Recent estimates put the number of small arms circulating worldwide at one billion, killing several hundreds of thousands of people every year. Pistols, submachine guns and automatic rifles are cheap, easy to transport and require little maintenance. Even children can shoot with them. In recent decades, unsafe ammunition stocks in over a hundred countries have spontaneously combusted, with dramatic repercussions for local people, the environment and infrastructure in some cases. Poorly managed stockpiles of weapons or ammunition can also easily fall into the hands of armed groups.
The illicit proliferation of small arms and unsafe storage of ammunition
- leads to violence against civilians, including gender-based violence;
- prolongs and intensifies conflicts;
- undermines peace processes and impairs the development of communities and countries;
- hinders the provision of humanitarian aid to civilians;
- supports organized crime and terrorism.
Switzerland works to prevent the illicit proliferation of small arms and improve ammunition management practices at policy level and through targeted projects.
Switzerland seeks in particular to ensure that international and regional agreements on small arms are implemented, including for example the Arms Trade Treaty, the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, and certain OSCE agreements. It identifies and works to close gaps in the existing legal framework (see example).
Switzerland also provides expertise, funding and material donations to help implement these agreements. Its main focus on building local expertise aims to enable partner countries to independently tackle their problems with small arms and ammunition in the medium term. In addition, Switzerland assists in the destruction of surplus small arms and ammunition within the framework of the OSCE and Partnership for Peace.
These efforts also play a major role in preventing and resolving violent conflicts. That is why Switzerland works to ensure that due heed is paid to the illicit proliferation of small arms in peace agreements and their implementation. This also contributes to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN's Agenda for Disarmament.
Furthermore, Switzerland aims to foster fact-based policies by supporting research into illicit weapons flows and the impact of armed violence on civilians, peace and development. At Switzerland’s initiative, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva initiated the Small Arms Survey research programme in 1999. This center of expertise is now considered to be the world's leading institution in the field of small arms.
Example: Improving ammunition management
Switzerland launched an initiative in 2015 to prevent stockpiled ammunition from spontaneous combustion or falling into the wrong hands. In so doing, it helped the international community to focus on risks that had not been properly taken into account. This initiative contributed to initiating a policy process within the UN in 2017, whereby member states requested that a group of experts be convened in order to make recommendations on how to improve ammunition management practices. Switzerland is an active participant in this process.
In parallel to this process, Switzerland also helped create an international support mechanism in Geneva – the Ammunition Management Advisory Team (AMAT) – which provides technical advice and training to build long-term expertise in ammunitions management at national level. AMAT disseminates good practices and international guidelines, and facilitates cooperation at global level. It is a joint project of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).
Through its efforts to ensure the safe and secure management of ammunition, Switzerland has taken the lead in supporting the UN's disarmament agenda.