A seminar on the ATT and its complementarities to the Regional Arms Control Instruments for Partner States, organised by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), took place in Arusha over the weekend.
EALA member Pierre Celestin Rwigema, speaking on behalf of Speaker Ngoga Karoli Martin, said it is vital for the region to seriously tackle the matter of illegal arms, adding that the security challenges are more of a concern for intra-state rather than inter-state initiatives.
According to Rwigema, insecurity plays a role in hindering development and destabilizing leaderships, resulting in poor economic development among other consequences.
He warned that arms trafficking and transnational criminality which is often times related to the presence of illegal weapons will threaten the entire African continent if not checked.
Said Rwigema: “In addition, with the EAC now implementing the common market protocol that envisages free movement, there are imminent fears of an increase in cross-border crime.”
“Unfortunately, free movement of persons does not only involve those in search of opportunities, but inevitably also the free movement of criminals. This can be destabilizing and calls for closer co-operation by the agencies.”
He cited articles 123,124 and 125 of the EAC Treaty as explicitly underscoring security as “a critical component in supporting, consolidating, and protecting regional integration.”
Rwigema asserted that the African continent is repositioning itself to be a significant player in global trade, and thus all efforts are needed to ensure regional and continental peace and security.
He also stressed the need for all EAC partner states to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. At the moment, all six partner states are among the 38 countries that have signed but not ratified the ATT, according to the head of the treaty’s secretariat, Dumisani Dladla.
Dr Philip Mwanika, ICRC focal point in charge of multilateral affairs and humanitarian diplomacy, described the EALA as a critical stakeholder as far as reducing armed violence and conflict mitigation is concerned.
He said the ICRC is keen to continue its mandate of supporting civilians living in armed conflict areas, noting the indiscriminate and direct attacks against civilians, hospitals, and even humanitarian workers.
According to Dr Mwanika, after 30-plus years of work in South Sudan and Somalia, the ICRC can now 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.
Dladla of the ATT secretariat said whereas importation and related issues of buy and sale of arms is a sovereign right of nations, they must work together to assess the risk of proposed transfers.
These nations need to take measures to regulate arms imports where necessary, which may include reviewing overall import systems and requesting information from exporting states regarding pending or actual authorization of shipment, he stated.
The objectives of the seminar were to demystify certain worrisome provisions of the ATT and provide a platform for perspectives sharing on the treaty as a whole.
ICRC regional legal advisor Eve Massingham expressed surprise that although East Africa is one region of the world that is most gravely affected by small arms and light weapons, not a single East African state is so far a confirmed party to the ATT.
"The failure of any East African state to ratify the treaty seems to be holding others back. The purpose of this seminar is to identify what the roadblocks are to ratifying it," Massingham said.
The ATT, which entered into force in December 2014, is part of the international response to 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.