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Marking, Record-keeping, and Tracing

The International Tracing Instrument, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2005, defines small arms tracing as ‘the systematic tracking of illicit small arms and light weapons found or seized on the territory of a State from the point of manufacture or the point of importation through the lines of supply to the point at which they became illicit’.

The first step in any tracing operation is to uniquely identify the weapon on the basis of its physical characteristics and markings. Then, with the cooperation of the states that previously manufactured and imported the weapon, changes in ownership are tracked using available documentary records. The ultimate, but often elusive, goal of tracing is to identify the point in the transfer chain at which the (typically) legal weapon entered the illicit market. The three pillars of marking, record-keeping, and cooperation are essential to successful tracing.

The International Tracing Instrument commits all UN member states to specific marking and record-keeping standards and establishes common rules for tracing cooperation. It does not apply to ammunition, however. Ammunition tracing still relies on an incomplete system of stamping and a patchwork of national regulations.

   

Small Arms Survey Publications

  • A Guide to the UN Small Arms Process: 2016 Update, by Sarah Parker with Marcus Wilson, June 2016. Handbook No. 2 (2014 edition available in French)

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  • Measuring Illicit Arms Flows: SDG Target 16.4, May 2016. Research Note No. 57.

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  • Documenting Small Arms and Light Weapons: A Basic Guide, July 2015. Issue Brief No. 14 (also available in French).

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  • What the National Reports Reveal: Trends in UN PoA and ITI Reporting, June 2015. Issue Brief No. 13.

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  • Behind the Curve: New Technologies, New Control Challenges, edited by Benjamin King and Glenn McDonald, February 2015. Occasional Paper No. 32.

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  • Documenting Weapons in Situations of Armed Conflict: Methods and Trends, June 2014. Research Note No. 42, Weapons and Markets.

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  • Identifying Sources: Small-calibre Ammunition in Côte d'Ivoire, by Holger Anders, a joint publication of the Small Arms Survey/Security Assessment North Africa project and the Integrated Embargo Monitoring Unit of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire. June 2014. Special Report No. 21. (This report is also available in French.)

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  • Controlling Small Arms: Consolidation, Innovation and Relevance in Research and Policy, edited by Peter Batchelor and Kai Michael Kenkel, published by Routledge, January 2014.

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  • Marking of Firearms and Ammunition, November 2013. Research Note No. 36, Measures and Programmes.

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  • FAL Rifles in Libya: A Guide to Data Gathering, by Damien Spleeters, July 2013. Security Assessment in North Africa Dispatch No. 1 (also available in Arabic)

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  • The Headstamp Trail: An Assessment of Small-calibre Ammunition Found in Libya, by N.R. Jenzen-Jones, May 2013. Working Paper No. 16 (also available in Arabic)

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  • Making a Mark: Reporting on Firearms Marking in the RECSA Region, by James Bevan and Benjamin King, a joint publication of Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States, and the Small Arms Survey; with support from the US Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. April 2013. Special Report No. 19.

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  • Lessons Learned from Weapon-marking Initiatives, April 2013. Research Note No. 28, Measures and Programmes (also available in French).

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  • The Programme of Action Implementation Monitor (Phase 1): Assessing Reported Progress, by Sarah Parker with Katherine Green, August 2012. Occasional Paper No. 30

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  • Weapons Tracing and Peace Support Operations: Theory or Practice?, March 2012. Issue Brief No. 4 (also available in French)

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  • Ammunition Marking: Current Practices and Future Possibilities, December 2011. Issue Brief No. 3

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  • The Method behind the Mark: A Review of Firearm Marking Technologies, December 2010. Issue Brief No. 1.

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  • Marking, Record-keeping, and Tracing Implementation Support Cards. Designed and distributed to promote easy understanding of the International Tracing Instrument (ITI). Produced with support from the US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

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  • Ammunition Tracing Kit: Protocols and Procedures for Recording Small-calibre Ammunition, developed by James Bevan, June 2008 (also available in French).

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  • Following the Lethal Trail: Identifying Sources of Illicit Ammunition, by Holger Anders, 2006. In Stéphanie Pézard and Holger Anders, eds. Targeting Ammunition: A Primer.

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  • McDonald, Glenn. 2006. The International Tracing Instrument: Challenges and Opportunities. Paper Presented at PrepCom Side Event (2006 Small Arms Review Conference). United Nations, New York, 13 January.

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  • The Scope and Implications of a Tracing Mechanism for Small Arms and Light Weapons. 2003. Co-published with UNIDIR. Also available in French.

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Other Publications

  • Batchelor, Peter and Glenn McDonald. 2006. Too Close for Comfort: An Analysis of the UN Tracing Negotiations. In Disarmament Forum, 2005/4 - 2006/1. Geneva: UNIDIR.

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  • Berkol, Ilhan. 2004. Marquage, enregistrement et traçage des armes légères et de petit calibre: projet de convention. Brussels: GRIP.

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  • Greene, Owen. 2001. Enhancing Traceability of Small Arms and Light Weapons Flows: Developing an International Marking and Tracing Regime. Biting the Bullet. Briefing 5. London and Washington, D.C.: BASIC, International Alert, and Saferworld.

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  • Berkol, Ilhan. 2000. Marquage et traçage des armes légères: vers l'amélioration de la transparence et du contrôle. Brussels: GRIP.

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  • WFSA (World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities). 2000. Firearms Marking: Model Standards and Common Serial Number Codes. Report of the Workshop held in Baia Sardinia (Olbia), Island of Sardinia, Italy, 22-24 June.

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Instruments and Documents

  • OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). 2008. OSCE Handbook of Best Practices on Conventional Ammunition. Vienna: OSCE.

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  • OAS (Organization of American States). 2007. Model Legislation On The Marking And Tracing Of Firearms. Approved by the Consultative Committee on 19 April.

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  • UNGA (United Nations General Assembly). 2005. International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (‘International Tracing Instrument’). A/60/88.  27 June (annexe).

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  • Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). 2003. Best Practice Guide on Marking, Record-keeping and Traceability of Small Arms and Light Weapons. Handbook of Best Practices on Small Arms and Light Weapons. 19 September. FSC GAL/64/03/Rev 2.

    More information
  • UN (United Nations). 2003. Final Report by the Group of Governmental Experts on Tracing Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons. A/58/138. 11 July.

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Further Resources


     
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