The United Nations’ counterterrorism chief launched a new project on Friday taking on the threat posed by links between terror groups, organized crime and trafficking in illicit small arms that are cheap and easily accessible.
Small arms are becoming the “weapon of choice” for many terrorist groups, said Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov, a Russian historian-turned-diplomat who now serves as the U.N. undersecretary-general for counterterrorism. Illicit small arms and light weapons trafficking are a serious threat to international peace and security, he said, and hinder sustainable development and the rule of law.
“Insufficient international response in countering the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons, the challenges that [United Nations’ 193] member states face to detect and seize them, as well as porous borders, allow terrorists and criminals to move illicit weapons from one country or region to another,” he said in opening remarks at U.N. headquarters in New York.
The U.N.’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy calls on nations to better coordinate and cooperate in fighting terrorism and illicit trafficking in small arms, light weapons, conventional ammunitions and explosives. A 2017 U.N. Security Council resolution targeted the nexus between terrorism and organized crime, saying the fight against illicit trafficking in weapons and explosives helps counterterrorism efforts.
But three years later, the problem remains as daunting as ever, according to U.N. officials. Voronkov, who also heads the U.N. Counterterrorism Center, or UNCCT, said Africa has 100 million uncontrolled small arms and light weapons in conflict areas that challenge international security. Illicit weapons from Libya, he noted, have been turning up in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel region.
“With an estimated population of 1.2 billion in Africa,” said Voronkov, “this is an unfortunate and significant ratio of one to 12.”
With the new project, UNCCT and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, aim to enhance national legislative, strategic and operational capacities to fight firearms trafficking. They are starting off with a 15-month series of country visits, legislative workshops, national trainings and regional conferences in Central Asia.
"I am confident the project implementation will bring concrete results benefiting all Central Asian States. Our common goal is to make the region more secure & prosperous, free from illicit weapons & terrorism." USG Voronkov, #UNCCT ED#SALW project: https://t.co/BVHgAQYZSb pic.twitter.com/xXiYXfrFI7
— United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (@UN_OCT) February 21, 2020
A cross-cutting challenge
Earlier this month, the 15-nation Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful arm, heard a report from senior U.N. disarmament official Izumi Nakamitsu that 1 billion small arms are in the hands of terrorists, armed groups, organized criminals and warring gangs, posing a major threat around the world.
The use of these rifles, pistols and light machine guns contributed to 200,000 deaths a year from 2010 to 2015 and continue to threaten international peace and security, human rights, gender issues and sustainable development, he told the council.
Voronkov said the new U.N.-led project, spawned by Security Council counterterrorism efforts, will strive to make Central Asia “a more secure and prosperous region, free from illicit weapons and terrorism.” UNODC’s executive director, Ghada Fathi Waly, said the project is needed “to deal effectively with threats that no country can face alone.”
Her agency supports countries through its Global Firearms Program — which helps criminal justice systems deal with organized crime’s firearms trafficking — and using treaties like the Firearms Protocol and the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which both took effect in the 2000s.
By leveraging the world body’s resources through the new project, she said, nations can fill data and cooperation gaps and strengthen legal frameworks, law enforcement and criminal justice systems.