Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Launch of the Global Study on Firearms Trafficking

  15 July 2020


Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the launch of UNODC’s Global Study on Firearms Trafficking 2020.

I would like to welcome Mr. Olivier Onidi of the European Commission and the Permanent Representative of Mexico Ambassador Luis Javier Campuzano Pina, representing the Chair of the Seventh Session of the Working Group on Firearms, and thank them for joining me at today’s event.

Both the European Commission and Mexico have long been key partners in UNODC’s efforts to prevent and counter illicit firearms trafficking and related forms of crime.

I am grateful to the European Commission for providing financial support so UNODC could produce this study, and for their efforts to keep illicit firearms on the global political agenda.

I also wish to thank the World Customs Organization, which contributed important seizure data to our research.

The study reflects information from more than 100 countries and territories, most of it received by UNODC through the Illicit Arms Flows Questionnaire.

Part of UNODC’s Monitoring Illicit Arms Flows initiative, the Questionnaire represents a standardized data collection methodology, which also supports the monitoring of progress on Sustainable Development Goal target 16.4, to significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows by 2030.

This work draws on UNODC’s role as guardian of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition.

The 2020 Global Study is the result of collaboration between UNODC’s Global Firearms Programme and Research and Trend Analysis Branch, and enlarges the evidence base developed with UNODC’s first study in 2015.

The mandate for this research stems from the recommendations of the Conference of Parties Working Group on Firearms.

I am pleased that we are launching this publication now, with the Group meeting in Vienna this week.

The global study focuses on the serious – and too often hidden – problem of firearms trafficking, which poses a grave threat to human life and to international security, and which serves as an enabler and multiplier of violence and crime in every part of the world.

Firearms are involved in more than half of all homicides globally, and more than three-quarters in the Americas.

Usually manufactured for legal markets, firearms can be diverted into illegal markets at any point in their life cycle. Durable commodities, they can be easily reused and resold.

Illicit firearms are tools of power for terrorists and organized criminal groups alike, as well as a lucrative trafficking commodity.

The UN Security Council adopted two resolutions last year highlighting the threat of terrorists benefitting financially and logistically from transnational organized crime, including by profiting from the trafficking of illicit arms.

When law enforcement seizes illicit firearms, they also find illicit drugs, counterfeit goods, trafficked cultural property and natural resources.

Most firearms seizures are made within national territories, with seizures at borders on average accounting for less than 10 per cent of all interceptions.

Based on the routes of seized firearms, transnational trafficking flows appear to be concentrated within continents.

Some 464,000 people were killed in homicides in 2017, 54 per cent of them by firearms. According to the data received for the study, some 550,000 firearms were seized worldwide in 2016 and 2017.

However, we know the real global figure is much higher. This disparity reflects under-reporting and continuing gaps in data collection, but also difficulties faced by criminal justice systems in pursuing firearms trafficking.

Countries, on average, seized around two-thirds of firearms on the grounds of illicit possession, according to the legal justifications given by national authorities.

Trafficking was named as the legal justification in only around 9 per cent of cases. However, when the criminal context of the seizure was factored in after further investigation, the proportion of seized weapons connected to trafficking more than doubled to 19 percent. 

By shedding light on these challenges, and on the origin and trafficking routes of firearms, the study can support governments in strengthening law enforcement and criminal justice responses to detect and disrupt illicit flows, dismantle the criminal organizations and networks responsible, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Through its Global Firearms Programme, UNODC supports Member States to implement the Firearms Protocol, offering an integrated approach to the complex threat of illicit firearms that draws on the Office’s experience in addressing interlinked challenges of terrorism, crime and corruption.

In addition to administering the Questionnaire, UNODC also helps to strengthen the capacity of Member States to collect and analyse firearms-related data, and produces analysis of firearms trafficking at global, regional and national levels.

Over the past nine years the Office has supported some 65 countries in Africa and the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Eastern and Eastern Europe, as well as South and Central Asia, to strengthen legislative and policy development, preventive and security measures, criminal justice responses, international cooperation and information exchange, as well as the monitoring of illicit arms flows.  

We also supported and facilitated the exchange of data and analysis between 20 EU countries.

UNODC is also leading efforts to secure international air and maritime transport and supply chains against illicit firearms through our global Container Control, AIRCOP and Maritime Crime programmes.

In February this year, together with UNOCT and with the backing of CTED and UNODA, we launched a joint project on addressing the terrorism-arms-crime nexus in Central Asian countries to help deprive terrorists of weapons and profits from the illegal arms trade.

To further address the important regional dimensions of firearms trafficking challenges, and to gather regional perspectives, UNODC will be holding webinars from September. The series will begin with the EU, the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, Latin America, West and Central Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

This year we mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the 15th anniversary of the Firearms Protocol entering into force.

The Global Study on Firearms Trafficking represents an important step in expanding the evidence base on firearms trafficking.

It also shows that much more work needs to be done to further enhance the operational protocols and capacities to systematically collect and analyse data on illicit firearms.

For example, almost one third of the countries replying to the Illicit Arms Flows Questionnaire reported that their dataset either did not cover the entire national territory or did not cover the operations of all authorities in charge of seizing firearms.

Investigative efforts and related data collection clearly vary among the different steps of the criminal justice chain.

To prevent and combat illicit firearms trafficking, we need to scale up capacities, procedures and tools to identify the illicit origin of seized firearms and to record the results in an accessible manner.

In this regard I very much welcome the discussions of the Working Group starting tomorrow, which can contribute to advancing progress in these areas.

The Working Group will also address new forms of manufacturing and trafficking of firearms, and the responsiveness of the Protocol to address challenges such as the online trade in illicit firearms, parts and ammunition, trafficking via postal services, and the exploitation of legal loopholes to acquire, convert or upgrade weapons into firearms.

UNODC is here to assist you in these efforts. I hope the analysis presented in the Global Study is useful to you, and I encourage Member States to keep sharing information so we can build better responses.

Thank you.