Across regions and around the world, people have endured daily dangers and unacceptable suffering from the use of explosive weapons. For those living in crowded urban areas, the perils are multiplied. … Parties to conflict and States must avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and work to remove conflict from urban areas altogether.

Developments and trends, 2022

Throughout 2022, the world continued to suffer from the illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms, light weapons and ammunition. In various settings, armed violence continued to be driven by the ongoing movement of weapons to and between non-State actors, including in the context of organized crime and terrorism.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditure rose by 3.7 per cent in real terms in 2022 to reach a record high of $2.24 trillion, which amounts to 2.2 per cent of the total global economic output and around $282 per capita. Factoring in the plans announced by some Member States to boost military budgets in response to the current security landscape, the global total for military expenditures is estimated to rise sharply in the coming years.

Indeed, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many States began supplying the Ukrainian armed forces with military equipment. Conventional arms transfers included heavy weapons and military equipment such as armoured combat vehicles, anti-aircraft systems, artillery, helicopters, missile systems and uncrewed combat aerial vehicles, as well as small arms and light weapons. The Security Council considered the issue of arms transfers twice in 2022, largely owing to that situation (S/PV.9127 and S/PV.9216).

Harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure also remained a significant concern. Most civilian casualties recorded in Ukraine were caused by explosive weapons with wide-area effects such as missiles and payloads launched from aircraft, as well as by heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems. On 18 November, 83 States adopted the new Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas. While not legally binding, the Declaration marked a milestone in efforts to better protect civilians from the increasing urbanization of armed conflict.

photos of podcast panellists


Did you know that civilians account for 90 per cent of victims when explosive weapons are used in populated areas? Listen to this podcast to learn more:

  • Explosive Weapons 101. What explosive weapons are and why their use in populated areas causes humanitarian harm
  • What's in the Declaration. Why the Political Declaration matters and what its key components are
  • Making a difference. How the international community can make the implementation of the Declaration a success and how young people can get involved

PANELLISTS: Mélanie Régimbal, Chief of Service of the Geneva Branch of the Office for Disarmament • Noel White, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations Office at Geneva • Laura Boillot, Programme Manager for Article 36 and Coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons • Eirini Giorgou, Legal Adviser at the Arms and Conduct of Hostilities Unit of the International Committee of the Red Cross • Aurélien Buffler, Chief of the Policy Advice and Planning Section of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs • Juliana Helou van der Berg, Associate Political Affairs Officer at the Office for Disarmament Affairs (Moderator)

The eighth Biennial Meeting of States on the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (A/CONF.192/15, para. 24) took place in New York from 27 June to 1 July. Given the geopolitical climate at the time, many Member States saw the consensus adoption of an outcome document (A/CONF.192/BMS/2022/1) at the Meeting as an important achievement and a positive forecast for the fourth Review Conference of the Programme of Action, to be held from 17 to 28 June 2024.[1] Despite opposing views from some States, the outcome document retained earlier calls for the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in implementing small-arms programmes, as well as for enhanced international cooperation in that field. Issues such as new technologies and the inclusion of ammunition in the implementation efforts of the Programme of Action remained divisive topics. Notably, however, Member States agreed to establish a new, standing dedicated fellowship training programme on small arms and light weapons to strengthen technical knowledge and expertise related to implementing the Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument. The Office for Disarmament Affairs, which was mandated to establish the fellowship programme, will begin training sessions in 2024.

Figure 3.1

bar graph showing progress of small arms and light weapons destruction from 2016 to 2021

Member States report biennially on their national implementation of the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons and its International Tracing Instrument. In recent years, the Office for Disarmament Affairs received 120 reports covering the 2016–2017 implementation period, 97 reports for 2018–2019 and 92 reports for 2020–2021. Information and data contained in the national reports include the number of weapons collected, destroyed, traced or diverted to the illicit market, as well as gender-disaggregated data related to small-arms control. Reports for the Programme of Action also contribute to data collection for the Sustainable Development Goals — target 16.4 on reducing illicit arms flows, for example — and to the matching of assistance needs with available international resources.

The chart above shows, in progression, the number of small arms and light weapons destroyed by national small-arms authorities from 2016 to 2021. An aggregated total of 1.8 million small arms and light weapons were destroyed in those six years, underscoring States’ strong and consistent commitment to the implementation of the Programme of Action. By providing technical and financial assistance for weapons destruction, the Office for Disarmament Affairs and its partners in the United Nations system will continue to support States' efforts to terminate the life cycle of lethal weapons.

Officials ignite seized weapons

Leaders of the Togolese national commission on small arms and light weapons, the African Union's Peace and Security Council, and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs ignite a collection of seized weapons in observance of Africa Amnesty Month in September.

In 2022, Luxembourg acceded to the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms Protocol), bringing the number of States parties to 122. Furthermore, during the general debate of the seventy-seventh session of the General Assembly, China announced its decision to launch its domestic procedure to ratify the Protocol, which aims to promote, facilitate and strengthen cooperation among States parties in order to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.

The Security Council also remained seized of the challenges related to the misuse, illicit transfer and destabilizing accumulation of small arms and light weapons. It regularly addressed issues related to weapons and ammunition, especially in the context of arms embargoes, peacekeeping operations and special political missions. Through such operations, the United Nations continued implementing arms-related provisions of Security Council mandates in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Libya, Mali, South Sudan and the Sudan.


world map showing UN missions with arms-related provisions in their mandates

The United Nations deploys peacekeeping and special political missions in support of a particular country or region, as mandated by the Security Council or General Assembly. Currently, more than a dozen United Nations peacekeeping operations help States navigate the pathway to peace, while over 20 special political missions are engaging in conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding.

An increasingly common feature of those missions is the inclusion of conventional weapons-related provisions in their mandates.

Whether through mine action and clearance activities, weapons and ammunition management, small arms and light weapons control or technical support for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, the United Nations has been increasingly asked to support national authorities in addressing various issues related to conventional weapons, including their illicit flow and circulation.

Weapons and ammunition management has become an especially critical component of United Nations peacekeeping operations. Settings where weaponry is not properly secured pose greater risk of outbreaks of renewed conflict and endemic crime.

In mandating peacekeeping and special political missions, States have recognized the colossal negative consequences of the illicit circulation and misuse of conventional weapons. United Nations missions have been requested to support national authorities in a range of areas, from management and storage of weapons to destruction and disposal to identification and clearance of mines.

ABBREVIATIONS: BINUH=United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti; MINUSCA=United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic; MINUSMA=United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali; MONUSCO=United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; UNAMA=United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; UNISFA=United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei; UNITAMS=United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan; UNMHA=United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement; UNMISS=United Nations Mission in South Sudan; UNSMIL=United Nations Support Mission in Libya; and UNSOM=United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia.

DATA SOURCE: United Nations Operations and Crisis Centre (Research and Liaison Unit).

MAP SOURCE: United Nations Geospatial Information Section.

NOTE: The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations. A dotted line represents approximately the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir agreed upon by India and Pakistan. The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties. The final boundary between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Furthermore, in 2022, a new open-ended working group was established to develop a set of political commitments as a new global framework to address existing gaps in through-life ammunition management. Concurrently, the Office for Disarmament Affairs, within the framework of the United Nations SaferGuard Programme for which it is custodian, continued to maintain the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines while encouraging States to use them to enhance the safety and security of ammunition stockpiles.

Separately, the Group of Governmental Experts on the Continuing Operation of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA) and its Further Development concluded its work in June, following three one-week sessions held in New York and Geneva. As of 2022, the Register had served for 30 years as a global instrument for promoting transparency in international arms transfers. The Group of Governmental Experts adopted a consensus report (A/77/126) with practical measures for the United Nations Secretariat and Member States to promote participation in and use of the Register.

Figure 3.3

Line graph showing historical trends in UNROCA submission rates

This graph shows the trend in the number of Member States submitting information to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms on international arms transfers from 2000 to 2021. Participating States report transfers of weapons the calendar year after they take place.

The United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) funded eight projects. As the administrator of the Trust Facility, the Office for Disarmament Affairs provided substantive input for those projects, ensuring their alignment with the strategic thematic orientation agreed upon by the UNSCAR strategic planning group.[2] In response to the 2022 call for proposals, 50 applications were received.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the Saving Lives Entity (SALIENT) funding facility continued in Cameroon, Jamaica and South Sudan. A scoping mission was carried out in Honduras to identify levels of armed violence, illicit flows of small arms and light weapons and the country's commitment to resolving those issues in order to establish its eligibility for the SALIENT fund.

Within the framework of the Silencing the Guns initiative, the Office for Disarmament Affairs and the African Union supported an additional three countries (Liberia, Togo and United Republic of Tanzania) in their efforts to reduce illegal gun ownership and illicit flows of small arms and light weapons. Activities under the initiative include the surrender and collection of illegally owned weapons, as well as capacity-building in the areas of awareness-raising and local outreach campaigns, community-based policing, and weapons and ammunition management.

In 2022, Malawi became the 126th High Contracting Party to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons), and the Philippines joined as the ninety-seventh High Contracting Party to the Convention's Protocol V on explosive remnants of war. Reporting under the Convention was the highest in 2022, with 58 High Contracting Parties submitting compliance reports, representing 46 per cent of High Contracting Parties. The Convention’s office holders and the Office for Disarmament Affairs also strengthened universalization efforts, organizing several well-attended workshops and seminars as part of awareness-raising and outreach for non-High Contracting Parties. In addition, the Geneva Branch of the Office for Disarmament Affairs began activities for a new project funded by the European Union pursuant to Council decision 2021/1694 supporting the Convention.

[1] The fourth Review Conference of the Programme of Action is scheduled to take place in New York from 17 to 28 June 2024.

[2] In reviewing responses to the 2022 call for proposals, priority was given to projects that included one or more of the following thematic priorities: (a) support the universalisation and/or effective implementation of relevant global instruments on arms regulation; (b) explore and establish synergies between international and regional instruments on arms regulation; (c) support activities of civil society organizations; (d) develop and implement national action plans, national/regional targets and indicators in support of the implementation of the Programme of Action and the Sustainable Development Goals; (e) promote transparency instruments, including on matters related to international arms transfers and military expenditures; and (f) promote the implementation of Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security.