Despite decades of lip service and inadequate solutions, the mundane chore of arms and ammunition ‘record-keeping’ has long remained a pressing need in communities most at risk of armed violence. Now a comprehensive solution, rolled out initially in the Pacific, Cambodia and West Africa, offers to break the logjam.
Short Video: Introduction to ArmsTracker
ArmsTracker is a computerised weapon and ammunition management solution purpose-built for small island and low-capacity nations. In a project funded by UNSCAR, the Small Arms Division of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria, has installed ArmsTracker in readiness for data input from government agencies across its 15 Member States. The aim is to complete a regional data network to meet their joint commitments under the 2006 ECOWAS Small Arms Convention.
The first ECOWAS member off the mark is Burkina Faso, where the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is installing ArmsTracker with police, military, and several other government agencies as part of an Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) project supported by Global Affairs Canada. With similar assistance from the German Federal Foreign Office, MAG will also install the purpose-built software with the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms and key state security agencies. Both countries will soon be better equipped to enforce national arms and ammunition laws, to reduce armed violence and to observe regional and international arms control commitments.
Preventing diversion of weapons and ammunition to armed crime, conflict and terrorism requires a start-to-finish computerised arms and ammunition management system capable of following munitions through each transfer to final re-export, loss, or destruction. Over the past 20 years, record-keeping has been the most-requested category of international assistance for Weapon and Ammunition Management (WAM). Effective record-keeping is also a pre-requisite for stockpile management, transfers, tracing, and for national reporting as required under international arms control agreements. Despite all this, a comprehensive, yet affordable solution has so far eluded many States, regions, and donors.
Beginning in the 1990s, MAG broadened its missions in half a dozen countries to include WAM, clearing stockpiles of illicit and excess arms and ammunition in parallel with its mine action programs. MAG currently secures and destroys small arms and ammunition in nineteen states in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. They see these more comprehensive capacity-building frameworks as contributing to Armed Violence Reduction (AVR), alongside a growing focus on complementary engagement at the community level.
In a prescient policy brief in 2012, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) explored “the rationale for this shift from ‘traditional’ mine action to AVR”, noting that “the role of mine action organizations in supporting AVR is invaluable… their relevant expertise, the innovative approaches that they are adopting (e.g. towards community safety), as well as the relationships they have already built with national security sector actors give them unique insight, leverage and opportunity to contribute to AVR.” As a significant incentive for this shift, GICHD observed that “in many contexts the threats to safety and security posed by arms are far higher than threats from mines and ERW” (Explosive Remnants of War).
In a 2019 report, the UN’s Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) noted that weapon and ammunition management (WAM) “is becoming a key component of conflict prevention and stabilization strategies, with many conflict-affected and post-conflict States in Africa increasingly implementing a range of WAM activities.”
And once again in 2020, the UN Secretary-General called for “the establishment of national systems that include centralized national small arms and light weapons records… a well-maintained centralized record-keeping system” and “consistent recording of any weapons, pending destruction.”
MAG’s recent partnership with the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction now makes this possible. A not-for-profit NGO created by faculty at The University of Sydney, CAVR partners with governments to provide ArmsTracker at no net cost to qualifying state agencies in countries where the need is greatest. The nation of Samoa already manages all state-owned and privately held weapons and ammunition with ArmsTracker, as will military, law enforcement, border control and other agencies in Fiji, Vanuatu, and Palau.
These and similar projects will equip less-resourced government agencies responsible for arms and ammunition, including seized or excess weapons held as evidence or for destruction, plus civilian firearms if local legislation requires. In the absence of documented accountability, these are frequently the weapons that leak into criminal and terrorist misuse.
“Countries around the world continue to be affected by high levels of armed violence that has devastating consequences to communities,” says Darren Cormack, MAG CEO and CAVR advisory council member. “I’m proud to see MAG and CAVR working in partnership to find and implement practical solutions like ArmsTracker to reduce the impact of small arms and light weapons on people’s lives.”