European Western Balkans

Western Balkans united against the proliferation of firearms

Author: Filip Stojanović, Public Policy Research Center

At the ninth regional meeting on the control of small arms and shooting weapons in Tirana (28 and 29 May), officials from all Western Balkan countries issued an unanimous decision on the adoption of a working document Roadmap: a viable solution to the illegal possession, abuse and smuggling of small arms and light weapons in the Western Balkans until 2025 (Road map). Such a decision could have far-reaching positive consequences for strengthening regional and human security in the Western Balkans.

During numerous wars in the Western Balkans, huge amounts of arsenic and ammunition were left behind in the hands of citizens (between 500,000 and 1.6 million households in the region own firearms). A large number of such weapons, both legal and illegal, are subject to smuggling, but are also used for the committment of numerous crimes, such as robberies, murders or femicide. According to the latest Ministry of Interior estimates, there are about 220,000 pieces of illegal weapons in Serbia.

The Roadmap represents an important guide in achieving a sustainable solution to the problem of the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition in the region. The Roadmap provides a comprehensive platform for joint action at the strategic, political and operational levels. Given that this document will be incorporated into the Berlin Process, its implementation will ease the efforts of candidate countries in meeting some of the important security requirements for full membership in the European Union. In addition, this document directly contributes to the achievement of the objective 16 of the Agenda 2030 of the UN with a special focus on sub-area 16.4. which refers to the reduction of illegal flows of weapons and money. After meeting in Tirana on 10 July 2018, the Roadmap will be presented at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in London.

This document was developed by the institutions of the countries of the region in cooperation and under the auspices of the German Federal Foreign Office and The South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons  (SEESAC), with the coordination of Great Britain, France and the European Commission.

The significance of the Roadmap for the security of the Republic of Serbia

In addition to numerous international conventions and agreements ratified by the Republic of Serbia, through the process of accession to the European Union, Serbia has also adopted a number of obligations related to the control of the proliferation of firearms. However, it is surprising that in the new drafts of strategic documents (the National Security Strategy and the Defense Strategy of the Republic of Serbia), the negative effects of the proliferation of firearms on the security of the individual are not recognized, nor are mechanisms defined to respond to this security challenge.

The first Strategy dealing with the control of small arms and light weapons expired in 2015, and its implementation was half as the Action Plan was adopted with a delay of three years. The new SALW Control Strategy has not yet been adopted, although that was forseen with the Action Plan for Chapter 2. After the breakdown of all deadlines, this year, with the expert support of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, the draft of the new Strategy was prepared, but according to Ministry of Interior’s information, its adoption is shifted to the end of the year. One of the reasons is harmonization of the draft with the principles and goals of the Roadmap.

How important this issue is for the European Union says the fact that last year, the leaders of the Western Balkans and the EU, within the framework of the Berlin Process, came out with a declaration issued after the Trieste Summit in Trieste (Trieste Western Balkans Summit 2017), which supports the advancement of the fight against trafficking in lightning and light weaponry through better physical protection of stockpiles of firearms and encouraging the voluntary surrender of weapons.

What are the objectives of the Roadmap?

The Roadmap’s creators recognized the scope of firearms as a serious security problem and, through the seven specific objectives, defined activities that by direct effect by 2025 would directly contribute to better control and reduce accumulated surplus weapons and ammunition. It is especially important to mention the first goal regarding the harmonization of the control of legalization of weapons with EU legislation, which should be standardized for the entire region of the Western Balkans. In Objectives 4 and 5, the Roadmap makers identified two crucial security risks – reducing supply, demand and firearms by advocating and raising awareness and reducing the estimated number of firearms in illegal possession. Goal 7 unambiguously emphasized the need for cooperation and coordination between state security institutions in terms of reducing the risk of proliferation and redirection of firearms, ammunition and explosives for committing terrorist acts or for use in conflicts at current warfare. Failure to control arms trafficking could impede the security dynamics, as well as the process of joining the Western Balkan countries to the European Union.

Unanimous adoption of the Roadmap is an important step towards ensuring peace and stability in the region and strengthening citizens’ security. Incorporating the Road Map goals into the new SALW Control Strategy of the Republic of Serbia should contribute to its application in Serbia. Still the problem of the proliferation of firearms is not only a matter of tradition or folklore, and the legacy of war conflicts, but also the consequence of insufficient confidence in the institutions of the security sector. In order to realize the goals of the Road Map by 2025, it is important to work on increasing the confidence and transparency of the work of the security sector institutions and meeting the obligations under Chapters 23 and 24 in the process of accession to the European Union.

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