In 2013, African Union (AU) leaders committed to a future where the continent is free from the scourge of conflict; pledging to “end all wars in Africa by 2020”.
But the high ideals of Vision 2020 – also referred to as “Silencing the Guns” – can only become a reality if pragmatic steps are taken to curb the misuse and uncontrolled spread of arms. One such measure is the enforcement of United Nations (UN) imposed arms embargoes.
A seminar hosted in Addis Ababa this week by the AU and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) examined the pivotal role sanctions play in maintaining and restoring peace and security.
“The AU recognises that while the causes and factors driving armed conflict have varied, the wide and devastating use of conventional weapons, particularly small arms and light weapons has remained a common characteristic among all of them,” Dr Tarek Sharif, Director of the Peace and Security Department of the AU Commission, said.
“The reduction and elimination of illicit arms flows into conflict zones will considerably reduce human suffering, provide a conducive environment for conflict resolution and peacebuilding and mitigate the risk of relapse into violence. This seminar was an important step to foster dialogue and understanding regarding arms embargoes in Africa within the context of Silencing the Guns,” he said.
A new ISS policy brief, launched at the seminar, pinpoints ways in which the AU can enhance enforcement of these sanctions and also identifies challenges in the way of effective implementation.
Countries that have had their arms embargoes lifted recently, such as Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, show proper enforcement, coupled with sufficient support from neighbouring countries, makes it possible to attain criteria set by the UN for lifting embargoes. A challenge is for countries to sustain the momentum after embargoes are lifted.
“Porous borders, limited technology, legislative gaps and poor information-sharing between states all hinder the enforcement of arms embargoes,” Nelson Alusala, ISS consultant and author of the policy brief, said. “There is also a misperception these embargoes are punitive and impede on the sovereignty of states, when in reality such sanctions are a positive step in the transformation of conflict-affected areas”.
“Conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and instability in Somalia continue to challenge the effectiveness of arms embargoes in these countries. While the policy brief identifies the underlying challenges in these countries, it emphasises the responsibility and role of the states themselves; whether those are states directly targeted by sanctions, or their neighbours.
“This role is particularly relevant in terms of enforcing legislation, regulating brokering activities and enhancing inter-agency communication and co-ordination to ensure strict adherence to the requirements of the embargoes,” Einas Mohammed, Senior Policy Officer on Disarmament and Non-proliferation in the Defence and Security Division of the AU Commission, said.
“There are clear and timely steps the AU Peace and Security Council could take to derive maximum benefits from arms embargoes. The sanctions committee, already conceptualised, should be made operational and linked to the UN Sanctions Subsidiary Organs Branch and African states under sanctions.
“The AU can also contribute to regional measures by integrating arms embargo enforcement measures in its co-operation with regional economic communities.
“Arms embargoes must be applied as part of a comprehensive strategy including peacekeeping, peacebuilding and peacemaking. In doing so, the AU can pursue a structured approach to assist national and regional institutions in enforcing these sanctions,” Alusala said.