Criminal Justice Response Against Arms Trafficking

Implementing period: February 2020 - March 2023

Budget: US$1,899,999

Through this project, the UNODC’s Global Firearms Programme (GFP) assisted the jurisdictions in the Western Balkans to strengthen their criminal justice response to firearms related criminality and reach the goals and targets established under the Roadmap for a sustainable solution to the illegal possession, misuse and trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons and their ammunition in the Western Balkans (Roadmap).

UNODC’s GFP provided support in four of its mandated areas: (i) legislative assistance to apply the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto (UNTOC) and its Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms Protocol), with a focus on the criminal and criminal procedural law provisions; (ii) support for enhancing the knowledge and skills of law enforcement and prosecutors to detect, investigate and prosecute firearms trafficking cases; (iii) support for collection and analysis of criminal justice data; and (iv) facilitation of international cooperation between criminal justice practitioners.

The UNODC GFP’s assisted the Western Balkans jurisdictions to achieve measurable results in the implementation of the Roadmap, including harmonized legal frameworks, and an increase in the number of cases of firearms trafficking and their links to other serious crimes investigated and individuals brought to justice, prosecuted and adjudicated for firearms trafficking offences.

Overall achievements:

  • Legislation harmonized with the UN Firearms Protocol:
    • UNODC produced six legislative gap analyses, in Albania, BiH, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo*. These analyses identified areas where the criminal legislation was not harmonized with the requirements set forth in the UN Firearms Protocol (UN FP). Out of all the jurisdictions, Kosovo was identified as having its criminal code already in line with the UN FP.
    • In addition, three comparative analyses of the material and procedural regulation of illicit trafficking offences (drugs, firearms and human trafficking) in Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia were developed in 2021. These papers serve as a basis for further harmonization of criminal justice legislation with the UN FP.
    • Throughout the project’s implementation, the UNODC provided continuous support to all jurisdictions, including to the working groups under the Ministry of Justice in Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, to address the identified gaps and bring criminal legislation in line with the UN FP. It also facilitated regional exchange on this subject, creating a solid basis for harmonizing criminal legislation at the regional level.
    • To support the drafting of the new provisions, the UNODC organized meetings with legislative experts and members of the legal committees of Parliaments. These meetings aimed to raise awareness among MPs about the necessary changes in firearms criminal legislation.
    • As a result of the project, progress was marked across the jurisdictions on harmonizing criminal legislation with the UN Firearms Protocol, though at various levels. Concrete provisions were provided to authorities for consideration or incorporation in respective legislation. In North Macedonia and Montenegro, amended criminal codes were officially adopted, with provisions harmonized with the UN FP. The achieved progress will be built upon in the subsequent project’s phase that the UNODC will implement within the MPTF.
  • Increased capacity and resources of WB authorities to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate firearms trafficking:
    • Supported the development of comprehensive Guidelines on Investigation and Prosecution of Firearms Offences (Guidelines). The Guidelines were the result of extensive collaboration and three expert group meetings between experts from 30 jurisdictions, including the Western Balkans ones, along with leading organizations such as FRONTEX, INTERPOL, and NABIS. The Guidelines were translated into Albanian, Macedonian, and BSCM languages, thereby ensuring their accessibility and relevance to practitioners in the region. The Guidelines were integrated as a training material into curricula of judicial academies and training centers across Serbia, North Macedonia, BiH, Albania, and Montenegro.
    • A comprehensive capacity development programme was developed and implemented on the identification and tracing of firearms, and collection and admissibility of electronic evidence. 281 prosecutors and law enforcement officers (139 women and 142 men) enhanced their knowledge and skills on the matter through 12 specialized training sessions. This included creating a Practical Guide on collecting electronic evidence, which were made accessible in all Western Balkans languages, as well as four video modules for firearm identification.
    • 14 inter-institutional meetings were supported, with law enforcement, customs services and Prosecutor’s Offices from all jurisdictions, resulting in enhanced inter-institutional exchange, fostered dialogue and collaboration towards the more effective implementation of the Criminal Procedure Code, particularly in firearms cases.
    • Through five community of practitioners’ meetings, UNODC enabled 228 criminal justice practitioners (104 women and 124 men) to review ongoing practice, collectively assess contentious legal questions, discuss procedural issues, establish common sentencing practices, better understand special investigative measures (SIMs) and utilization of SIMs in response to firearms offenses. This contributed to the harmonization and standardization of court practices in firearms related cases across the region.
    • Six Firearms Case Law collections were developed, one for each jurisdiction, as a valuable tool for strengthening institutional capacities in responding to illicit firearms trade. Additional case law collection was developed on the application of special investigative measures in illicit trafficking cases in Serbia.
    • 100 court verdicts from the Western Balkans jurisdictions relating to firearms cases were published in the online database SHERLOC, resulting in the Western Balkans having the largest number of firearms cases available online compared to any other region globally. This established a foundation for comparative analysis and harmonization of court practices among the jurisdictions and for enhancing the overall understanding and management of firearms-related offenses.
  • Systematic collection and analysis of criminal justice data across the Criminal Justice Sector
    • The UNODC developed and validated a baseline assessment on the firearms data in the criminal justice system across the Western Balkans jurisdictions, including identification of institutions responsible for data collection and processing, an analysis of data collection practices, and a set of recommendations to improve these practices within each jurisdiction. The baseline assessment also offered a comparative analysis between the jurisdictions' data and UNODC's Illicit Arms Flows Questionnaires (IAFQ), providing a holistic perspective on the data landscape and laying the groundwork for more harmonized and efficient data collection strategies in the future.

The project contributed to Roadmap Goals 1, 2, 3 and key performance indicators 1, 3, 8, 9 and 10 of the Roadmap for a sustainable solution to the illegal possession, misuse and trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons and their ammunition in the Western Balkans.