Small arms and light weapons


General framework

The term ‘Small arms and light weapons’ (SALW) refers to two categories of weapons:

  • Small arms are individual weapons such as revolvers, pistols, rifles and submachine guns.
  • Light weapons are collective weapons, conceived to be used by two or three persons, even if some of them can be operated by a single person (for example heavy machine guns or portable rocket launchers).

Every year, millions of small arms and light weapons are manufactured and traded. Through illegal arms trafficking, large numbers of weapons fall into the wrong hands. The spread of SALW is at the root of substantial problems. It contributes to increased instability, prolongation of conflicts and violations of human rights, including gender-based violence. Because these weapons are light and easy to use, they are often used to arm child soldiers.


International instruments

A number of international instruments and initiatives aim at regulating these weapons, to ensure that they remain under control throughout their life cycle:


Belgian policy

The FPS Foreign Affairs is represented at the Interfederal Consultation Committee to Combat the Production and Trade of Illegal Weapons. This committee was created end 2015 in order to allow all the relevant Belgian authorities to exchange information, coordinate and take appropriate measures to combat illegal arms trade.

Belgium supports several initiatives that help to strengthen SALW control and to combat illegal arms trade and diversion, both at European Union and United Nations level:

  • the tracing of illicit weapons found in conflict zones by peacekeeping missions in order to identify the sources and functioning of illicit arms trafficking;
  • the exchange of information on illicit arms trade in order to allow a better diversion risk analysis;
  • the adaptation of the International Tracing Instrument to new technologies in the field of SALW (polymer weapons, modular weapons).

Belgium supports initiatives aimed at providing support to countries affected by illicit arms trade through a better control of arms flows, the securing of stockpiles, better border control and the strengthening of administrative capacities.

Finally, Belgium calls for strict international regulation of ammunition in order to counter its illicit trade.