Liberia: The importance of signing the Arms Trade Treaty
Liberia signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on 4 June 2013. Before leaving for New York to sign the treaty, Ambassador Conmany Wesseh, Minister of State without Portfolio and Chairman of the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms gave an interview to “Beyond the Signpost,” a radio programme produced by the Liberia National Red Cross Society.
Ambassador Wesseh, why is Liberia interested in the ATT?
The Arms Trade Treaty was established as an international standard for the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms and ammunition. This contributes to such important matters as peace or peace building and national security and, last but not least, to reducing human suffering and armed violence. These are precisely the reasons why Liberia is interested in signing this treaty.
Having been through war for fourteen years, having been through various kinds of armed conflict of different degrees and at different levels, from the rice riot of April 1979, and a coup d’etat a year later, to the civil war that affected all the communities in the various parts of the nation, Liberia today is indeed interested in peace and security, and all its citizens deserve tranquillity.
As States Parties assemble at UN headquarters in New York for the final signing of the ATT, could you tell us about the nature of Liberia’s commitment to the treaty?
The first commitment is that we are among the first signatories. The basic elements of the treaty are fundamental ideas that we subscribe to. We expressed our wish for a more robust treaty, but since what we have is acceptable to the whole world, it is something that we can live with. We must continue to work on it to ensure its implementation. We sign it, bring it home and ensure that it gets ratified. So Liberia is fully committed, Liberia is a champion of this treaty.
Our president [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf] was probably the only head of State who constantly promoted this treaty while talking to the international media. She even sent video messages to the negotiation meetings, where we were present. Our delegation was a very vocal and active part of the different meetings. I am convinced that we played an important role in these negotiations.
To implement the ATT, States Parties are required to establish and maintain a national control system, including a national control list of weapons and items covered. How does Liberia intend to follow up on this?
Liberia has been thoroughly committed to controlling and regulating the use of arms on its territory and for this reason the government set up, very early, the National Commission on Small Arms. Quite a number of people do not know the duties and the usefulness of the Commission. It is the regulatory body of the Liberian government that coordinates all the government agencies that have anything to do with arms issues – that is, with the trade in small arms or with transferring or transporting them.
We ensure that arms imported into our country are used responsibly. That means that people who own arms and are allowed to use them must be responsible and of sound mind - the police and the army who defend the society and our country.
Weapons that are brought into Liberia sometimes land in the wrong hands. How efficiently will the National Commission on Small Arms regulate arms coming into the country?
Well, the regulatory mechanism or the processes are now under way, and the government is now discussing the Firearms Act and other Acts that will be passed on arms coming to Liberia and on their use. The regulations are very clear regarding the issue of arms and the use of arms in our society. The police, the ministry of justice, the armed forces, the ministry of defence, the immigration authorities and others are all working together to create a common approach. In addition, civil society organizations are involved, and we hope to soon introduce a law that will regulate all matters related to arms and ammunition.
Interview by Oniel Bestman