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Taking action on small arms and light weapons proliferation

Highly portable, easy to conceal and deadly, small arms and light weapons such as hand guns, rifles and automatic weapons, are used to kill hundreds of thousands of people worldwide each year.

In the current security climate the need to prevent the spread and diversion of small arms and light weapons to unintended people and places is clear. As a result interest has been growing in many aspects of small arms and light weapons control – from import, export and transit controls, end-use certification, and monitoring; to customs and border-control procedures and security of arms stockpiles.

Many ‘traditional’ small arms and light weapons control efforts have tended to focus on the symptoms of small arms and light weapons misuse rather than the fundamental issues which cause people to procure and misuse them. Control efforts have often taken place in post-war settings and have been based on a misleading assumption that enhancing state rather than community security is the most important factor in preventing a return to conflict.

In 2001, the UN recognised the need for international action on the global problem of the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. The UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (PoA), was agreed in July 2001 and remains the primary international agreement on the control of small arms and light weapons.

Read more about our work on the UN Programme of Action

Saferworld works in Africa, Asia and Europe to research and address factors driving the proliferation and misuse of small arms. Our work supports communities, law enforcement agencies and governments to work together and agree sustainable ways to effectively control small arms and light weapons.

Saferworld is pushing this agenda at regional and international levels, including within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), in East Africa, Central and South Asia, and within the UN small arms and light weapons process – the UN Programme of Action. We are encouraging states to focus on the humanitarian impact of small arms and light weapons control and the need for small arms and light weapons control programmes to make a significant and demonstrable impact on the problem.

At the national level Saferworld supports research into small arms and light weapons dynamics; the development of national policies and action plans on the issue; the establishment of national focal points and coordination agencies; weapons management including weapons collection and destruction; and law enforcement and border control.

We try to draw the links between our small arms and light weapons work and the contribution this can make to broader security-building and conflict prevention programmes. In particular, we explore the role of small arms and light weapons control in the contexts of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration initiatives, security and justice sector development, post-conflict security building and armed violence reduction.

Featured projects

National Police Reserve in Kenya's frontiers

The lack of proper management of Kenya's National Police Reserve (NPR) has contributed to the misuse of firearms. This report looks at how the NPR could be improved.


Video: Improving community security through arms control

This video documents our work to improve the accountability of state-owned firearms through proper record keeping, and building trust and confidence between police and communities.


Community-driven approaches to SALW control in Kenya

In many communities in Kenya, small arms and light weapons present a significant security concern. This briefing explains how our community-driven approach to SALW control provides a template for improving security.