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Nigeria: call for action to tackle arms proliferation in West Africa

07-11-2008 News Release 08/202

Abuja (ICRC) – Government experts responsible for applying international treaties in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have called on member States that have yet to ratify the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and other Related Materials (SALW) to do so and to work more closely with civil society in ensuring its full implementation.

This was a major recommendation of the seventh seminar on international humanitarian law treaties in West Africa, organized jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and ECOWAS in Abuja from 27 to 29 October. Thirty-five experts attended.

On the final day, ambassadors of the 15 ECOWAS member States, alongside key donor-country representatives from Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, joined the participants to discuss the issue of arms proliferation in the region as well as the new convention prohibiting cluster munitions, which will be opened for signature in Oslo on 3 December.

In 1998, ECOWAS heads of State took the first such initiative in Bamako, declaring a moratorium on small arms and light weapons. However, such political declarations were largely ineffective, says Dr Cyriaque Agenekethom, head of the ECOWAS Small Arms and Light Weapons Unit, because member States did not consider themselves bound by them. " There was no structure in place to follow them up, and their provisions were not strong enough, " he added.

The lack of enforcement measures resulted in the ECOWAS moratorium being transformed into a legally binding instrument, the SALW, signed by the heads of all member States in June 2006.

" The Abuja meeting will provide momentum towards getting ratification from two more States, which is needed to bring the Convention into force, " said Jacques Villettaz, head of the ICRC delegation in Nigeria. " Hopefully that will happen by the end of the year. "

Followi ng an ICRC presentation on cluster munitions and their devastating effect on the civilian population, the meeting also asked the member States to ensure that high-level delegations took part in the Oslo signing ceremony for the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

For further information, please contact:
  Anahita Kar, ICRC Abuja, tel +234 9 4619613 or +234 703 595 4168
  Blessing Ejiofor, ICRC Abuja, tel. +234 803 3335280