United Nations — Key arms makers in the United States and Europe are willing to accept a voluntary program to mark and trace small arms to help curb illegal trafficking, according to documents seen by The Associated Press and confirmed by industry officials.
Diplomats involved in the initiative say it would help authorities stem the flow of legally purchased light weapons to black markets supplying conflicts around the world.
The agreement would come into effect regardless of the outcome of a U.N. conference that is debating a draft plan to control illegal small arms trafficking. Included in the draft is a provision calling for "negotiation of a legally binding instrument to identify and trace the lines of supply of small arms and light weapons."
The United States already requires a marking and tracing system, but it opposes this provision because it doesn't want to make a commitment before knowing all the details of an agreement, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton told AP on Wednesday.
"After further negotiation, I wouldn't exclude the possibility of a treaty-like commitment dealing with the flow of illegal weapons into conflict-prone areas," he said.
The industry plan represents an effort by manufacturers to create a marking and tracing identification system with a degree of self-regulation.
Putting a unique identification on every small weapon manufactured would enable authorities that seize illegal arms to find their origin and determine where they were first sold. Then, the authorities could start tracing how the arms became part of the illegal weapons trade and plug leakage points.
The agreement calls for manufacturers to institute standards for the marking and tracing of small arms, and to support and assist other efforts to prevent the transfer of small arms that would be used to violate human rights, international treaties, U.N. embargoes, genocide and other illegal acts, according to the documents.
"Voluntary industry self-regulation will, in greatly enhancing transparency and accountability, help curtail the potential for leakage (and) diversion from licit to illicit trafficking," Rowe wrote to Rocard after key manufacturers met in May in Kansas City, Mo., to work out the agreement.
Under the agreement, each country can decide on the exact system, but it must be an indelible marking at the point of manufacture, revealing the year of manufacture, the manufacturer and serial number. The records will be kept by the producers and be available to authorities through Interpol, according to the documents.