The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
The 2001 SADC Protocol is an instrument with a broad scope that seeks to prevent and combat the illicit manufacturing of firearms, ammunition, and other related materials. It also seeks to regulate the legal import and export of small arms, and curb the transit of these weapons across and within the region. In addition, it seeks to harmonize national legislation on the manufacture and ownership of small arms and light weapons.
The proliferation of small arms in southern Africa is a direct consequence of the years of militarization and conflict that have characterized the region — in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and elsewhere. G. Oosthuysen, 'Small Arms Proliferation and Control in Southern Africa', South African Institute of International Affairs, Braamfontein, 1996, p. 38. The availability of vast quantities of arms, in the hands of civilians, former combatants, and the security forces, fuelled both political and criminal violence in a region ill-equipped to deal with the threat. When the Southern African Development Community (SADC) started considering the issue of proliferation of small arms, it found a region marked by ‘outdated national legislation, obsolete regulatory measures, precarious peace processes, pervious borders and ... lack of capacity on the part of both governments and civil society to effectively monitor the legal and illegal movement of firearms’. N. Stott, ‘Implementing the Southern Africa Firearms Protocol: Identifying Challenges and Priorities’, Paper 83, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa, November 2003, p. 1.
In May 1998, at a meeting convened by the Institute for Security Studies and Saferworld, government officials from SADC and the European Union (EU) agreed to draft an Action Programme on Light Arms and Illicit Arms Trafficking. A.M.S. Bah, 'Toward a Regional Approach to Human Security in Southern Africa', Centre for International Relations, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2004, p. 15. This document was endorsed by SADC and EU foreign ministers in Vienna in November 1998. In August 1999, the SADC Council of Ministers met in Maputo, Mozambique, where it issued its first statement on the issue of small arms and light weapons. The Council mandated SADC to establish a regional policy on control of small arms and light weapons, and named the Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) as implementation agency, with a mandate to coordinate the SADC Policy on Small Arms and Cross Border Crime Prevention. By entrusting the development of the policy to a police body — SARPCCO is an organization independent of SADC — SADC states adopted a pragmatic approach, framing the issue as one of domestic security and crime prevention and control.
The EU also remained engaged, signalling that funding could be made available for the implementation of such a plan. In April 1999, at a meeting in Cape Town, the EU-SADC Cooperation Executive Committee recommended the creation of a technical group on small arms issues. This was set up in September 1999, when EU and SADC officials met again to discuss plans for the implementation of the Regional Action Programme. J. Cilliers, 'Building Security in Southern Africa', Monograph No. 43, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa, November 1999, p. 66.
Within SARPCCO, work proceeded within the legal subcommittee, consisting of legal officers from the national police services of SARPCCO member states. A working group was established to develop the small arms policy, comprised of representatives from Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, as well as the SADC Secretariat. Its first meeting was held in Gaborone, Botswana, in October 1999. The working group agreed to work towards a declaration that would subsequently lead to the negotiation of a legally-binding sub-regional protocol and implementation programme. N. Stott, ‘Implementing the Southern Africa Firearms Protocol: Identifying Challenges and Priorities’, Paper 83, Institute for Security Studies, South Africa, November 2003, p. 3. The National Police Commissioners endorsed the proposed Protocol in Botswana in February 2000. B. Coetzee, ‘Building capacity to implement small arms control’, Focus on Arms in Africa, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2005, p. 6. SARPCCO also took the lead in developing broad guidelines for its implementation.
On 9 March 2001, SADC Heads of State or Government signed a ‘Declaration concerning Firearms, Ammunition and other related materials’ whereby they committed to review their national legislation on a broad range of issue, and undertook to ‘develop and adopt a legal instrument in the form of a regional Protocol on the control of firearms and ammunition and other related material.’ 2001 Declaration Concerning Firearms, Ammunition and Other Related Materials in the Southern African Development Community This Declaration paved the way for the formal adoption, in August 2001, of the SADC Protocol. Angola was the only SARPCCO member state who did not sign the Protocol, favouring it in principle but citing technical difficulties. A.M.S. Bah, 'Toward a Regional Approach to Human Security in Southern Africa', Centre for International Relations, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2004, p. 16.
The SADC Protocol adopts a broad definition of ‘firearm’, which combines with only slight amendments the 2001 Firearms Protocol definition and the list of small arms and light weapons proposed in 1997 by the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms (Art. 1). Ammunition is explicitly covered. ‘Other related materials’ refers to parts and components.
States are required to put in place adequate laws to control the manufacturing, possession, and use of firearms, ammunition, and related materials (Art. 5(1) and 5(3)(e).). Laws must provide for marking at time of manufacture (Art. 5(3)(g).). Any firearm, ammunition, and other related materials manufactured without adequate authorization will be seized, confiscated, and forfeited (Art. 5(3)(h)). States parties will also move to ensure legal uniformity in the sphere of sentencing (Art. 5(3)(n)).
The unrestricted possession of small arms by civilians is prohibited (Art. 5(3)(a).); possession and use of light weapons by civilians is totally prohibited (Art. 5(3)(b).).
Restrictions on small arms possession include competency testing of prospective firearm owners (Art. 5(3)(i)), and restrictions on the number of firearms that can be owned by any person (Art. 5(3)(j).). It is prohibited to supply false information to obtain a permit (Art. 5(3)(l).). States are required to keep a centralized register of civilian-owned firearms (Art. 5(3)(d).), as well as of firearm owners and commercial firearms traders (Art. 7.). Licenses held must be monitored and audited (Art. 5(3)(j).). Similarly, states must put in place controls on adequate storage and appropriate use of firearms (Art. 5(3)(i).). The pawning and pledging of firearms, ammunition, and related materials are prohibited (Art. 5(3)(k)).
Confiscated or unlicensed firearms must be disposed of (Art. 11). States parties are obliged to set up programmes encouraging voluntary surrender of legal or illegal firearms (Art. 12), as well as national and regional programmes of public education and awareness (Art. 13). States are also required to consider undertaking joint operations to locate, seize, and destroy caches of firearms, ammunition, and other related materials (Art. 11).
States parties undertake to improve transparency in civilian firearm accumulation, flow, and relevant policies (Art. 16). They must also ensure legal uniformity in the sphere of sentencing (Art. 5(3)(n).).
States must maintain national inventories of firearms, ammunition, and related materials held by security forces or other state bodies (Art. 8(a).). They are required to improve their capacity to safely store weapons and manage stockpiles (Art. 8(b).). In particular, to prevent diversion, they are obliged to ensure collection, safe storage, destruction, and responsible disposal of firearms rendered surplus, redundant, or obsolete through peace agreements, or demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, and re-equipment or restructuring of armed forces or other armed state bodies (Art. 10).
Procedures for import, export, and transit of firearm shipments must be coordinated (Art. 5(3)(c).). In particular, states parties are required to establish national firearm databases to facilitate exchange of information on imports, exports, and transfers (Art. 16(b).). Import, export and transfer documents and end-user control certificates must be harmonized (Art. 8(c)), and states parties must establish systems to verify the validity and authenticity of documents (Art. 8(d).). Any firearm, ammunition, or related material conveyed in transit without adequate authorization will be seized, confiscated, and forfeited (Art. 5.3.h). States are also obliged to ensure uniformity in sentencing for convictions (Art. 5(3)(n).).
Transferred weapons must be marked on the barrel frame and — where possible — the slide, and states undertake to harmonize systems of markings, adopting a system that identifies the country of manufacture, serial number, and manufacturer (Arts. 5(3)(g) and 9.). Adequate records must be kept.
Brokering activities will be regulated (Art. 5(3)(m).), and violation of arms embargoes is to be criminalized (Art. 5(2).).
In order to have the operational capacity to implement the Protocol, states must establish national training programmes, databases, and communication systems, as well as to create cooperation structures (Art. 6). They will offer mutual legal assistance (Art. 14), and ensure cooperation among law enforcement agencies (Art. 15). This means, in particular, that each state will designate a competent authority for legal assistance (Art. 14(4).), as well as a national focal contact point within its respective law enforcement agency (Art. 15(e).).
A Committee will be established to oversee the implementation of the Protocol (Art. 17).
Last updated on: 03 August 2017