UNODC/UNIDIR: Addressing the linkages between illicit arms, organized crime and armed conflict

Linkages between illicit arms, organized crime, and armed conflict can reinforce one another while also escalating and prolonging violence and eroding governance.1 Financial gains from crime can lengthen or intensify armed conflicts by creating revenue streams for non-State armed groups (NSAGs). Beyond undermining the monopoly of the State on the use of force, armed conflict also creates an environment that can enable organized crime to prosper. In this context, when hostilities cease and parties to a conflict move towards a peaceful resolution, the widespread availability of surplus arms and ammunition can contribute to a situation of ‘criminalized peace’ that obstructs sustainable peacebuilding efforts.

Illicit arms and ammunition clearly link conflict to crime as well as crime to conflict. Illicit arms can both enable and fuel an armed conflict, while different conflict phases provide opportunities for the diversion of arms and a potentially lucrative income source for organized arms trafficking networks. NSAGs and organized criminal groups (OCGs) use illicit arms to engage in conflict or perpetrate crime respectively, while both types of groups can also be involved in the trafficking of arms. Furthermore, there are often-blurred lines between these types of groups, particularly in conflict and post-conflict settings.

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