EPES Mandala Consulting - Disarmament

MICRO-DISARMAMENT: Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW)

There are many different ways of collecting weapons after a civil war or other armed conflict. EPES Mandala is one of the very few groups that uses a field-tested and successful methodology for collecting and destroying SALW. From our initial UN experience at Mali's 1997 Flame of Peace in Timbuktu, we have moved through UNDP programmes in Albania and former Yugoslavia to the European Union's spectacular Assistance for Curbing Small Arms and light weapons in Cambodia (ASAC) where more than 150,000 firearms were collected and burned.

Collecting SALW is necessary for building peace, but its most important dimension is political. EPES Mandala is convinced that disarmament should be part of a programme that transforms a state of war into a culture of 'positive peace'. Peace is a cultural concept. In a country like Afghanistan where 'women wear jewelry and men wear guns', weapon collection and disarmament may have to be replaced by weapon management and control mechanisms. Peace will come only in a society where State institutions are functioning and capable of assuring an acceptable level of security. Civil society organisations (CSO) play a critical role in supplying checks and balances for the State, ensuring that the rule of law replaces the power of impunity.

The key measurement of success is economic: when we remove violence, we allow society to prosper and recreate a trade and investment economy where firearms have no place. A weapon collection programme can only be judged successful if weapons and ammunition are destroyed, firearm-related violence is reduced, and economic development has restarted. It is the economic benefit that justifies the costs of disarmament.

Economic analysis proves that peace is cheaper than war. Rebuilding peace also takes time, which donor countries are often reluctant to accept. Collecting firearms may take a short time but that is not the objective: disarmament is only one step on the road to lasting peace. Building peace takes time and money (but it is less costly than war). The most important recommendation to donors has to be that 'building peace is not a one-year process'. Any post-conflict rebuilding programme that is funded for less than five years may be wasting the resources of the donors and the lives of the recipients.

Weapon collection needs to be a part of overall security sector reform (SSR), accompanied by weapon, ammunition and explosive destruction and measures that - together and including DDRRR - provide the ingredients for a sustainable peace recipe. DDRRR stands for Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Rehabilitation & Reconciliation and each of its components are important for a peace-building recipe. SSR and DDRRR are areas of EPES Mandala expertise. Our 'recipe for disarmament and peace' includes:

  • Creating a National Commission on SALW that will provide a focal point inside the country for information sharing, and for cross-border negotiations and cooperation to reduce the illegal spread of and trade in firearms. This National Commission should also have the authority to coordinate activities between agencies within the State and should report annually to the United Nations on progress achieved in controlling SALW.
  • A well-drafted and enforceable law that limits (or outlaws) the civilian ownership of weapons, including strict rules concerning what may or may not be done by private guard services, militias and bodyguards all of whom need to be licensed.
  • Decrees and rules that must be drafted for each service and ministry for the proper implementation of the laws on SALW - very important this, for otherwise a sensible law may be passed that is never put into practice, allowing "discretion" and "impunity" to flourish at the expense of the rule of law.
  • Training which is needed for all members of security and uniformed services, about the nature and terms of the law and its proper application. Training must include teaching about human rights and civil rights, elements that are often missing from the curriculum of repressive forces. Experience shows that training is needed both inside the armed and security forces (where the hierarchy will do its work), and also in the community where ordinary policemen and military officials will hear the training in meetings where community leaders participate, including women. Training in the community must be carried out by civil society organizations (CSO), if it is to have any lasting impact: government campaigns seldom build confidence, and may indeed have the opposite effect.
  • Transparent security sector reform and well-organised security forces are key ingredients for every post-conflict recipe. It is important to reorganise and strengthen the hierarchies that impose discipline in military hierarchies that are separated from civilian forces such as customs, fire service, forest agents, coastguards, immigration and police.
  • Rebuilding the civilian police force is one of the most important and neglected parts of post-conflict rebuilding. Police often die in the fighting, or they are forced to merge into military forces. The re-establishing of a police community service role - separate from the military - is vital for limiting the abuse of power, introducing checks and balances, reducing impunity, and establishing the rule of law.
  • Weapon control is a vital part of moving a state from lawlessness to a culture of peace. The DDRRR process of disarmament should flow seamlessly into a national SALW control progamme as part of a national security sector reform process. Civilians will not surrender their weapons unless they believe that the state can ensure their security.
  • A code of conduct to improve civil-military relations has shown itself to be an important instrument both for security sector reform, and for re-establishing confidence and mutual respect between the security forces and the civilian population (which includes democratic and representative civilian oversight of armed forces budgets and expenditure).
  • The safe and proper management of official weapon stores and stockpiles is vital, and this needs to be established quickly because weapons collected by the security forces need to be recorded and registered before they disappear. Most illegal weapons start life as a legal weapons. It is important to ensure that there is no leakage back into the system so that weapons are not collected more than once, nor recycled for crime or terrorism.
  • The provision of proper military and police weapon storage facilities emerged in the Cambodian EU project as not only a factor for security, but also a strong motivating factor for the military to participate in weapon collection and destruction. Every stakeholder in the peace process needs incentives, and this can be a good way of giving the high military and police authorities something tangible in exchange for their loss of impunity, their diminished control over weapons collection and the vanishing profits they may once have enjoyed from the sale of illegal or unregistered weapons.
  • Security force weapon discipline is an important ingredient of peace. Out of the security sector reform process must emerge discipline within the uniformed forces that removes the culture of impunity and imposes sanctions for the abuse of weapons. If soldiers are able to hire out their weapons for hunting, or take them into bars, or carry them home to threaten the security of their family and community, there will be little incentive for civilians to surrender their illegal arms.
  • Cross-border negotiations are important both because security demands secure borders, and because illegal SALW move easily and quickly across frontiers. Security is a regional matter as well as a national issue. There is no point in collecting weapons today if the free flow of weapons allows new supplies to come across the border tomorrow.
  • Harmonization of laws between neighbours should be one result of the international and regional negotiations. Border police and customs services will be stronger if they know that similar rules are being applied on both sides of the frontier.
  • Public awareness is probably the most important aspect of all: for laws will not be applied if the general public is ignorant of the law, nor will confidence be built between the people and their security forces if they do not share aims and objectives. Public awareness about SALW includes information about weapons and the law, risk awareness, and advocacy. Civil society organizations are the best prepared and best equipped to run campaigns for public awareness and human rights training, and they are ideally placed to follow up the campaigns and support weapon collection.
  • Strengthening civil society organisations (CSOs) - including the media - should be an important part of every peace building process.
  • The rule of law in war-torn societies actually depends less on the knowledge and fairness of magistrates, than on the knowledge and strength of CSOs capable of challenging impunity, injustice and the abuse of power at the local level. Without a growth of popular confidence in the rule of law, there can be no successful weapon collection.
  • Weapon destruction is an essential part of the confidence building process: not only does it encourage the civilian population to believe in peace, it also generates support for the peace process in neighbouring countries. Government and military authorities must agree to the destruction plan before VCWP begins.
  • DDRRR must have started and the DD must have been completed before civilian weapon collection can begin. Disarmament and Demobilization of the fighting forces must take place before the civilian population will agree to surrender weapons they consider (perhaps wrongly) as essential for their personal safety. The Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation process needs then to get underway, and disarming civilians can be a part of the RRR process.
  • The special needs of young ex-combatants and children affected by the fighting forces (both boys and girls) need to be addressed since they are often the worst affected by conflict and the most likely to return to violence either spontaneously or through political manipulation.
  • Disarmament is one part of a peace process. Only after the above conditions have been met is a voluntary weapon collection programme (VCWP) worth doing.


General Henny van der Graaf is the world's most famous micro-disarmament expert and was founding Director of the three most important pioneering SALW programmes: in Albania (UNDP), Cambodia (EU-ASAC) and the former Yugoslavia (SEESAC). He was the official UN Supervisor of the Flame of Peace in Timbuktu, Mali, served on the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, on UN missions to Africa, Bangladesh, Philippines, and as a UN-election monitor in Cambodia (1993), South Africa (1994) and Mali (1997). He is currently a Senior Advisor to NATO.

Tore Rose has been an international mediator and negotiator in areas as difficult as Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone, Algeria and Mali, Rwanda and Burundi. Formerly UN Resident Coordinator in several of these countries, he has moved recently to international negotiations with the International Peace Academy, the UN and the African Union.

Dennis Brennan is one of the world's leading small arms lawyers. Dennis has wide Asian and African experience, speaking Thai and Indonesian as well as English and French. Dennis has been working recently as legal advisor to the EU in Cambodia (ASAC) and the UNDP in Belgrade (SEESAC), writing and comparing national arms laws. Dennis has also been researching comparative small arms legislation for UNIDIR Geneva, for the EU and for the African Union.

Supporting these world-renowned specialists in post-disaster reconstruction and weapon collection programmes, EPES Mandala benefits from the expertise of a unique group of disarmament experts:

Dr Robin-Edward Poulton is a world specialist in arms collection and conflict transformation; Colonel Adrian Sprangemeijer, a world expert in arms and munitions destruction who was formerly head of ordnance for the Royal Dutch Army; Lt Col Clement Dayo Olukoju of Nigeria who is pursuing PhD studies after service with UN peacekeeping forces in Sierra Leone and Liberia; Dr Ghassan Rubeiz of Lebanon and USA is a famous peace negotiator in the Middle East; Dr Zeki Ergas, peace researcher from Turkey and Switzerland, is specialized on the Mediterranean region; Javier Nart of Spain/Catalonia, is a renowned lawyer with expertise in Middle East and Asia; Salem Mehzoud, of Algeria and UK, worked previously as a mediator and evaluator with the UN High Commission for Human Rights; Ibrahim ag Youssouf of Mali and Djely Samoura from Guinea are both renowned African peace negotiators and civil society leaders with experience of weapons collection; Seng Son of Cambodia, who was decorated by his government for his work with EU/ASAC in SALW collection.

It is a policy in EPES Mandala that we always try to put together multi-national teams of experts who understand the culture of war in which we are working and the culture of peace that we are setting out to create. In addition to the people mentioned above, we have access to a wide range of men and women from civil society, each with specialist skills, and we choose our consultant teams to fit the cultural needs and the political economy of each assignment. We also work closely with skilled non-governmental teams that have appropriate skills, cultural roots and deep local knowledge.


Our experience in practical disarmament and the design of post conflict strategies covers Africa, Asia and Central Europe. Among the services we can provide as a part of the conflict transformation process are:

Disarmament & demobilization

  • Disarmament = weapon collection and destruction in post-conflict situations
  • Mobilization of civil society for peace negotiations and conflict mediation
  • Demobilization and demilitarization of former rebels and the full DDRRR process leading to ...
  • Passage of demobilized combatants into rehabilitation, retraining and reconciliation programmes
  • Mobilization and training of communities in support of DDRRR
  • Storage and good management of official and collected weapon stocks
  • Organization of voluntary weapon collection programs
  • Weapon destruction and conversion of collected and surplus weapons
  • Safe destruction of collected and surplus explosives, shells, landmines and ammunition

Creation of a framework that will transform conflict into lasting peace

  • Peace building, and the creation of public awareness and confidence through education
  • Promoting reconciliation according to cultural norms for "righting the perceived wrongs"
  • Creating the legal framework for a weapon-free society
  • Ensuring cross-border and sub-regional cooperation to avoid 'conflict-spilling'
  • Re-creating the rule of law in society, using structures to strengthen democratic governance
  • Budgeting and government restructuring for long-term sustainable development
  • Finding the causes of fear and anger so that conflict management can replace violence
  • Strengthening and professionalising the press
  • Building culturally-appropriate civil society capacities to protect peace and development

Security sector reform that rebuilds societies after conflict

  • Police training, reorganization and equipment
  • Training of customs officials and border police for weapon control
  • Training army personnel and fire service personnel in weapon and explosives destruction
  • Re-training soldiers for their peacetime role and defining their code of conduct
  • Improving civil-military and police relations in post-conflict societies
  • Rewriting civic and history textbooks and readjusting local legends in favour of peace
  • Training and reorganization of post-conflict non-military services (customs, coastguard, etc)
  • Promoting democratic governance, opening public debate
  • Training community organizations to handle trauma and rehabilitate combatants