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Stakeholders push for ratification of the arms treaty

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Stakeholders keen to reduce the proliferation of Small and Light Weapons (SALW) now want EAC Partner States to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to mop out illegal arms.

A seminar on Arms Trade Treaty and its Complementarity to the Regional Arms Control Instruments for Partner States organised by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) took place in Arusha days ago.

EALA Member,Pierre Celestin Rwigema, speaking on behalf of the Speaker, Martin Ngoga Karoli, said it was vital for the region to seriously tackle the matter of illegal arms saying the security challenges were beyond inter-state issues but a concern for intrastate initiatives.

Rwigema said insecurity played a role in hindering development, destabilizing leadership and resulted in poor economic development among others. The legislator added that violent crimes as well as arms trafficking, transnational criminality, which were many times related to presence of illegal arms would threaten the continent if not checked.

“In addition, with the EAC now implementing the Common Market Protocol that envisages free movement, there is imminent fear of increase in cross-border crime. Unfortunately, free movement of persons does not only involve those in search of opportunities, but it inevitably also involves free movement of criminals. This can be destabilizing and calls for closer co-operation by the agencies. Articles 123,124 and 125 of the EAC Treaty explicitly underscores security as a critical component in supporting; consolidating and protecting regional integration”, Rwigema said.

The legislator remarked that the African continent was repositioning itself to be a significant player in global trade. He therefore called for all effort to be inculcated to ensure regional and continental peace and security. Hon Rwigema said it was necessary for all Partner States to ratify the Treaty. At the moment, all Partner States have signed the Treaty but none of them has ratified the same. The EAC Partner States are among the 38 countries that have signed but not ratified the Treaty according to the Head of the Arms Trade Treaty Secretariat, Mr Dumisani Dladla.

Dr Philip Mwanika, ICRC Focal Point in Charge of Multilateral Affairs and Humanitarian Diplomacy, remarked that the Assembly was a critical stakeholder in so far as reducing armed violence and conflict mitigation is concerned.We have particularly been made aware of the work of the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution towards conducting fact finding mission and advancing conflict transformative dialogue sessions with civil society and governments pertaining to some still protracted social contexts in the region”, Dr Mwanika said.

The ICRC, he said, was keen to continue in its mandate of supporting citizens in the armed conflict areas. Mwanika lamented over the bulk of civilian suffering occasioned by presence of conventional weapons and cited the indiscriminate and direct attacks against civilians, hospitals and even humanitarian workers.

He called for responsible arms transfers and enforcement of rules and norms connected to international arms trading as a means to preventing the risks of weapons they provide from being used to commit, or facilitate serious violations of human rights.

Mwanika said over the thirty-plus years of work in South Sudan and Somalia, the ICRC could attest to a slow-motion effect of conventional weaponry in displacement and more indirect suffering due to cumulative deterioration of basic services, life chances and livelihoods.

Mwanika also informed the seminar of positive developments and dynamics citing conscious action towards armed violence reduction as a means to realizing peace and security. The multilateral expert enumerated the Nairobi Protocol, Kinshasa Convention, the EAPCCO Protocol and the Mifugo Protocol as key resources in dealing with the scourge of small arms and light weapons.

The Head of the Arms Trade Treaty Secretariat, Dumisani Dladla, said whereas importation and related issues of buy and sale of arms is a sovereign right of nations, states must work together to assess the risk of proposed transfers. He said that nations need to take measures to regulate arms imports where necessary and which may include looking at the import systems as well as requesting information from an exporting state regarding a pending or actual authorization of shipment.

The objectives of the seminar were to demystify certain provisions of the ATT which have raised concerns for Member States in the region, to provide a platform towards listening to perspectives of other states and regional organization on ratification of the ATT; to understand other similarities and differences between the Nairobi Protocol and the ATT (UNPOA) and to take a pragmatic approach to understand the ATT reporting obligations and identify ways to harmonise transparency obligations under the Nairobi Protocol.

According to the ICRC, more must be done to revert what can be a crisis of small arms in future.

“East Africa is one of the regions in the world that is gravely affected by small arms and light weapons and yet no single East African state is a party to the Arms Trade Treaty,” said Eve Massingham, Regional Legal Advisor for the ICRC.

She said that the failure of any East Africa state to ratify the treaty seems to be holding others back, arguing that there is need to speak collectively about the Arms Trade Treaty and what roadblocks countries face to ratifying it.

The ATT which entered in to force in Dec 2014 is part of the International response to the tremendous human suffering caused by the widespread and poorly regulated availability of conventional weapons in establishing for the first time a global norm for responsible arms transfers, the ATT represents a historic achievement.

Analysts contend that the ATT as contrasted with other control laws provides a blueprint for action to reduce human suffering by all States in the arms supply chains. By adopting the ATT, States have recognized that arms and ammunition can no longer be regarded as just another form of commercial goods.

At the very core of the Treaty is the need to subject the transfer of conventional arms, their ammunition, and parts and components to strict criteria, with the aim of ensuring that weapons do not end up in the hands of those who would use them to commit serious violations of international human rights law or other serious crimes.

Mr Oluwafisan Bankale,Representative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said illicit rampant of SALW was rampant in the region due to a culture fueled by several conflicts including civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau. At the same time Tuareg rebellions in Niger and Mali and the terrorism activities in Mali and Nigeria had led to the leak of stock in to the hands of terrorists.

EALA Member, George Odongo reiterated that the Treaty been specific to the Partner States means we need to interrogate the issues at the Partner States levels and EALA is capable of holding the conversation with the national parliamentary committees. The Assembly is interested in peace and security and the prevalence of arms hampersthe aspect.

“ATT looks at the demand and supply side and it is therefore vital to look at the entire trajectory including matters of stockpile management. EALA RACR wants to continue in the engagement with ICRC”, he said. “We are keen to look at the ratification issue and to aggregate the regional and international commitments,” Odongo said.

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