Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Saferworld


  1.  The Western Balkans[27] is slowly recovering from the conflicts of the 1990s and the instability and state collapse that ensued. The result today is politically weak states often characterised by lack of central control, low public confidence, poor investment and rising crime rates.

  2.  A consequence of this weakness is the increasingly powerful role played by organised criminal groups. State security services are unable to sufficiently combat these groups that traffic arms, drugs and people across the region and into the EU and that pose significant threats to stability, democratisation and development.

  3.  This submission focuses primarily on the small arms problems faced by Albania and the states of the former Yugoslavia. There are many related problems and challenges, however, including the need for effective security sector reform (covering both military and police) as well as reform of the criminal justice sector and the process of legislative development and parliamentary scrutiny and oversight.

  4.  One of the greatest barriers to the region's economic and political growth is the widespread availability and misuse of small arms. Large numbers of weapons remain in civilian hands and demand remains high because of unresolved political issues and a government failure to provide security.

  5.  The exact nature and extent of the small arms problem in each country is relatively unknown due to the lack of comprehensive national assessments. In some cases this problem is now being addressed, however, via comprehensive surveys being conducted by Saferworld in Serbia and Bulgaria, and by others in Bosnia and Macedonia.

  6.  When addressing small arms and security challenges, there is also a lack of coordination within national governments, between national governments (and in some cases between republic and state governments) and local civil society, and between international organizations such as the EU, OSCE, NATO and UN.

  7.  This lack of coordination not only exists on small arms control issues, there is also a wider and much more complex problem relating to the lack of co-ordination between donors, between donors and governments, and more widely on a range of small arms, security reform and justice reform issues. This has led to confusion, duplication and inevitably to frustration and to a lack of effective support in some key areas.

  8.  Existing support needs to be better co-ordinated and more effectively targeted, and much clearer and incremental exit strategies for donors are required.

  9.  The EU, including the UK, has a crucial role to play in supporting the development of stability and security in the western Balkans. The desire to be part of the EU is a prime motivator for change in all countries and this opportunity to lever significant change should not be underestimated.

  10.  Saferworld's Western Balkans programme focuses on the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania and works with governments and civil society to combat the proliferation of small arms and reduce armed violence. The governments in the region have signed up to the Stability Pact's Regional Implementation Plan on Small Arms and Light Weapons and Saferworld works to help support its implementation. This submission provides an overview of the small arms and security situation in each of the Western Balkans countries and puts forward some recommendations as to what the UK and EU can do to help address it.


Contemporary context

  11.  The ethnic conflict that affected so much of South Eastern Europe is largely absent in Albania, though the tentative nature of state control is an obvious obstacle to the consolidation of democracy and stability.

  12.  On an institutional level the lack of capacity amongst the police is a major problem. Large sections of the country are outside the control of the regular police (who are poorly paid and resourced) and judicial authority competes with traditional forms of justice.

  13.  The economic situation in Albania mirrors that of many other transitional countries and the lack of available economic opportunities encourages many young people into lives of criminal activity. The grey market in Albania is also large, depriving the state of much-needed resources. It's estimated that there are now more people living outside Albania who have left over recent years to find work than live in the country.

  14.  Albania is fortunate not to have any significant ethnic conflicts in the country, which provides the necessary social stability for advancing personal and state security.

Major Security Challenges

  15.  Weapon Possession: Albania is believed to have the strongest gun culture in southeast Europe and traditional norms of gun use are not significantly curbed by police control or safety education, particularly in the north of the country. Estimates suggest that at least 550,000 weapons were stolen from government stockpiles in 1997. Of these, authorities estimate that 200,000 weapons were collected and 150,000 were trafficked out of Albania, with some 200,000 remaining in civilian and criminal hands.

  16.  Weapons destruction has been supported by various bi-lateral donors, the UN and NATO, but far more remains to be done as poor stockpile security poses serious threats for continued trafficking. Funding for this work appears to have started to dry up, but the problem is still very much alive with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of ammunition, explosives and other weaponry still held in poorly managed stockpiles that are dangerous and which represent easy pickings for organised criminal groups.

  17.  To date, there has been no serious attempt to survey the extent of the small arms and security problem in Albania. A thorough mapping of the problem is urgently required, followed by the development of an effective national plan driven by a small arms commission responsible for implementing it.

  18.  Organised Crime: The problems of organised crime and trafficking in Albania are acute and far-reaching with powerful Albanian criminal networks controlling substantial interests and assets throughout southeast Europe and the EU. Although assistance programmes are improving the situation, Albanian state services and border guards do not have control over their borders. Smugglers and illegal immigrants regularly use the long coastline to access Italy, and traffickers between Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro use the northern border with little risk of being apprehended.

  19.  The Italian government is trying hard to combat smuggling from Albania and is working with the Albanian coast guard and port authorities. Armed groups are predominantly mafia or criminal gangs, with some paramilitary activity associated with Kosovo. Despite the assistance of the international community and regional initiatives such as the SECI Regional Centre for Combating Organised Crime, which has established a small arms task force (supported by Saferworld and the UK government through the National Criminal Intelligence Service), police efforts have been hampered by a lack of funding, political will and inefficiency.

  20.  Inadequate law enforcement: The nature of the security challenges in Albania means that an effective police force is vital for the country's move towards greater security and development, and in realising its stated objectives of joining the EU and NATO. Various programmes have been supported to build the capacity of the police force including community policing and membership in the SECI Regional Centre for Combating Organised Crime. However, as with many areas of governance and security in Albania, much remains to be done.

  21.  From a donor perspective, Albania is a country where much better coordination is needed. On a recent visit to the country, for example, Saferworld staff met an EU Project Manager who had never met his counterpart in the OSCE.


Contemporary Context

  22.  Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) underwent a traumatic birth, following the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia and—as one of the major theatres of the war—was saturated with weapons for personal protection, criminal activity and in order to further ethnic claims of territory. The situation remains tense and a high level of weapons possession exacerbates this situation.

  23.  The cantons and entities that emerged out of the Dayton Accords constitute the modern state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the inter-ethnic boundary line between two entities that roughly divides the Serbs in the Republika Srpska from the Muslims and Croats in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina remains stark. Almost 10 years after the end of the war, the political climate remains dominated by ethnicity, which pervades state structures and local institutions alike.

Major Security Challenges

  24.  Weapon production and stockpiles: BiH used to be a major producer of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and its manufacturing base remains active, if reduced. Following substantial international support, legislation on arms production and exports has recently been reformed and improved, incorporating international standards and establishing a control system at the state level. As always, however, concerns about implementation prevail due to inadequately functioning regulatory procedures and a lack of operational capacity.

  25.  It is clear that the military industry in BiH still needs to be brought under tighter control in order to prevent illegal arms exports. There are currently 169 weapon stockpiles in the country, which makes guarding them expensive and difficult, and provides criminals with a number of potential targets. Reducing this number is an important means of stabilising the situation.

  26.  Possession and collection: Anecdotal testimony from discussions with government officials suggests that there are around four weapons for every 10 people in BiH. Weapons collection initiatives—organised by NATO—have been ongoing since 1998, with approximately 22,000 SALW collected so far and large caches still being discovered on a fairly regular basis.

  27.  As NATO prepares to reduce its presence, a greater role in SALW collection is likely to be played by the CPA, a body that can loosely be described as the police reserve. It is unlikely that the EU force that will succeed SFOR (in early 2005) will have a mandate for weapons collection, as it will be monitoring rather than implementing the Dayton Accords.


Contemporary context

  28.  The new Macedonian government of President Branko Crvenkovski promises to build on the level of stability the country has achieved since ending open conflict between the two dominant ethnic populations in the country. The signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in August 2001 brought to an end two years of low-intensity conflict and facilitated a de-mobilisation of ethnic-Albanian guerrilla fighters. The active participation of the Macedonian Government in international discourse on arms control, its public statements and its action at the national level—including recent development of a new draft law on civilian possession, indicate that SALW control is a high priority for the country.

  29.  The problem of small arms in Macedonia is a question of both politics and policing, resulting from internal challenges and the country's vulnerability to influence from its neighbours. The fighting in 2001 clearly had an impact on increasing the number of weapons in the country, as did the looting of stockpiles in Albania in 1997. Yet, possession had risen significantly throughout the 1990s, particularly following independence when police noted a dramatic increase in illicit SALW trafficking, even before violence erupted.

  30.  Since the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, progress has been made in collecting weapons. There have been two main collection initiatives. The first—"Operation Essential Harvest"—was undertaken in 2001 by NATO's Task Force Harvest. Its mission was to collect the arms and ammunition voluntarily surrendered by the ethnic Albanian armed groups involved in the peace negotiations. A total of 3,875 weapons were collected. The second, facilitated by UNDP in late 2003, was deemed a success by government and national observers alike. Despite the short period allocated for public awareness raising and for the amnesty, over 6,000 weapons were surrendered in the space of a month.

Major Security Challenges

  31.  Implementing the Ohrid Accords: The major components of the agreement were to institute a process of decentralization, recognise Albanian language educational institutions and establish proportional representation in government. The implementation of the Agreement is progressing slowly and with difficulty. It is incumbent on bilateral and multilateral donors to assist those involved in this process, as it is the key factor in Macedonia's tentative stability.

  32.  Inadequate law enforcement: Although, to a large degree, insurgency activity has subsided, population transfers continue and if Macedonia is to remain a non-segregated, multi-ethnic state then an effective multi-ethnic police force is central. Since its deployment, the multi-ethnic police (MEP) force has presided over a marked improvement in the levels of violence and intimidation. Nevertheless, borders, especially those between Albania/Macedonia/Kosovo/southern Serbia, are poorly controlled with the mountainous terrain offering cover to smugglers.

  33.  The Government apportions much of the blame for Macedonia's problems on Albania and Kosovo, and in the past the Macedonian Government has been reluctant to co-operate on cross-border control. Although there are now joint UN-Macedonia patrols of the Kosovo-Macedonia frontier, the capacity of the police to act against cross-border crime is extremely poor and there is little capacity for intelligence processing and exchange. The situation is further complicated by the variety of different institutions and forces involved in border management and security. The EU is funding the reform and strengthening of border controls and integrated border management.


Contemporary Context

  34.  A number of impediments stand in the way of Serbia-Montenegro's moves towards political and social stability and economic health.

  35.  On a political level these include Serbia's relationship with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the unresolved status of Kosovo where poor ethnic relations continue to undermine democratisation efforts, and the increasingly unmanageable state-union relationship between Serbia and Montenegro

  36.  On an institutional level the lack of capacity amongst the police and judiciary causes serious credibility problems and creates a distance between the public and these institutions. The army enjoys relatively more respect but is under resourced and in need of wide reaching reform.

  37.  Living standards in Serbia-Montenegro are still some six years away from returning to the levels enjoyed in 1990. The legacy of hyper-inflation and sanctions continues to be felt by a population who have turned—in increasing numbers—to the grey and black economies, often as a matter of survival.

  38.  While the state is no longer host to active ethnic conflicts, tension remains in southern parts where the minority Albanian population lives, problematically, next to Serbs, and in the north in Vojvodina where ethnic Hungarians and Serbs have recently clashed. Overall, however, the picture in Serbia and Montenegro is one that shows signs of improvement, helped significantly by the election of President Tadic in June.

Major Security Challenges

  39.  Weapons Possession: There are over 1.25 million registered weapons amongst the country's 8 million people. Laws on civilian possession are weak, with insufficient checks made on applicants, and a lack of willingness of the police and judiciary to prosecute breaches in the law.

  40.  Private Security Firms: In Serbia, around 45,000 licenses have been granted to private security firms that are often involved in criminal activity. Licensees may carry high calibre weapons publicly and there is evidence that political parties are in control of their own armed security firms—effectively, militias. This is an area of major concern and one that needs new legislation to combat the threat of well-armed civilian militias.

  41.  Exports: Serbia produces and exports small arms and has, in the past, been involved in highly questionable exports to many countries, some of which have been subject to EU or UN arms embargos, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Iraq. The capacity of competent ministries to license exports in line with international best practice has increased, however, there remains a lot of secrecy and very limited transparency surrounding the issue.

  42.  A new export law, written with the help of EU members, will greatly increase effective oversight of export decisions, but its passage through parliament is currently undermined by a lack of political will. Adoption of the principles underpinning the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports would greatly improve the situation, although for this to be effective it would need to be supported significantly—financially and technically—by the EU and its member states.

  43.  Organised Crime: Indigenous entrenched and organised criminals are a major source of instability in the country, in southeast Europe and in the EU. In certain parts of the country they exert more influence over the public than the state, and provide benefactors with enormous wealth that fosters more crime, deprives the state of revenue and fuels conflict.

  44.  In order for the state to close these criminal networks, law enforcement agencies must be provided with the means to tackle these powerful groups through trans-national mechanisms such as the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) Centre and EUROPOL. Political will is also needed to distance the interests of conservative political elites from organised crime.


  45.  Outlined below are a series of priorities for the UK government and the EU to support effective arms control in the western Balkans. Saferworld will provide a detailed iteration of each of these priorities on request:

  Support the establishment of National Commissions in the Western Balkans that bring together all relevant government departments to coordinate action to tackle the spread of small arms. These bodies should also coordinate action with civil society organisations, donors and international organisations. This is a requirement of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms.

  Encourage comprehensive national assessments of the small arms problem and the development of National Action Plans. The lack of detailed information about the nature and extent of the small arms problem hampers effective responses and encourages piecemeal action. Comprehensive national strategies are needed that address all issues—from strengthening legislation, to combating illicit trafficking and reducing the demand for weapons.

  Build the capacity of law enforcement officers to enforce controls on illicit trafficking and organised crime. The work of the SECI taskforce on small arms should be supported in this regard. There should be increased cooperation between EU and Western Balkan law enforcement officers.

  Engage Western Balkans governments in a dialogue on strengthening arms export controls. The objective should be to encourage them to endorse the principles underpinning the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and then help build their capacity to implement them.

  Integrate action to tackle small arms proliferation into existing police reform, governance and justice reform programmes and improve their coordination. International actors are supporting a myriad of programmes but these are often poorly coordinated and initiatives to reduce the proliferation of small arms are rarely integrated into them.


12 October 2004

27   For the purposes of this submission this submission covers: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro. Back

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