2023 – Year in Review

Throughout 2023, SEESAC continued to support the authorities in South East and East Europe in building effective, accountable, and inclusive security sector institutions. This entailed facilitating regional cooperation processes at the strategic and operational levels, coupled with targeted assistance measures on the ground, thus contributing to confidence-building and a #SaferRegion.

Monitoring Trends: Alarming Rise in Firearm Fatalities

Data from SEESAC's Armed Violence Monitoring Platform (AVMP) reveals a stable pattern in the frequency of firearm incidents, with 3,495 recorded in 2023, an increase of 5% from 2022. Encouragingly, weapon seizures have accounted for a significant 48% of these incidents over the years, highlighting law enforcement's proactive efforts to curb firearm proliferation.

However, a concerning surge in fatalities in 2023, surpassing the overall firearm deaths reported in 2022 by 17%, calls for our attention. This increase can be attributed to two tragic mass shootings in Serbia in May, resulting in the loss of 19 lives and injuries to 19 others.

The firearm incidents documented in 2023 tragically resulted in the loss of 151 lives, including 115 men and 35 women. Additionally, out of the 429 people injured in these incidents, 322 were men, and 37 were women, based on available gender-related data.

Fostering Regional Cooperation: Information and Knowledge Exchange Leading to Standardization

With SEESAC's facilitation, regional cooperation on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) control was further bolstered both at strategic and operational levels across the region. The 17th and 18th regional SALW Commissions meetings facilitated the exchange of expertise and experiences, contributing to more strategic and preventive approach to SALW Control.

Operational cooperation was facilitated at the 18th and 19th meetings of the South East Europe Firearms Experts Network (SEEFEN), fostering the region-wide information exchange, addressing challenges, and staying abreast of new trends in combatting illicit arms trafficking. Both platforms bring together participants from the Western Balkans, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine.  

Advancing Legislative and Policy Framework

Support for the harmonization of arms control legislation with the EU Acquis and related international obligations continued in 2023 through on-demand advisory services, development of tables of concordance and drafting relevant legislation in the area of SALW and civil use of explosives, as well as organization of workshops including the Regional Workshop on the Harmonization of Legislation in Brussels.

As part of the capacity assistance provided to policy makers on SALW Control, SEESAC supported senior members of the SALW Commissions in several jurisdictions to enhance their foreign language skills, which facilitates their communication with counterparts in the EU and other regions. In the Republic of Moldova, such support was provided during 2023 to the Head of the General Police Inspectorate along with other key members of the institution.

SEESAC also provided further support to Serbia’s Coordination Council on SALW to develop the Action Plan on the implementation of the SALW Control Roadmap.

Building Resilience: Strengthening Institutional Capacities in the Fight Against Arms Trafficking

In addition to the SEEFEN Network, capacity development of key institutions for combatting arms trafficking was facilitated through technical level region-wide platforms such as the Regional Meeting of Border Police Services and Customs, the Meeting of the Criminal Police Services Processes, the Annual Workshop for Firearms Focal Points Process from the Western Balkans, Moldova, and the European Union, and the Regional Workshop on Crime Scene Investigations, coupled with SEESAC's multifaceted approach, encompassing improved procedures, equipment, and targeted law enforcement training. 

Comprehensive support worth 2.7 million EUR of equipment for the Border Police Services of Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia saw significant progress in 2023. In addition, all Western Balkans jurisdictions developed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with SEESAC support. Additionally, cooperation with FRONTEX resulted in the development and distribution of the Handbook for Border Guards and Customs – Regional Western Balkans version, accompanied by Firearm Detection Training for Border and Customs officials from six Western Balkans jurisdictions.

Criminal Police Services in the region were also supported in countering illicit arms trafficking by developing Standard Operating Procedures and providing equipment and training

The operationalization of the Firearms Focal Points throughout the region enjoyed continued support through the provision of expert advice, technical equipment, and organization of tailor-made trainings, support for the development of SOPs, study visits, regional trainings, and workshops

Authorities in the Western Balkans had their crime scene investigation (CSI) capacities boosted through the development of reports from the Initial Audit of CSI Units in six jurisdictions, procurement of equipment, and alignment of existing SOPs with best practices outlined by the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes. The Regional Workshop on Digital Crime Scene Documenting further strengthened Western Balkans CSI units by providing insights into investigation techniques, maintaining the chain of custody, and using digital photography.

SEESAC continued working on the Research on the factors fueling the demand and misuse of firearms in the Western Balkans.

Physical Security and Stockpile Management: Strengthened Capacities and Increased Security in the Western Balkans and Moldova

Risks of proliferation of SALW and their ammunition were diminished in several ways, including the destruction of 3,932 pieces of SALW; 1,314 pieces of SALW were destroyed by melting in Moldova in May 2023, while 798 pieces of weapons were melted down in Montenegro in June. On 9 July 2023, SEESAC supported the destruction of 1000 SALW in Kosovo*. Additionally, support was also provided for the destruction of 820 SALW at the Ilijas smelting facility in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 2023.

Support for enhanced security of SALW storages and evidence rooms through infrastructure upgrades has continued in 2023. The security and safety of the Duvaniste storage location of the MoI of Serbia, including technical handover to the beneficiary, was completed in May 2023.

Security upgrade of 30 and construction of one evidence room are ongoing across the whole region, as well as the introduction of a barcode module at one storage location. Upgrades are being executed in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, the Republic of Moldova and Serbia. Additional funding has been secured in September for the overhaul of the weapons management system and up to six evidence rooms in Albania.

Capacities of 200 MoI police officers from Serbia were increased through four workshops.

Additionally, a regional workshop on weapons and ammunition management was held in September 2023 in Skopje, to increase stockpile management capacities for PSSM personnel of armed forces from the Western Balkans and Moldova.

Mainstreaming Gender in SALW Control: Addressing Domestic Violence Risks and Gender-Responsive Firearm License Approval

Working towards mainstreaming gender in SALW legal and policy frameworks, SEESAC drafted two Tools:

  • Tool for the first-line responders to assess and address risks of the misuse of firearms in domestic violence. To that end, the Regional Working Group for the Prevention of the Use of Firearms in Domestic Violence through Risk Assessment was established and held two regional meetings.
  • Tool for gender-sensitive firearm license approval. For that purpose, SEESAC established the Regional Working Group for the Development of the Tool for Gender Sensitive Firearms License Approval with professionals in charge of license approval from 5 Western Balkans jurisdictions. Two meetings of the Working Group were organized.

In addition, SEESAC continued the development of a regional analysis of the institutional response to the misuse of firearms in domestic violence, as well as a regional analysis of women's participation in SALW control. 

Building the Knowledge Base: Monitoring Trends and In-Depth Insights

SEESAC continued to deepen and widen its understanding of SALW-related trends, causes and effects. Thus, in 2023, four In-Focus reports were published, delving into specific issues ranging from accidental shootings, weapon seizures, firearm incidents in the criminal context and Firearms in the context of Domestic Violence. A more general analysis of trends gathered through the Armed Violence Monitoring Platform was conducted in four (4) issues of the Armed Violence Monitor Quarterly Reports.

The Regional Arms Export Report 2021, a flagship initiative developed in close cooperation with the authorities from the region was also published.


Awareness raising: SEESAC Multi-Faceted Approach to Addressing Firearms Misuse in the Western Balkans

SEESAC remained actively engaged in responding to factors fueling the demand and misuse of firearms in the Western Balkans through awareness activities, as well as through the development of operational capacities of key beneficiaries to execute awareness-raising activities.

Campaigns at the Local Level

SEESAC extended support to two national campaigns, i.e. a voluntary SALW collection campaign conducted by the MoI of Serbia, yielding unprecedented results with the collection of 82,398 pieces of SALW and 26,485 explosive ordinances by 30 June.

Furthermore, in late December 2023, SEESAC supported the Ministry of Interior in Serbia to launch an awareness raising campaign “Be a good example – do not play with pyrotechnics” aiming to inform the public about the overall risks associated with the use of pyrotechnics, particularly when handled by children and minors. 

An awareness-raising campaign in Kosovo from June to September 2023, addressed celebratory shootings during the summer months.

Regional Collaboration

The Western Balkans Regional Awareness Raising Task Force held two meetings in 2023, contributing directly to the ongoing, region-wide activities to advance SALW control through more diverse and advanced awareness tools.

Furthermore, the regional, social-media, awareness-raising campaign Celebrate with your heart - #BetheStaroftheParty, initiated in December 2022, was brought to a close in mid-January 2023.

SEESAC’s ongoing commitment to raising awareness gender-based violence (GBV) with firearms in the Western Balkans resulted in:

  • Conducting a Regional Training of Journalists on Ethical Reporting of GBV Incidents with the Focus on Those Where SALW is Used in March 2023.
  • Finalizing Analysis of Media Reporting of Firearm Misuse in Male GBV Against Women in the Western Balkans.
  • Drafting the Guidelines for Ministries of Interior and Police Services on How to Better Communicate with the Media Regarding Incidents of GBV with SALW.
  • Conducting jurisdiction-level training on how to better inform on GBV with firearms for journalists and relevant representatives of the MoIs and Police Services in four jurisdictions.

Coordination and Monitoring: the Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap

In close cooperation with the EU, Germany, France and the Regional Cooperation Council, SEESAC is successfully monitoring and coordinating the Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap, which has become a blueprint for regional approaches to SALW control globally.1

High-Level Meeting

SEESAC supported the organization of a High-Level Meeting hosted by the European Commission in Brussels on 16 May 2023. This meeting, conducted in close cooperation with the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European External Action Service, focused on the implementation of specific actions of the EU action plan on firearms trafficking, including the Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap. Representatives from Ministers of Interior and representatives of Ministries of Foreign Affairs from the Western Balkans authorities, EU Member States, Moldova, Ukraine, and key international organizations gathered to review progress and discuss the way forward.

Regional Roadmap Coordination Meetings

SEESAC facilitated the 9th and 10th Regional Roadmap Coordination meetings held on 4-5 July 2023 and 19-20 December 2023. Preceding these gatherings, six local coordination meetings were organized in June and November 2023 by the SALW Commissions in each jurisdiction, with support from SEESAC. These meetings, coupled with the 9th and 10th biannual regional progress reports, allowed for a comprehensive review of progress, challenges, and future plans among national counterparts, donors, and international organizations. SEESAC played a pivotal role in synthesizing inputs received from each jurisdiction, aligning them with Key Performance Indicators and Roadmap goals.

Mid-Term Review

SEESAC conducted a comprehensive and independent Mid-Term Review of the Roadmap implementation between October 2022 and January 2023. This review, involving over 175 individuals from national authorities, regional and international organizations, and donors, provided crucial insights into the advancement of goals outlined in the Roadmap.


Parliamentary Engagement

Additionally, SEESAC co-organized a regional High-Level Meeting on 21-22 June 2023, in Tirana, Albania, in cooperation with the Parliamentary Forum on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PFSALW), the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), and the Parliament of Albania. The meeting, attended by approximately 15 parliamentarians and SALW Commission representatives from the Western Balkans, emphasized the significance of parliamentary engagement in fostering peace and security.

SALW Control Roadmap Beyond 2024

Following the recommendations of the Roadmap Mid-Term Review and the agreement by Western Balkans authorities to continue the implementation of the Roadmap beyond 2024, SEESAC initiated the development and discussion of the first draft of the Revised Roadmap in 2023.

Multi-Partner Trust Fund, New Contributions, and Initiatives

SEESAC served as the Secretariat for the Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) in 2023, effectively coordinating and monitoring its activities. The Mid-term Evaluation of the MPTF, completed with SEESAC's support, provided valuable insights and its conclusions were presented to the key stakeholders.

The Trust Fund received new contributions from principal donors, amounting to US$ 3.36 million in 2023, augmenting its total value to approximately US$27.5 million.

As a result of the 3rd Call for Proposals launched in March 2023, the Trust Fund received eight (8) project proposals by the deadline of 16 May 2023. The eligible offices, UNODC and UNDP, put forward proposals that build and expand upon the solid progress made in support of the SALW Control Roadmap, in line with the recommendations from the mid-term evaluation of the Trust Fund. In October 2023, the Trust Fund's Steering Committee approved the new projects, with a cumulative value of US$ 10.7 million, covering all Western Balkans jurisdictions.

Recognition, Broader Impact, and Agenda for Peace

The latest annual UN Secretary General Report on Small Arms and Light Weapons highlights the impact of the Western Balkans Roadmap, referring to the Roadmap Multi-Partner Trust Fund and findings of the Roadmap Mid-Term Review. Additionally, it highlighted the Roadmap's influence on the development of new initiatives in the Caribbean and Central America, signaling its broader significance and relevance in addressing regional challenges.

Based on this, the first recommendation of the SG to the States is the following: "States are encouraged to develop and implement regional and subregional instruments, road maps and action plans to address region-specific challenges related to the diversion of small arms and light weapons and ammunition, as well as their proliferation and misuse, in accordance with international arms control treaties and political frameworks." This is also very similar to the UN Secretary General’s recommendation in his recent Agenda for Peace.

As part of activities aimed at ensuring the sharing of good practices and strengthening intra-regional cooperation, support was provided as requested in the development of the monitoring framework of the Caribbean Firearms Roadmap. In addition, in October 2023 SEESAC supported the development of the initial concept of a Firearms Roadmap for Central America.

The Armed Violence Monitoring Platform, created and overseen by SEESAC, has garnered recognition beyond the region as a commendable model. It served as a source of inspiration for Project INSIGHT, implemented by the Flemish Peace Institute. In echoing SEESAC's AVMP, the Flemish Peace Institute established and launched a digital www.gunviolence.eu platform, designed to provide real-time tracking of firearm incidents across 27 EU countries.


Gender Equality in the Security Sector: SEESAC’s Continued Support and Achievements in 2023

SEESAC continued supporting Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces in the Western Balkans for evidence-based policy development and implementation aiming at improved integration of women into the armed forces in line with the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. Through regional platforms for knowledge exchange and information sharing, the 16th Regional Meeting of Gender Equality Mechanisms in Ministries of Defense and Armed Forces was organized, as well as the first meeting of Gender Advisers in the MoDs and AFs, enabling networking and exchange of practical solutions on integrating a gender perspective in defence.

As a follow-up of the regional baseline study on integrating a gender perspective in military education, SEESAC supported the development of the online gender awareness course and tailor-made knowledge tools to standardize gender training in MoDs and AFs.

To boost the gender responsiveness of the military leadership, SEESAC completed the two Gender Coach Programs in the Armed Forces of Montenegro and at the Military Academy in Serbia and organized the first regional key leaders seminar.

The final project evaluation was conducted in 2023, confirming that the regional initiative stands out in terms of approaches for building internal capacities and expertise of the MoDs and AFs, which has proven to be highly successful and contribute to the sustainability of the project's interventions.2

Please see 1) UN Secretary-General Agenda for Peace; 2) UN Secretary-General 2023 Report to Security Council on small arms and light weapons; 3) Joint press statement from the EU - WB Ministerial Forum on Justice and Home Affairs (26-27 October 2023).

SEESAC activities are funded by the EU, France, Germany, Norway, the USA, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the Slovak Republic. 

* References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999). This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ opinion on Kosovo Declaration of Independence.