26 February 2013

West Africa: Liberia Backs ECOWAS Arms Trade Treaty

ECOWAS Member States, including Liberia, have agreed upon a set of issues they consider the minimum acceptable elements for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which will undergo further negotiation at a United Nations conference in New York next month.

The elements they identified at the just ended regional pre-negotiation meeting on the ATT in Abuja, Nigeria, highlight the inclusion of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition within th e scope of the ATT and clear prohibition of transfers of conventional arms to unauthorized Non State Actors.

The West African countries also pushed for activities of the ATT to cover importation, re-exportation, transit and brokering; ensuring that obligations on transit states are realistic in comparison with their capacities.

The ECOWAS Nations also identified international cooperation and assistance to cover all aspects of the ATT in an effort to ensure that the treaty establishes the highest common standard for international transfer of conventional arms, in order to reduce human suffering resulting from the misuse of the arms.

Liberia's representative at the meeting Mrs. Vivian Dogbey described the meeting as a success as it provided the delegates a platform for reviewing the draft Arms Trade Treaty of July 2012 and identifying its strengths and weaknesses.

Madam Dogbey, an administrator and expert from the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms, explained that the conference succeeded in identifying language and texts that need to be preserved or improved to advance the position of ECOWAS as the regional body prepares for next month's United Nations Conference on the ATT.

She expressed excitement that Liberia's position on including ammunition in the ATT was again embraced by the delegates from other ECOWAS Member States, and hoped that they would succeed in getting other regions, especially arms producing countries, to incorporate ammunition in the scope of the ATT.

Madam Dogbey was confident that ECOWAS would make an impact at the March meeting, even with the presence of powerful arms producing states. "The ECOWAS region will make an impact if we remain united. We have a strong position and just as it was in July last year, I am sure that a lot of countries will support ECOWAS's position because we have a strong position," she said.

Opening the meeting earlier on Thursday, Madam Salamatu Suleiman, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, urged country delegates to include the prohibition of arms transfer to Non State Actors and the recognition of the role of regional economic communities in the position paper of ECOWAS on the ATT.

Commissioner Suleiman also highlighted the inclusion of ammunition in the scope of the ATT, noting that "no small arm and light weapon can have lethal effect without ammunition."

It can be recalled that in July last year the global ATT negotiation meeting collapsed on the last day of the gathering when the United States of America pulled out on grounds that it needed more time for consultation on the issues to be covered in the treaty.

Liberia's Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh, who also attended the opening of the pre-negotiation meeting in Abuja, urged the delegates to take up time to identify the root cause of the collapse in negotiation last year in order to avoid a recurrence.

In this respect, Ambassador Conteh also encouraged the delegates to consider reviewing the title of the treaty, 'Arms Trade,' which has economic implications that could make it difficult for countries on the supply side to prohibit language in the ATT that would curb their comparative advantages.

The two day pre-negotiation meeting, which was organized by the ECOWAS Commission with support from the United Kingdom and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), took place at the Headquarters of the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja from February 23rd and 24th.

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