Anna Alvazzi del Frate, Small Arms Survey


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"Weapons marking in the RECSA region"
Regional Review Conference on the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development
Antigua, Guatemala | 28-30 April 2014

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  • Firearms marking is an important feature in small arms control. The act involves imprinting a unique and permanent mark on to a firearm (or weapons). This mark, along with robust records, can allow authoritites to uniquely identify a weapon and trace it back to its legal user. This ability to trace the weapon back to its legal user is seen as an important tool in both investigating and detering weapons proliferation.

    There are 3 pillars to weapons tracing. Each of these must be in place in order to successfully trace a weapon. The first is marking. The imprinting of marks is required to identify the weapon. Records are needed to link the weapon to a legal user. And cooperation among states is needed in order to retrace the longer history of weapon. Marking initiatives typically include all three pillars.

    These pillars were established in the ITI. The ITI came into being in 2005 through the UN PoA process. It is a politically binding agreement. Other regional instruments promote similar practices towards tracing. For this study, RECSA Member states look to the Nairobi Protocol. In the Americas, the OAS member states have the CIFTA.
  • Markings are consistent throughout member states.
    Star – State owned
    UG – Uganda (two-letter country code)
    POL – Policen (not a requirement, but most states mark the armed actor owning the firearm
    Unique serial number – not related to the manufactures’ serial number
  • RECSA’s marking initiative.
    RECSA has 15 member states.
    The US, EU, and Japan each contributed the Marking Program
    Each member state that ratified the Nairobi Protocol. By signing the NBO protocol all states agreed to mark all state-owned firearms.
    Each member state received at least 2 marking machines. Each machine came with a compressor and generator to run the marking machine and a computer.
    Additional marking machines were provided to members also partied to the East Africa Community.

    States were on their own to develop their own implementation plan. Most began marking at a central location, often in the capital. The would mark all weapons in the area and move with the machines to other parts of the country. Therefore it was a mobile marking process, where the machine was taken to weapons holdings around the country.

    RECSA intended to supply software to help states record the information about the firearms they marked. They took it upon themselves to develop the software. However, the software was not ready at the time states received their marking equipment, so states were on their own to decide on a means of recording information about the firearms marked.
  • In late 2011 and early 2012 SAS assessed the marking efforts in 8 RECSA member states.
    Met with National Focal Points, law enforcement and military officials, and operators of the marking equipment.

    No state had completed marking program. But Member states had made significant progress towards having all state owned firearms marked. Tens of thousands marked in most countries.

    Most marked firearms with information required by the NBO protocol. This makes the markings easily decipherable.

    The marking equipment also proved fairly robust. After marking many thousands of firearms most were still operational,

    There were however some common problems. Each problem revolves around the fact that marking efforts get more costly and less effecient as the programs progress.
    Marking entire arsenals are slow processes. Often talking about ens or hundreds of thousands of weapons with a machine capable of marking one every 3-5 minutes, if the person is properly motivated. At those rates you can see how it could take time.

    States also rarely had sufficent funding to keep the programs fully funded. Funding shortfalls led to delays in most states. Costs for the project grew as the marking moved to other weapons holdings around the country. Transportation and per diem costs for marking staffers were the most common expenses. Some programs has stopped all together because the state offered no money and was entirely reliant on donor support.
  • As stated earlier, RECSA failed to provide software from the start so the state of the records in the region was uneven and generally low. Many states lacked a long term solution and were simply waiting for RECSA’s software. In the mean time they recorded information on Excel or Word documents.

    This format made most records difficult to search and therefore hindered their ability to be traced.

    This format also meant that records were kept in one central location, and therefore the records were not easily updated.

    Should note that RECSA did eventually complete their software and they did provide it to several states in 2013.

  • Conclusions,

    Marking programs are simple, but painstaking programs. Marking 100,000s of firearms one at a time is slow, no matter what kind of marking equipment you own.

    In addition to time, they need long term financial support. Funding levels required change during different phases of the programs. The first phase, is the purchasing of equipment. Marking machines, power sources, software, etc. all costs money, so there is an initial investment.

    Phase 2 is the most efficient phase. Marking in central locations with large holdings allows states to mark a large number of machines without any travel costs. There is no travel either, so it is just a matter of marking as quickly as possilbe.

    The third phase is the most expensive. Marking away from central locations is expense. Travel costs rise and the marking becomes less efficient. Programs travel further to mark smaller holdings. Therefore travel increases signficantly while the number of marked weaposn rises much slower.

    The last phase is maintance. Once entire stockpiles are marked then marking is reserved for newly imported firearms, or special cases. Costs are infrequent and low.

    Record keeping also needs to be conceptualized for the long-term. The software used should be able to handle all of the needs of the security force managing it. It should be updatable from locations throughout the country. If the updates are not done at field sites then adequate procedures should be established to make sure that the central database has up to date and accurate information of weapons spread throughout the country.
  • Anna Alvazzi del Frate, Small Arms Survey

    1. 1. Weapons marking in the RECSA region Anna Alvazzi del Frate, Small Arms Survey 29 APRIL 2014
    2. 2. SMALL ARMS SURVEY What is Firearms Marking? ■ Purpose – to control diversion by ensuring that all firearms can be uniquely identified and traced to their legal user ■ Marking, record keeping and inter-state cooperation keys to tracing ■ Established in the International Tracing Instrument (ITI) and other regional SALW control regimes
    3. 3. SMALL ARMS SURVEY 2012 • MOVING TARGETS Commitments at the regional level Nairobi Protocol – all countries are members and agree to mark all state-owned firearms Use common weapon marking format Mark all small arms and light weapons (by December 2008) Use common software for national databases
    4. 4. SMALL ARMS SURVEY Regional Marking Program ■ Content of marking established in Nairobi Protocol and NBO Best Practices ■ Markings indicate: State ownership, country and department ownership, unique serial number
    5. 5. SMALL ARMS SURVEY RECSA Marking Project ■ Project provided at least 2 marking machines to each member state, each with a compressor, computer, and generator for mobile marking ■ Machines were moved to weapons holdings around the country for marking ■ Project is about a) setting up marking process, and b) actual marking of firearms ■ Not only marking, but also record-keeping (software for record-keeping to be developed by each country) ■ Role of RECSA Secretariat limited to some parts, other for each state
    6. 6. SMALL ARMS SURVEY Assessment criteria for the marking process
    7. 7. SMALL ARMS SURVEY Findings: Marking ■ States often lack operational funding - Not adequately prepared for mobile marking (logistics) ■ Process slower than anticipated ■ Lack of ownership ■ Different numbers reported from states and RECSA ■ Main objective of marking all small arms by Dec 2008 not met, but significant progress made in number of marked weapons ■ Most marks conform to Best Practices ■ Equipment adequate for accomplishing marking goals, relatively easy to use Positives Negatives
    8. 8. SMALL ARMS SURVEY Findings: Record keeping ■ Most states lack long term solution ■ Many records are not operational (currently lack update mechanisms) ■ Capacity to trace is questionable - Note: RECSA-designed software not examined as not in use at time of research
    9. 9. SMALL ARMS SURVEY Conclusions ■ Funding through project life cycle: 1. Purchasing equipment 2. Marking at central location 3. Traveling further to mark fewer 4. New imports and other markings ■ Long-term electronic database for record-keeping should be paired with information-updating procedures ■ Future external funding linked largely linked to present day successes Resources Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3 Phase 4 Time
    11. 11. SMALL ARMS SURVEY Questions?