The Centre for Armed Violence Reduction (CAVR) has a soft spot for small island developing states (SIDs). I mean who wouldn’t – beautiful blue expanding oceans, green rolling hills and hospitable smiles for days. This is the very reason why we work with these states – to keep them beautiful and free of insecurity that the flow that illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) brings. In the Pacific, SALWs have not proliferated to an uncontrollable level and we would like to keep it that way. We focus on prevention and building a strong arms control system to keep people safe. In the Caribbean, some islands have unfortunately been devastated by the proliferation of arms. Reduction measures are essential, but so is ensuring a strong enforcement system.
Quick facts about the regions:
- They both consist of several thousand islands, which are difficult to patrol.
- They both consist of states who do not manufacture and import only small amounts of small arms and light weapons.
- Transit/transhipment is the most common arms transfer that takes place within both regions.
PSAAG was recently in the Caribbean working with CARICOM Member States. Here are five key challenges both regions share in building stronger arms control systems, although sometimes these challenges spring from different sources.
- Outdated legislation & procedures – In both regions, states need to review their legislation and procedures. Common gaps exist – lack of brokering laws and weak penalties. Both regions are fortunate to have a ATT model legislation as a reference point to improve the gaps that expose them to vulnerabilities.
- Lack of coordinating agency/National Point of Contact (NPC) – In both regions, several states have not identified an agency responsible for coordinating all aspects of improving arms control measures aimed to prevent and control the proliferation of SALW. Or the responsibility has not been formalised. Similarly, many government officials across government agencies do not know who their national point of contact is on arms control. In many cases this is because a NPC does not exist or the role has not been communicated to key stakeholders. Officials across agencies in both regions are calling for increased awareness on international arms control standards and coordination amongst all relevant stakeholders.
- Porous Borders/Training Customs Officers – In both regions, the porous borders and vast oceans mean customs officers play a key role in protecting their borders from illicit flows of SALW. However, with limited human resources and lack of surveillance and x-ray equipment, customs officers do not always feel well equipped to do their job. Customs officers have called for more training on international standards on the transfers of SALWs, cross-border collaboration and how to identify parts and components. Of particular importance are controls to improve the transit/transhipment process, a common type of transfer of arms in both regions and a transfer vulnerable to diversion of arms.
- Resources and Capacity – The Pacific has suffered from arms leakages from state forces. The Caribbean has suffered from its geographical location to trading routes and sometimes poor law enforcement. Both suffer from low resource and human capacity to implement effective control measures. It is impossible to patrol all their islands, borders and ocean territory. With limited resources states, in both regions, must prioritise the work of their personnel. This means arms control issues are not always priority. Therefore, control measures that are implemented must be appropriate to the capacity and resource constrains. The importance of effective arms control systems must also be linked to more prioritised issues such as sustainable development.
- Reporting – Both regions have low reporting rates. The Pacific has the lowest reporting rate of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons and many Caribbean states have not yet lived up to their ATT obligations of submitting annual reports. In many cases, the challenge is again resources. Automated and centralised information management systems do not exist. Reporting requires personnel to spend several hours going agency-to-agency to verify data. Understanding the challenge, a number of states in both regions are now prioritising the implementation of an automated registry to improve controls over what flows across their border and to systematic reporting process.
Whilst there are many arms control issues facing small island developing states, they can be overcome. The Centre for Armed Violence Reduction is currently working with governments around the world to ensure arms control standards are localised to their needs.
Laura Spano, Arms Control Manager, Centre for Armed Violence Reduction (CAVR). CAVR is the Secretariat of the Pacific Small Arms Action Group (PSAAG). Laura recently spent two weeks in Antigua and Barbuda and Trinidad and Tobago working with CARICOM, UNIDIR and ATT-BAP to build the capacity of government officials to strengthen their national coordinating mechanisms.