The EU-funded project iTrace maps out supply routes of illegal weapons and ammunition and brings to light data about the global illicit arms trade in an effort to inform effective policy making.
The illegal supply and trade of weapons and ammunition is, by its very nature, difficult to track. Some ammunition is purposefully manufactured unmarked while, in some instances, markings are removed from weapons once they have been ‘diverted’ i.e. taken from an official source such as legally obtained stockpiles. Yet keeping an eye on the supply chain and price of illegal arms and ammunition is crucial for developing adequate regulation and creating violence prevention mechanisms. Discussing the inclusion of arms control in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, research group Small Arms Survey noted the need for more data to be made available on the global arms trade, stating: “one key challenge facing the measurement of progress…is the very limited availability of information on the quantities, types, and value of illicit arms in global circulation; and greater investment is needed to fill this knowledge gap.”
To this end, the initiative iTrace, which launched in 2014, aims to shed some light on the illegal arms trade by tracking the exchange of weapons and ammunition and visualising the route on digital maps. iTrace is part of the digital arm of Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a think tank and research organisation involved in bringing information to policy makers about the global arms and ammunition trade. CAR combines offline and online methodologies to gather and present its data, conducting extensive field investigations in conflict zones about the prevalence and source of illegal weapons and ammunition. This info is then used to build and support its online weapon tracking database and mapping system, iTrace, which is also accessible to the public (after signing up).
To gather its data, CAR undertakes interviews in the field with groups using weapons (including with rebel forces); analyses any shipment and packaging documentation; and liaises with weapon manufacturers, exporters, defence and security bodies and intelligence agencies. The results of these investigations are used as a basis to determine and define groups responsible for dealing in illegal weapons and ammunition as well as identifying trade routes. Once the chain of supply has been outlined, the organisation makes the data publicly available via iTrace, geospatially plotting a weapon’s supply and transfer route on a map, as well as offering information on the type of weapon or ammunition that’s being traced and, where possible, images.
The maps provide accurate, verified insight into where weapons and ammunition originate and where they end up and enable policy makers to adapt and tailor arms control legislation and monitoring activities accordingly. Head to the website to find out more and explore the maps.