Research Report

Legal Controls on Small Arms and Light Weapons in Southeast Asia

Katherine Kramer
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2001
Published by: Small Arms Survey
Pages: 38
OPEN ACCESS
https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep10740
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    The uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Southeast Asia threatens peoplges, communities, states, and the region as a whole. Among other effects, small arms undermine human and state security, impair development, and exacerbate conflict and crime. While there is no accurate information regarding the number of legal and illegal small arms flowing into and out of the region, nor how many weapons are circulating internally, it is clear that no state in the region remains unaffected by the problem. Although a few Southeast Asian countries do not have widespread ownership or criminal use of weapons, many countries...

  2. (pp. 2-2)

    The issue of small arms and light weapons was first raised within ASEAN at the 1997 ASEAN ministerial meeting held in Malaysia. The meeting set the tone for ASEAN’s current approach to small arms by emphasizing the need for regional co-operation in combating transnational crime. Small arms and the smuggling of small arms were recognized as an integral part of terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, trafficking of persons, and piracy. Later that year, the ASEAN Ministers of Interior and Home Affairs adopted the ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crime. The declaration reflected ASEAN’s resolve to confront the problem of transnational crime...

  3. (pp. 3-3)

    A comprehensive approach, including both national and regional initiatives, is essential to deal with the problems associated with small arms proliferation. The illicit trafficking of small arms is an extremely complex issue that encompasses both illegal and legal aspects; it is therefore necessary to take into account licensed civilian possession, use, and trade, as well as regulations governing manufacture, exports, imports, and internal movement.

    A review of current legal arms controls in Southeast Asia is needed given the problem of diversion of arms from legal sources to illicit markets and uses. This study is the first attempt to consider the...

  4. (pp. 4-6)

    The problem of precisely defining what constitutes a small arm or light weapon, much less ammunition, is not unique to Southeast Asia—it has been debated extensively at the international level. It is more than an issue of semantics—it often determines the scope or applicability of particular legislation. The legal definition of what constitutes a small arm or light weapon varies considerably from country to country and even within countries between different sectors (civilian and military).

    Generally, small arms and light weapons (including ammunition) can be carried by an individual, two or more people, or a pack animal. For...

  5. (pp. 7-10)

    It is estimated that at least 55 per cent of the total number of small arms in circulation worldwide (550 million) are privately licensed firearms (Small Arms Survey, 2001). The ease with which the civilian population can obtain small arms, coupled with the quantity of arms legally dispersed, can exacerbate national and regional proliferation problems. It is therefore essential to consider legal controls on privately licensed firearms as an aspect of the problem of small arms proliferation. Within Southeast Asia, every country has either a law or regulation governing the licensing of small arms for personal use to individuals residing...

  6. (pp. 10-10)

    The marking of small arms with a unique identifier, such as a serial number along with a country and/or manufacturer’s code, is considered an essential element in controlling their proliferation. First, it facilitates inventory control. Second, it enables an illicit firearm to be traced to its original source, giving an indication of the process by which it moved from legal origin to illegal transfer and use. Only Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand specifically state that a licence is granted for each arm and that this arm must be uniquely marked with either a distinguishing number or identifier (Indonesia, 2000; Malaysia,...

  7. (pp. 11-11)

    According to the UN Group of Experts on the Problem of Ammunition and Explosives, ‘attempts to address small arms and light weapons would be incomplete if they did not include due regard for ammunition’ (UN, 1999a, para. 11). Without ammunition, a small arm is little more than a crude club. Limiting availability and access to ammunition could therefore reduce the physical danger posed by these weapons, though the perceived threat would remain. Just over half of Southeast Asian countries limit the amount of ammunition that people can have in their possession at any time. Thailand requires individuals to obtain a...

  8. (pp. 11-12)

    Domestic arms regulations need to take into account several different kinds of transaction or transfer (see Table 6). The commercial business of buying and selling arms is conducted by dealers. In the private sphere, individuals licensed to own arms may want to purchase an arm, exchange one arm for another, or relinquish or sell their arm. Licensed owners may also want to rent out their arm, lend it to another individual, or give it to someone else (without remuneration). Finally, there is the question of what happens to legally owned arms/licences when the licensed owner or dealer dies; for example,...

  9. (pp. 13-13)

    Most countries in ASEAN, with the exception of Cambodia and Laos, legally produce small arms (Small Arms Survey, 2001). In addition, illicit manufacturing of small arms occurs in a number of countries (e.g. the Philippines). Manufacturing arms without a licence or other form of government permission is prohibited in every ASEAN country. The manufacturing of arms falls under the direct control of the Ministry of Defence, the police, or the Ministry of Interior, even if the factory is privately owned or operated. In the case of Malaysia, manufacturing firms are government owned, but operated by a private company set up...

  10. (pp. 14-14)

    The regulation of the storage and packing of small arms, ammunition, and explosives is important, not only for safety reasons, but also to ensure secure stockpile management. Inadequate stockpile management can result in theft, a loss of inventory due to corruption, and a lack of baseline data. This issue is frequently overlooked, as reflected in the fact that only seven of the ten ASEAN countries mention it in their laws, and then primarily in relation to non-governmental holdings (see Table 7). In fact, security regulations for governmental holdings of small arms and ammunition were found only for Malaysia.² Malaysia and...

  11. (pp. 15-15)

    Provisions for monitoring the internal movement of small arms and ensuring that adequate security measures are taken are important elements of small arms control. The majority of ASEAN countries have regulations governing the internal movement of small arms. For example, Thailand requires written authorization from the Ministry of Defence in order to ship firearms, ammunition, or explosives within the country (Thailand, 1947a, sec. 70; 2001). Myanmar law allows the government to prohibit the transport of arms and ammunition within the entire country or any part thereof (Myanmar, 1878, sec. 10). Vietnam restricts the movement of arms within the country (UN,...

  12. (pp. 15-16)

    The importation of small arms can exacerbate the problems associated with their proliferation, especially in cases where the arms are diverted from intended legal end users or in cases where the country is already overflowing with arms. Adopting tight controls and making responsible decisions with respect to the import and export of small arms can help address the problem. All ASEAN countries regulate the import and export of small arms. In Vietnam, import and export by civilians are both prohibited (UN, 1999c). In Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand, import and export licences are issued to businesses or civilians (UN,...

  13. (pp. 17-17)

    Currently, the only international restrictions governing small arms transfers that apply to Southeast Asian countries are UN arms embargoes. Compliance with international embargoes preventing the flow of arms to conflict areas is essential to their success and effectiveness. Often these measures are undertaken to dampen the level of conflict and its devastating impact on non-combatants. Countries that comply with UN arms embargoes demonstrate their willingness to meet international obligations and act responsibly. Laws in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand refer to international restrictions on small arms transfers.

    In Malaysia:

    (1) The Minister may, from time to time, by notification in the...

  14. (pp. 17-18)

    Provisions for inspections and searches are important in monitoring and enforcing stockpile management and domestic arms control laws. Regular inspections can decrease the probability of diversion of stocks into the illicit market and help ensure that licence holders are meeting their obligations. Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand provide for the regular inspection of firearms and ammunition stocks held by manufacturers and dealers (Malaysia, 1960a, sec. 12(4); Singapore, 1913b, rule 14; Thailand, 1947a, sec. 28). Malaysian and Philippine law require annual inspections of privately held weapons (Malaysia, 2001a; Philippines, 1987c, sec. 897). The Cambodian Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of sec....

  15. (pp. 18-18)

    Without carefully planned post-conflict demobilization and reintegration, the risk of small arms remaining in circulation—whether in the possession of ex-combatants or in the black market—is high. Even though all countries in the region, with the exception of Singapore, are facing or have faced armed insurgencies, no laws or regulations pertaining to the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants were found....

  16. (pp. 18-18)

    Only four countries in the region (Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand) have made provision for the collection and destruction of weapons, whether with or without compensation. Thailand has offered a number of amnesties in which individuals in possession of unlicensed firearms could either licence their arms or turn them over without prosecution within 90 days of the act’s entry into force (Thailand, 1948, sec. 3; 1958a, sec. 9; 1967, secs. 5–7; 1975, sec. 5). The most recent amnesty, in 1992, gave people 60 days to turn over firearms, ammunition, and explosives prohibited by law (Thailand, 2001). Through a...

  17. (pp. 19-19)

    National registers are essential to keep track of licensed ownership, production, and trade, and are especially useful for tracing confiscated illicit weapons to their point of origin. Registers should be comprehensive and easily accessible. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand keep national registers of all licences issued (UN, 1999c; Malaysia, 2001a; Singapore, 2000; Thailand, 2001); however, only Brunei, Singapore, and Thailand keep these records in computerized form. Malaysia has begun to establish a computerized national arms register. As of January 2001, 80 per cent of its arms licences had been computerized (Malaysia, 2001a)....

  18. (pp. 19-19)

    In order to ensure maximum effect and prevent possible loopholes for exploitation, exemptions to national arms control laws and regulations should be kept to a minimum. Exemptions provided for in ASEAN country legislation include: members of armed forces and police forces in the performance of their duties; licensed dealers, repairers, manufacturers, and traders of arms and ammunition and their employees, in the conduct of business; and the manufacture, possession, use, storage, sale, transport, import, or export of arms and explosives by government order....

  19. (pp. 19-20)

    With the increased use in Southeast Asia of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), including home-made bombs and landmines, the control of both military and industrial explosives has become critical. When controls are lax, explosive materials are easily obtained. Non-state actors can make these explosives into landmines or bombs, often with the intent of causing casualties and suffering among the civilian population. Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand regulate explosives in the same laws in which they deal with small arms. Indonesia and Malaysia are the only countries that have separate laws regulating explosive substances (Indonesia, 2000; Malaysia, 1923; 1957). In...

  20. (pp. 20-23)

    Penalties for infractions of arms control laws promote compliance with state regulations. Stiff penalties increase the opportunity cost for individuals otherwise inclined to break the law and, in the case of cross-border arms smuggling, often force the relevant business to move to areas where the risk is lower. Some ASEAN countries describe in detail the types of penalties to be imposed for particular infractions, while others are less specific. Table 11 provides a rough comparison. In the Philippines, the severity of punishment increases depending on the type of arm involved (Philippines, 1997b). Malaysia and Singapore, both known for their heavy...

  21. (pp. 24-24)

    Small arms proliferation in Southeast Asia has multiple effects: contributing to high levels of violent crime in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand; fuelling insurgencies in Aceh, Mindanao, and Myanmar; intensifying communal conflict in the Moluccas; and impeding development in Cambodia. The impacts of small arms are wide-ranging, affecting not only human security, but extending also to the law enforcement and public health sectors. Porous borders ensure that these effects are felt and shared throughout the region. No state is untouched. Even if weapons do not originate in a particular country, they may be sold, financed, trafficked, or used there....