Vienna. Law enforcement officials made the first seizure of munitions under the provisions of the new legislation in November 1999.
Greater Accountability. The United States maintains the world's most open arms export procedures, and is promoting greater openness in the practices of other nations. In 1996, the President signed legislation amending the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require the annual publication of information about arms authorized for commercial export by the United States that fall below the previously existing reporting thresholds for U.S. arms transfers. The report includes detailed, country-by-country information on the numbers of firearms, ammunition, and other "small-ticket" defense items authorized by the United States for export, setting a world standard for transparency. The United States has presented this report as a possible model of transparency to the 33-nation Wassenaar Arrangement, which promotes restraint in the export of conventional arms. The United States also publishes reports on arms flows to regions of conflict in order to raise public awareness of the issue. Last July, for example, the State Department released Arms and Conflict in Africa.
Careful Scrutiny of Export Licenses. If arms export license applications exceed the normal, reasonable domestic needs of a given importing country or show other abnormalities, the United States will audit and, if necessary, cut off exports to that country. On that basis, the United States has suspended exports to Paraguay since 1996. In addition, U.S. law prohibits arms and munitions exported from the United States to be re-transferred by the recipient without prior U.S. approval, audits are conducted if diversions or transshipments are suspected.
Destroying Excess Weapons. Helping other nations destroy seized or excess firearms can be an important element in securing a lasting peace in conflict regions. The United States has contributed experts and funds to destroy small arms, light weapons and ammunition in Liberia, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia. The United States recently agreed with 10 nations of southeast Europe on a program to destroy illicit arms in the region. The United States is also working with the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), to prevent illicit weapons shipments to the Balkans and central Africa, and to improve security of weapons holdings.
Cracking Down on Financing of Illicit Arms. Illicit markets in valuable commodities such as diamonds have helped finance arms flows, particularly to embargoed groups and nations. The United States and other concerned countries are identifying ways to track and intercept illicit trafficking in precious gemstones used in financing conflicts in Africa. One possibility is legislation that would require each diamond to be sold with a certificate of origin guaranteeing its legality. Such an initiative would require continued close cooperation with the diamond industry, whose participation is essential for any dependably effective regime.
Embargo Enforcement. The United States carefully observes sanctions and embargoes established by the United Nations. U.S. laws permit the prosecution of those who violate embargoes. We urge others also to criminalize such violations. We recommend that governments find ways to exchange information on violations to truly globalize embargo enforcement. In addition, the United States does not authorize commercial or government-to-government weapons transfers to conflict areas such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Angola, whose governments are not subject to UN embargoes. We encourage other governments to announce and observe such voluntary moratoria.
Vigilance at the Borders. The Administration has made the prevention of illicit arms trafficking across our borders a high priority. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the United States Customs Service have intensified their interdiction and investigative efforts. The Attorney General has directed United States Attorneys along the southwest border to make a dedicated effort to prosecute traffickers, large and small, caught attempting to smuggle firearms.
Africa Focus. Arms transfers and trafficking and the conflicts they feed are having a devastating impact on Sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the programs we are pursuing, include:
International Diplomacy. The United States is working with many nations and international organizations on the problem of illicit small arms.
- Africa Baseline Survey. Support to the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI) to survey the small arms legislation, regulations, and law enforcement capacities of African countries to provide a benchmark for future work.
- The West African Small Arms Moratorium. Technical assistance for the 1998 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) moratorium on the import, export and manufacturing of small arms in West Africa. We are also seeking congressional approval to release modest funding for the moratorium, which was included in the Fiscal 99 Foreign Authorizations Act.
- U.S.- EU. At their December 1999 summit in Washington, the United States and the European Union released a statement of "Common Principles on Small Arms and Light Weapons," in which they pledged to observe the "highest standards of restraint" in their small arms export policies, and took further steps to harmonize their export practices and policies. They approved a 10-point "Action Plan," and established a formal working group through which they will continue their activities.
- United Nations. The United States was an active participant and strong supporter of the recommendations of the 1997 Report of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms. The United States will also take active part in preparations for the international conference in 2001 on the "Illicit Arms Trade in All its Aspects."
- Norway. The United States has worked closely with a group of like-minded nations led by Norway that is helping to set the international agenda for addressing the problem of small arms proliferation. The statement released by the 18 countries attending the last such conference in Oslo in December 1999 focused special attention on the importance of regulating the activities of arms brokers. President Clinton and Norwegian Prime Minister Bondevik also announced a bilateral task force on small arms and light weapons, focusing on efforts to destroy surplus small arms in conflict zones.
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