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Key issues


The international community has for many years sought to address the adverse effects of illicit trafficking of conventional arms, as well as the threats posed by its links to organized and other serious crimes. This has resulted in a number of treaties and agreements at the international and regional levels, regulating licit and illicit firearms, establishing common standards and practices on arms control, and promoting more effective criminal justice responses and cooperation among Member States to counter these threats. 

The international framework on firearms encompasses various sources and instruments of so-called transnational law, and includes both legally binding hard law, as well as non-binding soft laws or instruments. At a global level, the first two instruments adopted in this field are the legally binding United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) of 2000 and its supplementary Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms Protocol) of 2001. These are followed shortly after by the non-binding United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (UNPoA) of 2001 and non-binding International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (ITI) of 2005. Finally, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) of 2013 is a legally binding instrument and the latest instrument in continuing efforts at the international level to contribute to peace, security and stability through preventing and countering illicit trafficking, and complements previous global instruments. These global instruments together provide the common framework for action.

They are complemented at regional level, by several regional instruments and agreements, most of which are of legally binding nature and reinforce and to some extent further articulate the global instruments.

In addition to these conventions and treaties, there are also numerous other tools and instruments, for example: resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), or by other intergovernmental and governing bodies to the above mentioned instruments (e.g. the Conferences of Parties to UNTOC and the Firearms Protocol; the Conference of State Parties to the ATT; the Biannual Meeting of States to the UNPoA and the ITI); recommendations or other additional voluntary tools of technical nature adopted or endorsed by these bodies to provide guidance and help to Member States in this field.

The key issues examined in the following sections of this Module are:

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