From 7 to 8 October 2019 in Vienna, UNODC through its Global Firearms Programme, organised a cross regional meeting to address the issue of illicit trafficking in firearms to, from and across the European Union (EU). The meeting concluded a two-year project implemented by the GFP, in collaboration with the UNODC Research and Trend Analysis Branch, that aimed at monitoring and mapping illicit firearms trafficking flows, fostering effective international cooperation in tracing and information sharing, and combating illicit trafficking and related crimes. The project is supported by the European Union.
The meeting convened almost 70 experts in firearms trafficking from law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities from EU Member States as well as selected countries of the Western Balkan, West and Central African, Middle East and North African and Latin American regions. It was further supported by experts from pertinent international and regional organizations as well as research institutes, including Interpol, the World Customs Organization, the EU, Europol, Frontex, Small Arms Survey and the Flemish Peace Institute.
The main objectives of the meeting were to take stock of the recent data collection and analysis efforts on firearms with a specific focus on EU Member States and to discuss how the identified phenomena can be better addressed.
Opening the event, Loide Aryee, Chief of the UNODC Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Branch, highlighted the importance of collecting and sharing data on illicit firearms flows to support evidence-based responses. She noted that this would enable more effective results against firearms-related criminality and contribute to the attainment and measuring of SDG target 16.4, which aims, among others, at significantly reducing illicit arms flows by 2030.
Fabio Marini, Senior Expert in Firearms from the Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission emphasized that some of the projects' results will be very pertinent for the development of the new Action Plan on Small Arms and Light Weapons of the EU Commission covering the period 2020 - 2024.
The opening was followed by presentations by UNODC and the Flemish Peace Institute on preliminary research results as regards the illicit trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition, with a particular focus on trafficking involving EU Member States. The remaining sessions of the meeting saw panel discussions and expert presentations to complement the analysis. Experts also discussed the policy implications of the new findings from a law enforcement and prosecutorial perspective, exchanged good practices of inter-institutional and bilateral cooperation, and discussed the way forward as regards evidence-based efforts against firearms trafficking to, from and across the EU.
The experts also identified common challenges and opportunities for countries inside and outside the EU. They highlighted the importance of spontaneous information sharing and international cooperation for tracing and investigating the illicit origin of firearms, including with countries outside the own region.
They also stressed the need for harmonised legislation at the regional level, and the urgency of finding common solutions to addressing the phenomena of converted firearms and the trafficking of firearms and parts and components via fast parcel delivery services.
One important conclusion of the meeting was that data on firearms trafficking must also contain contextual information on its seizure and its links to other crimes. Only this combination of information will allow the development of a comprehensive understanding of firearms-related criminality, which should be the basis for political and operational strategies against the phenomena.
Concluding the meeting, Simonetta Grassi, Head of the UNODC Global Firearms Programme, said that "UNODC, through its Global Firearms Programme, will keep promoting cooperation and the exchange of information and good practices between countries for effective results against firearms trafficking. We hope that one approach for this is the organisation of further cross-regional meetings that allow to zoom into one specific region while keeping the global dimension of the phenomenon in mind."