During the UNGA High Level week in September, four West African states – Ghana, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau – signed the Arms Trade Treaty as part of the High Level treaty signing event.

Ghana signed the Treaty on 24 September, 2013, but it has shown its support for the ATT from the very beginning by becoming involved in stopping the illicit trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). Furthermore, it has also made statements on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), stressing the importance of the ATT in saving innocent lives, and protecting human rights and minority rights. In fact, on 23 September, 2011 the former President of Ghana told the General Assembly that “for developing countries such as Ghana, the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons continues to pose a threat to national security and socio-economic and political stability.” Hon. Alban Bagbin, a member of Control Arms member Parliamentarians for Global Action welcomed Ghana’s signature on the ATT, stating that “Presently, there are a lot of things wrong with how conventional arms are sold worldwide. There cannot be a better way of controlling the movement of deadly arms across the world than a treaty of this kind, which seeks to ensure greater discipline in the sale of arms around the globe.”

Another signatory was Sierra Leone, a state that has suffered tremendously due to the illegal arms trade, which helped fuel its 11 year long civil war. It was thus a great victory not only for Sierra Leone, but also for the entire region, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone, Samura M. W. Kamara signed the treaty, on 25 September, 2013. According to a study – “The call for tough arms controls: Voices from Sierra Leone” published in 2006 and sponsored by Control Arms, Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms, and Oxfam International, tens of thousands of people were killed, thousands were mutilated, two-thirds of the population was displaced, and around 600, 000 fled the country as a result of the civil war. Even more troublesome was the fact that approximately 10, 000 children were abducted and used as child soldiers in Sierra Leone. As such, the ATT not only will reduce the likelihood of civil wars, but it will also have a considerable impact on the fight to prevent the military use of children. Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, the current Minority Leader of Parliament in Sierra Leone – explained the incredible suffering that Sierra Leonean women withstood during this time, from rape, sexual assault, and sex slavery, to forced marriages and unwanted pregnancies. Thus, the positive impact of the Treaty will extend far beyond the illicit arms trade, to the protection of women and children’s rights and to the reduction of abuses aimed towards women during conflict.

Sierra Leone took further steps to reduce the existent amount of illegal weapons in the country and prevent further import of illicit armament and ammunition by establishing the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA). The SLeNCSA will register every weapon entering the country, making it easier to the authorities to trace the origin of the guns involved in criminal activities.

Control Arms welcomes the signatures of all four West African states. Coalition member, Mr. Baffour Amoa, the President of the West African Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA) highlighted the positive impact this treaty will have in West Africa, stating: “This treaty is long overdue. Too much blood has been spilt in Africa through armed violence fuelled by the flood of weapons into our continent”. Unfortunately, conflict not only leads to the tragic loss of life but also has a negative impact on national and regional stability and on economic development. In fact, according a study conducted by Oxfam, the cost of armed conflict in Africa is approximately $18 billion a year, reducing a state’s economic output by approximately 15%. As such “states now need to put the necessary resources towards ensuring effective implementation which will enhance peace and security across Africa, and lead to accelerated development” said Mr. Amoa.

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