Organized crime, terrorism and firearms are interconnected and intertwined threats. Module 5 of this Series explores the current International Legal Framework on organized crime, firearms/SALW and terrorism. While these legal instruments tend to be mostly single-threat orientated, some present little reference to the interconnected themes that link these three different types of crime and criminal groups together.
Preambular paragraph 6 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto acknowledges the existence of links and overlapping activities. This suggests the applicability of the Convention to all these criminal manifestations, and “calls upon States to recognize the links between transnational organized criminal activities and acts of terrorism, taking into account the relevant general Assembly resolutions, and to apply the (…) Convention in combating all forms of criminal activity as provided therein” (UNODC, 2004: 3).
Its supplementary Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition on the other hand stresses that supplementing UNTOC with a specific instrument on firearms “will be useful in preventing and combating these crimes” (GA resolution 55/255 of 31 May 2001, adopting the UN Firearms Protocol).
While 19 international instruments address specific forms and manifestations of terrorism, none specifically deal with terrorist activities involving firearms, giving rise to a concern reiterated in several Security Council resolutions adopted over time. In response to the undoubted threat posed by terrorist groups armed with firearms, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2117/2013 which was “its first-ever text dedicated exclusively to the issue of small arms and light weapons” (United Nations, 2013: 1). The terms of the Resolution are couched in quite aspirational language; for example, Clause 2 “Reminds Member States of their obligations…” Clause 7 “Encourages information sharing...”, and Clause 19 “Urges states to consider ratifying the ATT.”
Apart from the UN Security Council Resolution, there have also been four UN General Assembly Resolutions relating to firearms/SALW: in 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. As with the UN Security Council Resolution, these present terms not as strong as they could be – 12 of the 22 clauses of the 2016 Resolution, for example, “encourage” States rather than “urge” them to undertake particular courses of action.
Following on, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2370/2017, “Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts – Preventing Terrorists from Acquiring Weapons.” It is also somewhat aspirational; for example, Clause 2 “Calls upon states to consider becoming party…”, and Clause 4 “Encourages Member States to take appropriate steps…” However, the language used is stronger, and States are “urged” far more than they are “encouraged.”
In 2017, the UN Security Council also adopted Resolution 2395/2017, “Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts”, in which it expressed “concern regarding the connection, in some cases, between terrorism and transnational organized crime, including illicit trafficking in drugs, arms, and persons…” (United Nations Security Council, 2017: 3).
Interestingly, most illicitly trafficked firearms emerge to the surface only after their diversion into the hands of terrorist or criminal groups. Moreover, firearms trafficking cases involving OCGs or terrorist groups are often reported and recorded as the latter, which, when considered as the principal offence, provides for broader investigative powers.