In collaboration with partners worldwide, the United Nations has developed International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS) that provide clear, practical and comprehensive guidance to practitioners and policymakers on fundamental aspects of small arms and light weapons control.
The standards are used by the the more than 20 UN entities that make up the UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) mechanism in order to ensure that the United Nations as a whole consistently delivers, upon request, the highest quality advice and support to Member States on putting in place effective controls over the full life-cycle of small arms and light weapons.
The standards fit within the global framework created by the UN Programme of Action, the International Tracing Instrument and the UN Firearms Protocol and the Arms Trade Treaty; and build upon best practices elaborated at regional and sub-regional levels.
ISACS are maintained and updated by a voluntary global network of experts drawn from the United Nations, governments, international and regional organisations, civil society and the private sector. To find out how to become involved, visit our Partners page.
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Upon request, the ISACS Inter-Agency Support Unit in New York provides advice, support and assitance to UN CASA Partners, international and regional organisations and training institutes on integrating ISACS into policymaking, programming and practice related to small arms and light weapons control, armed violence prevention and community security, with the overarching aim of building national capacities in these areas.
Frequently asked questions
What are ISACS?
The International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS) provide practical guidance on putting in place effective controls over the full lifecycle of small arms and light weapons so as to reduce the risk of their falling into the hands of criminals, terrorists and those who would misuse them.
Why were ISACS developed?
The initiative to develop ISACS came from UN agencies that participate in the United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) mechanism. UN Member States frequently call upon these agencies to provide advice and support on issues related to small arms and light weapons control — including legislative, programmatic and operational issues. CASA partners decided that the best way to ensure that the United Nations as a whole could consistently deliver high quality advice and support in response to such requests was to develop international standards on small arms and light weapons control, similar to the standards the UN has developed in the areas of mine action (the International Mine Action Standards) and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (the Integrated DDR Standards).
What are ISACS based on?
The framework within which ISACS fit is provided by global agreements and international law that aim to prevent the illicit trade, destabilizing accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons, in particular: the UN Programme of Action against the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons; the International Tracing Instrument; the Firearms Protocol supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime; and the Arms Trade Treaty. The foundation upon which ISACS are built is provided by best practice guidelines, model regulations and legislation, codes of conduct and standard operating procedures that have been developed by regional and sub-regional organizations.
Who developed ISACS?
In addition to drawing upon expertise within the United Nations system, CASA collaborated with leading experts worldwide to develop ISACS. Governments, international and regional organizations, civil society and the private sector volunteered specialists to join the ISACS Expert Reference Group, which reviews draft standards. A full list of members of the ISACS Expert Reference Group is on the Partners page of the ISACS website.
How do ISACS relate to regional standards and guidelines?
The International Small Arms Control Standards are built upon a solid foundation of regional standards and guidelines on small arms and light weapons control. Many of the regional organizations that developed best practice guidelines of their own have contributed to creating ISACS. As such, ISACS complement and reinforce regional standards and guidelines. In addition, ISACS provide a useful global reference-point that regional organizations can use when revising their existing best practice guidelines or when developing new ones. In this way, ISACS can contribute to achieving convergence between regional approaches to SALW control.
Are ISACS “best practices”?
In the strict sense of the term, not necessarily. In setting standards, ISACS seek to strike a critical balance between effectiveness in achieving the desired outcome, on the one hand, and achievability by all UN Member States, on the other, bearing in mind that international cooperation and assistance will often be needed. For this reason, ISACS do not require the application of the most advanced technologies available since the cost of these would be beyond the reach of most States. Instead, the standards call for the application of effective, proven technologies and methods that achieve the desired outcome at reasonable cost. Rather than “best practices,” it is therefore more accurate to say that ISACS espouse “effective practices” that are achievable by all States.
Do ISACS cover ammunition?
No, ISACS (International Small Arms Control Standards) provide guidance on controlling small arms and light weapons, but not their ammunition, which — due to the more hazardous nature of explosives — requires separate, specialized guidance. This is provided by the IATG (International Ammunition Technical Guidelines), administered under the United Nations SaferGuard programme. The development and use of ISACS and IATG are closely coordinated within the UN system, are cross-referenced where appropriate and are mutually reinforcing.
Are ISACS compulsory?
No, ISACS are voluntary. Any State or organization may decide to apply them, but there is no obligation to do so. However, once a decision is taken to apply ISACS — or claim compliance with the standards—their provisions should be strictly applied.