Over the past three decades, the Balkans has been plagued by several military conflicts, leaving behind large quantities of illegal small arms and light weapons. These conflicts, as well as the post-conflict social context, have contributed to many weapons illegally ending up in private hands. North Macedonia is no exception to this upsetting trend. According to the Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey for the Republic of North Macedonia (2012 - 2016), conducted by SEESAC, during this period, 1.010 cases of illicit firearms and ammunition trade were registered in the country. Additionally, there is also an increased interest for legal weapons possession among the population. Official data show that 173.704 pieces of weapons are privately owned by individuals, which is an increase of 8.3 percent.
In order to provide a comprehensive and systematic approach to the fight against illegal weapons, North Macedonia became part of the "Roadmap for a Sustainable Solution to the Illegal Possession, Misuse and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and their Ammunition in the Western Balkans by 2024”, whose signatories are the six countries from the Western Balkans and Moldova. In 2019, as part of this Roadmap, the UNDP Office in Skopje initiated the project "Improving National Practices for Small Arms and Light Weapons Control and Building Resilient Communities", which is being implemented with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The ultimate objective of the project which is being implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, is to reduce the small arms and light weapons misuse as one of the most common causes of armed incidents in the country. Recognizing the need of realistic and relevant evidence-based SALW policies and accurate risk assessments, we have defined the two main components of the project.
- Improved weapons registration in accordance with Amended EU firearms Directive 2017 and the Law on Weapons, and
- Improved and harmonized Police Information Management System
The first component included the upgrade of the Electronic Weapons Registry (WRMS) software solution, which has been a key tool in the Weapons Sector's operations since 2006, when it was developed with the support of the UNDP. With the latest upgrade, in addition to the Ministry of Interior and the Customs Administration, the Weapons Registry shall also include the legal entities that import and sell small arms and light weapons. This enables complete traceability of the "arms routes" through five checkpoints, such as: entry into the country at the border crossing, transport to a warehouse, display in a shop, issuing a weapons permit and selling it to the final buyer. This allows the Ministry of Interior to have easy access and complete information on every piece of weaponry that has legally entered the country. It will also enable the police to track down the illegal weapons more easily. This component was supplemented with trainings for a total of 130 people who will be direct users of the Electronic Weapons Registry, thus, the Weapons Department within the Ministry of Interior received a donation that included 53 computers, 16 printers, 10 scanners and 25 special weapons permits printers.
The second component of the project included a development of a new Police Information System, which enables the Ministry of Interior to collect and analyze data on small arms and light weapons in the country in a faster and more accurate manner. This is a custom-made software which will digitalize a number of operational processes within the Ministry of Interior as it will be used at local level (police stations across the country), regional level, and at the central level (central departments). The new Police Information Management System is envisaged to be the main recording tool for incidents across the country with focus on incidents involving small arms and light weapons. This system will have about 3.500 users among the MOI employees in the first year, and this number is expected to increase over time. This component also provided IT equipment for the Interior Departments and the Police Stations, which consists of 74 computers, 52 printers and 50 scanners. The functionalities and benefits of the system were presented to Ministry of Interior’s senior management representatives, whereas the process will be completed with the implementation of "train the trainer" trainings for 250 employees of the ministry.
In order to provide a more comprehensive response to the illicit arms trade, the UNDP Office in Skopje in cooperation with UNDP Kosovo, simultaneously with this project, implements the project on "Cross-Border Integrated Institutional Approach Towards Combating IAT and SALW”. A Needs Analysis for improvement of the cross-border cooperation and strengthening of the integrated institutional approach towards combating illicit arms trade was prepared and presented within the project. Based on this analysis, in the forthcoming period, trainings for 400 police officers will be organized, the capacities for exchange of information between North Macedonia and Kosovo and for combating illicit arms trade on the Internet and Darknet will be strengthened, as well as, media campaign on raising public awareness on the consequences of this serious regional problem will be implemented.
UN’s SDG 16 is Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions which aims to significantly reduce all forms of violence, and work with governments and communities to end conflict and insecurity on a global level. On the strength of the successful implementation of this project, the police force is receiving a contemporary and effective tool in the fight against the illicit trade and illegal possession of Small Arms and Light Weapons, in line with their efforts to improve security in the country. As UNDP, we strongly believe that this joint effort to create relevant evidence-based SALW policies and accurate risk assessments follows a long path of creating safer and violence-resilient communities.