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UN-Backed Findings Reveal Startling Small Arms Trade Increase

The iconic statue of a knotted gun barrel outside U.N. headquarters. Credit:Tressia Boukhors/IPS.

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2016 (IPS) - A report released by The Small Arms Survey here Monday shows the alarming rate at which the trade of small arms and light weapons has been increasing.

Under Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN last September, UN member states have agreed to significantly reduce illicit arms trade flows by 2030.

“The Sustainable Development Agenda puts a clear emphasis on arms as one of the elements that will need to be taken into account for durable development.” said Anna Alvazzi del Frate, Director of Programmes at Small Arms Survey.

But from 2012 to 2013, the global small arms trade jumped to a total of USD 6 billion worth of small arms, an increase of 17 per cent/ $1 billion in only one year, according to the report titled “Trade Update 2016: Transfers and Transparency”

The United States was, by far, both the largest exporter and importer. It exported $1.1 billion, while only two other countries – Italy and Germany – surpassed the $500 million mark in exports.

Transfers of small arms to the U.S. accounted for 42 per cent of all imports.

Saudi Arabia more than tripled its small arms imports during the same period, going from $54 million in 2012 to $168 million the following year.

Sixteen exporters surpassed $100 million in 2013, the largest number since the survey began in 2001.

And although this is the most comprehensive data set on small arms transfers, these numbers are most likely much higher, since 40% of information on imports and exports were concealed by states, said Senior Researcher for the Small Arms Survey, Nicolas Florquin

“We advocate for the need for greater transparency.” said Eric Berman, Director of the Small Arms Survey. “Transparency is important because it means better information which facilitates better policies and programming.”

Transparency about small arms trade deals remain extremely uneven globally. According to the report’s updated Transparency Barometer, the most transparent were Germany, UK and Netherlands, while South Africa had the greatest increase in transparency.

The least transparent countries were Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), each of whose secrecy around the trade in arms meant that they scored zero on the survey’s index.

While several Middle Eastern countries were rated as the least transparent, they also became top importers – the number of recorded transfers in the Middle East doubled from the year 2012 to 2013. While Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were trying to keep their arms deals secret, they were also becoming huge importers, according to the report’s findings from the more transparent countries which sold the arms to them.

The UAE became the world’s fourth-most prolific importer of small arms, its purchases jumping nearly 150 percent in 2013 over the previous year – from $71 million to $168 million.

Saudi Arabia more than tripled its small arms imports during the same period, going from $54 million in 2012 to $168 million the following year.

Large amounts of ammunition found in Libya were traced back to Qatar, where small arms transfers multiplied by eight. Florquin said they were most likely re-transferred without authorization during US Arms Embargo

Similarly, pistols produced by UAE were sent to Lybia without following the proper procedures of the sanctions regime.

Recently, research is finding numerous weapons being sold online in Libya, which SAS will be releasing a report on soon.

Florquin said that they don’t see things slowing down, especially considering the increasing conflict situations around the world.

But as the transfer controls issue has risen to the top of the UN agenda, the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in April 2013 could potentially have boosted transparency, which will be considered as states’ reporting requirements of arms trade were due last week, said Floquin.

Olivier Marc Zehnder, Deputy Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN, highlighted that the “arms trade treaty and its reporting obligations play a crucial role in promoting responsible arms transfers,” at Monday’s press conference.

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