Technology & Trade
Issue Brief

The Arms Trade Treaty: Obligations to Prevent the Diversion of Conventional Arms

The first paper in a series of issue briefs on the impact of the Arms Trade Treaty in addressing risks of diversion

Part of the Arms Trade Treaty Project

This report was originally published on UNIDIR, released as part of a joint research project by UNIDIR, Conflict Armament Research, Small Arms Survey, and the Stimson Center.

On this page

The diversion of conventional arms and related ammunition, parts and components to unauthorized end users and uses poses a significant threat to societies around the globe. Diversion is undermining the effectiveness of counterproliferation efforts and frustrating attempts to regulate the international trade in such arms for purposes consistent with relevant international law and standards. Over the past three decades, the international community has increased its focus on ways to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade and the illicit trafficking of arms, particularly of small arms and light weapons. Diversion is an aspect of such illicit activity but, until the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in 2013, had not been specifically addressed in most multilateral and regional legal instruments.

Preventing such diversion presents an enormous global challenge, and diversion remains a danger to lives, livelihoods and stability in many countries. The Secretary- General has described a complex array of ways in which diversion of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition, in particular, takes place:

“Domestically, small arms and ammunition often enter illicit circulation through theft, resale and corruption. It may occur as a result of a transfer without proper controls, unauthorized retransfer, thefts from poorly secured stockpiles, handouts to armed groups or civilian populations, or barter involving natural resources. Corruption is often associated with diversion. Government depots remain prominent sources of illicit weapons.”

Since 2015, UNIDIR has conducted work on tackling such diversion especially with respect to the practice of States to implement end-use/r control systems and the role of industry, and now in 2020 has embarked on a more elaborate programme of research and analysis to identify the actual and potential impacts of the ATT framework for preventing diversion. The objective of this research is to enhance knowledge and to facilitate dialogue among States to strengthen ways to improve the impacts of the Treaty framework in addressing risks of diversion in arms transfers, and to identify options and avenues to further promote effective policies and practices under the Treaty moving forward.

Read the full report on UNIDIR.

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