Small arms and light weapons

The most recent estimates indicate that there are 875 million small arms and light weapons in circulation throughout the world and that every year several hundreds of thousands of persons are killed with these weapons. Guns, machine guns and automatic arms are cheap, easily transportable and easy to maintain. Even children can use them. The illicit proliferation of small arms:

  • negatively affects human security;
  • prolongs and exacerbates conflicts;
  • prevents aid from reaching the civilian population;
  • impedes economic and social development;
  • is used by organised crime;
  • plays a major role in terrorism.

Globally effective instruments

In July 2001 the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons adopted a legally non-binding action programme. This appeals to the responsibility of States and calls for export controls, secure storage, the exchange of information and compliance with arms embargos. The States that have signed the action programme meet at regular intervals to review the progress achieved and to discuss the future direction of their work. At the last conference in June 2010, they signed a final document, thus giving a fresh impetus to their joint efforts.

In 2001 the UN General Assembly approved the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Components and Ammunition. This protocol provides a legally binding basis for the fight against the illegal trade in weapons.

A further important document was approved by the UN General Assembly in 2005: the International Instrument for the Rapid and Reliable Identification of Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons. The United Nations working group that negotiated this agreement was headed by Switzerland.

In 2006 Switzerland and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Geneva held a ministerial conference at which 42 States adopted the Geneva Declaration of Armed Violence and Development (Geneva Declaration, GD). The declaration contains promises to take specific measures against the disastrous interaction between armed violence and socio-economic development. Over a hundred governments have now pledged their support for this.

Important actors

Regional organisations such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) have decided on normative and/or operational measures to combat illicit small arms. Similar measures have also been adopted by the European Union (EU), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the die Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) also plays an important part in the fight against the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons. It supports governments in developing countries in their efforts to combat illicit trafficking in arms, particularly by introducing targeted legislation.

In 1999, on the initiative of Switzerland, the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (GGIIDS) launched a research programme on small arms, the Small Arms Survey. This competence centre is internationally regarded as the institution of reference for small arms and light weapons.

Its publications include an annual report with detailed information, analyses and statistics on this subject.

Switzerland's activity

Switzerland is strongly committed to preventing the illicit proliferation of small arms. 

  • It advocates the implementation of an international instrument for the rapid and reliable identification and tracing of illicit small arms and light weapons.
  • It advocates the implementation of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development.
  • It takes part in negotiations within the UN for a comprehensive and binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
  • It contributes to a project for the destruction of superfluous small arms and light weapons and to their secure storage in the framework of the OSCE und PfP.
  • It supports the Small Arms Survey competence centre.
  • It supports countries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the implementation of the UN action programme.