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Illicit Firearms as a Threat to Global Security


The illicit trafficking and misuse of firearms pose a major threat to human security and social stability, whilst standing as a serious obstacle to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in Africa and Latin America.

Firearms are high profit commodities frequently trafficked illegally and often a major means though which illegal armed groups and criminal organizations perpetrate and strengthen their power. Illicit trafficking of firearms finds its victims in armed conflicts, among youth in regions with high crime rates and violence, and even among women in domestic violence situations. Countries in conflict, post-conflict or with a high exposure to crime and violence are particularly vulnerable to the destabilising influence of illicit arms trafficking.

Organized criminal groups are becoming more transnational, multi-ethnic and poly-crime oriented, as they diversify into a variety of crimes involving licit and illicit commodities traded for profit. Smuggling has become the quintessential criminal activity of criminal organizations, and trafficking in firearms is, together with drugs and trafficking in persons, one of the most lucrative of such criminal activities.

Open sources of information can provide a general overview of major legal arms transfers and help detect possible diversion or triangulation, while identification and tracing of seized weapons can further shade some light on the country of manufacture and maybe the country of import of the arms. However, all these sources are often insufficient to create a comprehensive and applicable overview with functional statistics about the flow of firearms to and within regions. Although reporting of transfers to the UN Register on Conventional Arms (UNROCA) has improved, the lack of transparency and the significant gaps in the information provided by several states makes the investigations or cross analysis of "mirror" data often impossible. Without proper controls and registration procedures in place, practices such as multiple transfers and the on-ward re-selling of new and second-hand arms and their parts, increases the risk of their diversion from controlled trade and hinders the effective investigation and prosecution of those responsible. Therefore, establishing effective control over the licit flow of arms and ammunition to prevent illicit transfers is one of the pressing priorities for most regions and of global concern of all members of the international community. Contrary to firearms - considered long-lasting durable goods and less subject to a regular trafficking flow - there is a more constant and less elastic demand for ammunition, which is by its nature perishable and represents a pre-condition for the use of a firearm. Yet, controls over ammunition are often insufficient or nonexistent.

In this sense, UNODC main objective is to assists Member States in the implementation of the Firearms Protocol in an integrated and coherent manner by providing assistance for the adoption of the relevant preventative and control measures. UNODC contributes to the Member States' efforts with evidence-based research, capacity building and legislative assistance, the development of legal and technical tools,  and by facilitating international law enforcement and judicial cooperation with the objective to enhance investigation and prosecution of crimes relating to illicit manufacture of and trafficking in firearms including their possible links to organized crime.


Further Information:

(i) Legal Framework

(ii) Firearms Protocol

(iii) Global Firearms Programme

(iv) Legislative Development and Policy Advice

(v) Training and Capacity Building

(vi) Technical Support

(vii) International Cooperation

(viii) Tools and Publications

(ix) News and Events

(x) Partnerships

(xi) Contacts