Ten years ago, on 28 April 2004, the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted resolution 1540, requiring governments to prevent armed, non-state actors from acquiring, proliferating and using nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Commenting on the anniversary of the resolution, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to states and other key actors to 'intensify their efforts to stop the proliferation of these devastating weapons.' Ban also said that the use of poison gas in Syria was 'an alarming reminder of the continuing threat of weapons of mass destruction.'
Resolution 1540 imposes mandatory obligations on all UN states to adopt legislation to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery, as well as to establish appropriate domestic controls to prevent their illicit trafficking. It also encourages enhanced international co-operation on such efforts.
The resolution affirms support for multilateral agreements such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). This highlights the importance for all states to fully implement these treaties.
"Perceived 'sluggish' reporting does not mean that resolution 1540 is not being implemented"
States are required to periodically draft reports on the progress they have made in terms of their 1540 obligations, and to submit these to the 1540 Committee.
While it may have been true in the past that African countries have not prioritised implementing resolution 1540, this is no longer the case. Although 17 African states have yet to submit a first national report, all African states (except South Sudan) are party to the NPT; 32 are party to the BTWC; and only three states have yet to ratify the CWC.
The perceived 'sluggish' reporting in Africa does not necessarily mean that resolution 1540 is not being implemented.
While submitting reports to the 1540 Committee is a requirement, it could be argued that it is better to submit a quality report - which might take longer, but contains accurate information and can guide dialogue with the 1540 Committee - than a superficial report that merely ticks a box on a to-do list. In fact, the key value of such reports is to allow the Committee and the state to identify where assistance may be needed.
In partnership with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and other UN bodies, African states have arranged a number of workshops to improve their implementation efforts.
Seminars have also been arranged by African civil-society organisations that work towards enhancing the continent's role in efforts to strengthen WMD disarmament and non-proliferation.
The African Union (AU) now has a 1540 Focal Point, and regional economic communities such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have been identified as crucial drivers in sensitising member states, mobilising resources, developing model legislation and providing technical support.
The first 'all-Africa' resolution 1540 workshop was held in Pretoria, South Africa, in November 2012. The South African government hosted the event in collaboration with the AU, and with the support of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) to South Africa's Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO).
In December 2013, and as a follow-up to the Pretoria workshop, the African Union Commission (AUC) collaborated with the 1540 Committee to organise a workshop at its headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Thirty-five AU member states participated in the workshop, and the list of invitees was expanded to include regional economic communities not present at the first workshop, as well as professional associations and relevant continental networks.
In 2014, the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) will host three sub-regional workshops focusing on national reporting capacities and methodologies.
To encourage more open and frank discussion, workshop organisers have identified 'champions' of resolution 1540 - member states that have reported regularly over the past ten years. Champion states include Angola, Gabon, Kenya, Togo and South Africa.
These 'champions,' 1540 Committee members and experts will share their experience and effective practices with non-reporting member states.
The first of these workshops, which are language based, has already taken place in Gabon in March for French-speaking African countries.
South Africa, together with UNREC and ISS, hosted the second workshop in April (this time for English-speaking countries) for African states that have yet to submit their first reports. As a former chair of the 1540 Committee, South Africa understands the importance of assisting states with their reporting requirements.
Participants also benefitted from the attendance of two representatives of the Experts of the Committee established by resolution 1540.
The hands-on training workshop provided a forum for states to share their experiences, challenges and best practices and it greatly enhanced participants' capacity to prepare their country's initial reports.
The full implementation of resolution 1540 is a long-term task. Since the adoption of the resolution, African states have steadily increased their implementation efforts with growing support from various organisations and civil society bodies such as the UNODA, UNREC, the AU and ISS. This momentum will hopefully be maintained through their continued efforts in collaboration with African states.
Noel Stott, Senior Research Fellow and Amelia Broodryk, Senior Researcher, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria