Security Council calls for West African cooperation to curb small arms trafficking

Security Council calls for West African cooperation to curb small arms trafficking

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Voicing deep concern at the effect the spread of small arms and light weapons, as well as mercenary activities, has had on peace and security in West Africa, the United Nations Security Council today called on countries there to strengthen their cooperation in order to identify individuals and entities engaged in the trafficking of such weapons and who support mercenary activities.

Following a daylong, high-level meeting chaired by Foreign Minister François Lonseny Fall of Guinea, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution containing a declaration on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and mercenary activities in West Africa. The declaration emphasizes that the unchecked spread of small arms and the phenomenon of mercenary activities contribute to serious violations of human rights and international law, which the Council condemned.

The Council requested West African countries to ensure that relevant measures adopted at the national, regional and international levels to combat the illicit traffic in small arms and mercenary activities are put into effect. The Council also called on the States of the sub-region to consider other appropriate steps, including recommendations emanating from today's interactive meeting.

Among the declaration's provisions was a recommendation that the West African countries consider broadening the 1998 small arms moratorium of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to include an information exchange mechanism for all types of arms procured by ECOWAS members, as well as for arms transfers by supplier countries. The Council also called on all arms-producing and exporting countries that have not yet done so, to enact stringent arms regulations and administrative procedures, and recommended the establishment of an ECOWAS national register that would record national holdings of those weapons.

Among the more than 20 speakers that took part in the Council's discussion, Nana Effah Apenteng of Ghana, which currently holds the chairmanship of ECOWAS, informed the 15-nation body that of the 500 million light weapons believed to be in circulation worldwide, perhaps as many as 30 million were in use in Africa - nearly 8 million in West Africa alone. The continent also accounted for about 300,000 child soldiers and 10,000 mercenaries, signalling dire implications for the entire continent. "It is only through concerted efforts and the support of the international community that these problems can be overcome," he said, stressing that it might be worth examining whether any potential advantages could be derived from revising the 1998 Moratorium and making it a permanent instrument.

Mohamed Chambas, ECOWAS Executive Secretary, said the alliance remained engaged with issues surrounding the "twin devils" of small arms and mercenary activities. The ECOWAS heads of State meeting in Dakar in January had recommended the establishment of a small arms unit within ECOWAS to strengthen its capacity to reduce, manage and eliminate small arms and to enhance human security as a means of facilitating harmonious development. He appealed to the Council and to the international community help with the establishment of a well-resourced small arms unit.

For his part, Said Djinnit, Interim Commissioner for Peace, Security and Political Affairs of the African Union, said the plethora of weapons and the use of mercenaries exacerbated conflicts, increased the risk of an explosion in tense inter-state relations, and rendered war even more atrocious. Underlying that was the weakness of the democratic culture and discrimination against minorities. While he cited numerous initiatives and regional counter-measures, he stressed that the best programmes would be of no use without the necessary political will to implement them. A moratorium could only operate if it had an independent follow-up and monitoring mechanism and the necessary means to identify those who violated the regime, he said.