South Eastern and Eastern Europe Authorities, International Partners, and Donors Review SALW Control Progress, Priorities, and Plans

To review the small arms and light weapons (SALW) activities and their key results achieved during the last year across South East and East Europe and reflect on the planned actions and priorities for 2023, the online Annual Meeting of the Regional Steering Group (RSG) on SALW, co-chaired by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was held on 7 March 2023.

As part of the implementation mechanisms of the Regional Implementation Plan to Combat the Proliferation and Impact of Small Arms and Light Weapons, the RSG monitors progress in the implementation of the revised Regional Implementation Plan in the form of peer reviews, reports progress to RCC, promotes operational cooperation between countries, and provides strategic advice for the implementation of SEESAC operational activities within South East Europe.

The meeting discussed SEESAC’s results achieved during 2022, while the priorities for 2023 were reconfirmed. It also provided a forum for the exchange of information on current and future SALW control activities in the region and challenges encountered and reviewed national and regional SALW control priorities and plans for 2023.

Over the years, a stable trend regarding the number of firearm incidents has been seen, with approximately 3000 reported cases per year, the latest data for 2022 from SEESAC’s Armed Violence Monitoring Platform show.  Weapon seizures accounted for the majority of these cases, which is a positive signal indicating a reduction in the number of illegal SALW across the region. Other encouraging trends were observed compared to the previous year, including a decrease in the overall number of victims, as well as a drop in the number of people who were killed, injured or threatened with firearms. Unfortunately, women continue to be disproportionately more affected as victims of these incidents, especially in the context of domestic violence involving firearms.

The RSG meetings are an essential part of the SEESAC’s governance structure that provide strategic guidance and ensure regional ownership. This year’s meeting gathered the representatives of the National Focal Points for SALW from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Croatia. The representatives of the UNDP Country Offices in South East and East Europe, the European Union, EMPACT, EUROPOL, FRONTEX, OSCE, Flemish Peace Institute, Interpol, NATO, UNODC, UNODA, UNIDIR, Small Arms Survey, NABIS, and International Trust Fund, also attended the meeting, as well as the representatives of the key donor countries - Germany, France, Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States.

Outlining the European Union’s strong support of the efforts of South East Europe, to prevent and counter the threats deriving from the proliferation and misuse of firearms, Ambassador Marjolijn van Deelen, Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament of the European Union External Action Service, said that important results have been achieved by the region including on further harmonisation of the legal framework with the EU directives and regulations, strengthening of regional cooperation at both policy and operational level, advancement of gender mainstreaming into arms control policies and practices, countering misuse and trafficking of firearms, establishment of the Firearms Focal Points. Ambassador van Deelen pointed out the importance of SALW Control Roadmap’s sustainability, ownership, and the whole government approach in tackling the small arms and light weapons control challenges and underlined the EU’s readiness to continue providing support to preventing illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and their ammunition.

Moreover, Mr. Gerd Trogemann, Manager at the UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub, said that the misuse of firearms poses the most lethal threat to both security and safety of citizens in South East Europe and beyond and emphasised that it continues to disproportionately affect women. Mr. Trogemann drew attention to the fact that four women were murdered with firearms in the Western Balkans in the week before the meeting, which is, he said, a sad reminder of the severity of the misuse of firearms in domestic violence. He added that the meeting aimed to ensure that SEESAC’s work continues to reflect the realities and priorities as expressed and confirmed by the national authorities and the National Focal Points as well as addresses contemporary threats stemming from the illicit possession and misuse of firearms.

Reflecting on the current security challenges in the region and outlining the latest data on the misuse of firearms across South East Europe, Ms. Jorida Shytaj, RCC's Senior Political Advisor, reminded the participants that the fight against the illegal possession, misuse and trafficking of small arms and light weapons in the South-East Europe is conducted jointly, through the cooperation of all governments in the region, and the strong support of the international partners. She said that RCC fully supports the long-standing work of SEESAC and will continue to do so, in reducing the negative impact of the misuse and proliferation of firearms, but also in support of the authorities in ensuring an effective and efficient small arms control, thus contributing to the region’s EU accession process that remains its strategic political priority.

The RSG meetings are being organised on an annual basis since 2002. They are composed of representatives of the governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia, and are co-chaired by RCC and UNDP. Institutions and international organisations such as the European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are usually part of the RSG in quality of observers.

The meeting is organized with funding support provided by the European Union through EU Council Decision (CD) 2019/2111 in support of SEESAC disarmament and arms control activities in South-East Europe reducing the threat of illicit small arms and light weapons and their ammunition.