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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 42, December 1999

ECOWAS Summit Takes Fresh Steps to Support Small Arms Moratorium

At its 22nd Summit, in Lomé, Togo, from December 9-10, the 16-state Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) took a number of important steps aimed at reducing armed conflict in the region and supporting the Community's small arms moratorium. The measures were summarised in a UN Press Release issued by the Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) on December 27:

"The most significant measure is a Code of Conduct to backstop the implementation of the Moratorium on the Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Light Weapons, adopted in Abuja, Nigeria on October 31 1998. The Moratorium entered into force on 1 November 1998 for a renewable period of three years.

The Code of Conduct sets out a stringent waiver procedure for any ECOWAS Member State wishing to import, export or manufacture light weapons during the duration of the Moratorium. Its provisions oblige ECOWAS Members to seek prior authorization before importing light weapons for peacekeeping operations or for hunting, training or sporting into the geographic zone covered by the Moratorium. The procedure requires that all such weapons be registered on arrival in the ECOWAS zone to ensure their effective control and eventual removal from the zone once peacekeeping missions or hunting expeditions are concluded.

The Summit approved the implementation of the prototype of a regional arms register and database on light weapons. The register will contain information on the import, export, manufacture, seizures and holdings of the seven categories of arms and ammunition covered by the Moratorium. The database will be a repository of different types of information about light weapons, including their description. West Africa is considered a pilot region for the implementation of the register and database. It is hoped that similar arrangements might be made in the future for other parts of continent. The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, which is part of the Department for Disarmament Affairs, will host the arms register and database, and has been asked to assist in that pursuit.

The ECOWAS Heads of State and Government Summit also adopted a Conflict Prevention and Management Protocol. The mechanism provides increased legal and institutional support to the subregion's peacekeeping force, Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG), and enhances monitoring of potential conflicts through the establishment of four observation centres in the zone. ECOWAS secured funding from the European Union for the set up of the four offices, which will be based in the capitals of the Republics of Benin, Burkina Faso, Liberia and the Gambia.

ECOWAS Member States have also been invited to make nominations for a Committee of Wise Men, whose help would be sought to defuse tensions and resolve armed conflicts wherever they erupt in the subregion.

The mechanisms adopted add to the existing Mediation and Security Council of ECOWAS, whose members are the 16 Heads of State of the organization. The Code of Conduct sets out a special role for the Council, whose arbitration shall be sought in resolving possible opposition to requests to import, export or manufacture light weapons during the Moratorium.

The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa reported to the Summit on progress achieved by the Programme for Coordination and Assistance on Security and Development (PCASED) within the first year of implementing the Moratorium. The Lomé Centre serves as the operational framework for PCASED.

According to the report, PCASED and the ECOWAS Executive Secretariat were contacted more than half a dozen times by arms supplier states, arms dealers and by individuals seeking to import light weapons to the ECOWAS zone. Exemptions, the report said, were granted to states importing for training purposes, for general security use or to reconstitute stocks as countries emerge from crisis situations.

ECOWAS Heads of State and Government also adopted a resolution calling on member states to urgently establish national commissions to fight against the proliferation of light weapons, describing them as critical to the effective functioning of PCASED and the Moratorium."

Note: in Lomé on November 17, Togo and the UN signed a host-country agreement formalising the position of Togo as hosts of the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa. The agreement was signed for the UN by the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, whose "visit to Togo," according to a DDA release, "was initiated as part of continued efforts to revitalise the Regional Centre…and boost regional disarmament, in particular the Moratorium…"

Reports: Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs visits Lomé, United Nations Press Release DC/2671, November 22; West African States adopt code of conduct on light weapons, launch regional arms register and database, United Nations Press Release DC/2675, December 27.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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