Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Project

Small arms and light weapons are defined in the United Nation’s International Tracing Instrument as any man-portable lethal weapon that expels or launches, is designed to expel or launch, or may be readily converted to expel or launch a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive.

“Small arms” are, broadly speaking, weapons designed to be carried and operated by an individual. They include, inter alia, revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, shotguns, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns.  “Light weapons” are, broadly speaking, team operated, or designed to fire an explosive projectile. They include, inter alia, heavy machine guns, under-barrel grenade launchers and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, man-portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems, man-portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems, and mortars.

The illicit global trade in small arms and light weapons has been an increasing cause of instability, violence and death across the world. In response to this growing threat, in March 2015 the WCO initiated the Small Arms and Light Weapons Project that aims to detect and prevent illicit trafficking of these items. The SALW Project is comprised of five key areas, namely:

  1. awareness raising, legal analysis and development of guidance;
  2. training and technical assistance;
  3. operational coordination;
  4. development of SALW-specific tools to support better intelligence analysis and risk management; and
  5. international cooperation.

Since the start of the Project, the WCO and its Members have conducted legal and technical analyses of the implications of the key international SALW instruments, including the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the Firearms Protocol, and the Program of Action (PoA) on Customs. The WCO has also worked closely with international organizations such as INTERPOL and UNODA in this area, with a view to combating small arms and light weapons trafficking. In December 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed with UNODA to enhance this cooperative effort.


In May 2020, the WCO gained access to Interpol’s iARMS database, which enables law enforcement to search seized and recovered firearms to see if they have been reported as lost or stolen in any other jurisdiction.  The database contains over 1.3 million firearms records, and the WCO can conduct searches on behalf of its Member administrations to assist with investigations into recovered firearms and the identification of trafficking routes.

To request searches and traces using the iARMS system, or to request further information, administrations are invited to contact

Capacity Building

In late 2019 and 2020, the SALW Project conducted workshops and national training events for SALW awareness raising and training capacity. Focused on the MENA region, one regional workshop and one sub-regional workshop were conducted, along with three national needs nssessment missions and two weeks of national training for administrations in the region. With the rise of the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent travel restrictions, a shift to alternative delivery methods is required for further capacity building actions, and work is ongoing in this area.

The WCO has also supported other agencies in the region during this period, with, for example, CO-ARM regional workshops in Algeria, UN CTED missions with specialist input regarding SALW, and other UN-led events.


Currently there are two online courses on CLiKC! – the WCO’s online web-based learning portal. They are based around identifying and combating fraud as it pertains to firearms license procedures, as well as the identification and interception of weapon components at the border.

Both courses can be accessed through the WCO CLliKC! webpage,