Small Arms and Human Rights: The Need for Global Action

A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper for the U.N. Biennial Meeting on Small Arms

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Key Sections

The U.N. Biennial Meeting
The U.N. Program of Action
Small Arms Misuse
Small Arms Transfers
The Way Forward

The U.N. Program of Action

The focus of the Program of Action is the illicit trafficking in small arms. It outlines national, regional, and global measures intended to combat the illegal trade in small arms. It largely leaves aside questions about authorized transfers, but does contain some modest national commitments to tighten controls on such transfers. For example, under the Program of Action, governments agree to prevent the diversion of weapons into illicit markets by authenticating documents, regulating arms transit, and controlling arms brokers.

One provision touches on government responsibilities under international law with respect to authorized arms transfers. In Section II, at paragraph 11, governments commit to make sure that their national arms export controls are "consistent with existing obligations of states under relevant international law." Unfortunately, there is no further elaboration, nor is any process outlined to clarify these obligations and affirm that "relevant international law" includes international human rights and humanitarian law.

The Program of Action, which was adopted as a consensus document, does not address small arms misuse. It does not mention human rights and only refers to international humanitarian law in the preamble. These omissions belie the importance of the human cost of small arms.

The U.N. Biennial Meeting   Small Arms Misuse