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Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai addresses International Conference on Arms Treaty
May 31, 2013, 17:00
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Presentation by Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, Minority Leader, Sierra Leone Parliament

on the PGA Regional Parliamentary Workshop on The Arms Trade Treaty Held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 29th-30th May, 2013:
Promoting the Entry into Force of the Arms Trade Treaty - the Contribution of Africa.


Mr. Chair, let me start by acknowledging PGA for organizing this workshop and inviting me to participate in it. I am also grateful to PGA for facilitating my participation in the 1st and 2nd PrepCom meetings in New York, as a former chairperson of the PGA National group and Executive Council member.


There is the worlds quest for the promotion of the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security by preventing and eradicating the illicit trade in conventional arms and to prevent their diversion to illicit markets or for unauthorized use. For several years, the world have been working on an arms trade treaty to achieve this aim.

Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai


On Monday, 2nd April, 2013, The Arms Trade Treaty was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 154 States in UN Headquarters in New York.

Africa played a pivotal role in the negotiations leading to the adoption.  Nigeria and Cote divoire made statements on behalf of the African Group and ECOWAS, respectively. Ghana also made statement on behalf of 103 concurring countries.


Because many African countries have experienced armed conflicts, including Sierra Leone, the African stance was no doubt assertive in calling for the inclusion of small arms and light weapons in the scope of the treaty.


Sierra Leone has come from an eleven-year old rebel war that was fueled by  proceeds from diamonds used to purchase small arms and light weapons. Since the war key milestones have been achieved and ongoing such as: disarmament of the warring factions, ratification of the ECOWAS protocol on SALW, Establishment of the National Commission on SALW by an act of parliament, conduct of a national survey on SALW, elaboration of a 5-year national action  plan, enactment of an Arms and Ammunition Act in 2012, which was greatly informed by the draft text of the ATT,  preparation for the commencement of marking of all fire arms in the country, computerization of the firearms registry, proper record keeping of all SALW, disposal of surplus and obsolete SALW, confiscation and seizure of SALW and collaboration with Interpol in dealing with armed crimes. Today, Sierra Leone is regarded as one of the safest countries in the continent, despite it being a post conflict country. This is not to say that Sierra Leone is arms free, the very reason for its support of the ATT.


During the negotiation, Sierra Leone made interventions aligning itself with the statements delivered on behalf of ECOWAS and that of like minded countries, in reaction to the non-paper submitted by the President of the conference. Sierra Leones reiterated the importance of the prohibition of conventional arms and ammunitions to unauthorized countries and also called for the inclusion into the scope of the treaty ammunitions and munitions. This is in addition to the signing of the Control Arms Declaration by members of parliament of Sierra Leone.


Now that the ATT has been adopted, there are two very important steps in its implementation remaining-the signing and ratification-found in Articles 21 and 22 of the Treaty. The Treaty shall be opened for signature on the 3rd June, 2013 by all States until it comes into force. Upon the deposition of the fiftieth instrument of ratification with the Depository, the Treaty will come into force. The coming into force of the Treaty is of particular importance to African, hence this regional workshop.


Parliamentarians, as the law-makers, have a critical role to play in this regard. They are not only required to ratify the Treaty, but also provide the important role of oversight of its implementation.

However, there are major challenges to be overcome, if they are to play these roles effectively. These challenges include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Little or non-involvement of parliamentarians in the negotiation meetings. The few parliamentarians who attended were sponsored by PGA and not their States. For example, through PGA sponsorship, I attended the first and fourth PrepCom meetings, while the deliberations of the second and third PrepCom meetings and the DipCom were posted daily in my mail by PGA to keep me abreast with the negotiations. In these two PrepCom meetings I had the opportunity to add my voice to the debate and to draw attention of the conference on the low participation of parliamentarians in the negotiation, which has the tendency of delaying the ratification due to limited knowledge of the ATT and the negotiation processes, which is as important as the outcome document;

2. Lack of knowledge by parliamentarians is bound to affect advocacy for speedy signing and tabling in parliament for ratification;

3.  If parliamentarians are less knowledgeable on the ATT, then their constituents are even less aware and knowledgeable on the ATT and as such not in a position to lobby and or put pressure on their governments and representatives to sign and ratify the  Treaty, respectively; and

4. When parliamentarians do ratify the Treaty, it is often under certificate of urgency, without fully understanding the Treaty. This makes oversight of the implementation less effective.


What then is the way forward?

National level

1. There is the urgent need for capacity building of parliamentarians on the ATT, history, the negotiation processes, continental positions and rationale. This way parliamentarians will be better equipped to advocate for the speedy signing and ratification of the Treaty;

2. Parliamentarians efforts could be complemented by forging a working and stronger relationship with civil society organizations working on related issues such as IANSA or SLANSA;

3. Parliamentarians can also work with national arms control systems or entities to develop advocacy plan for the speedy signing and ratification of the Treaty;

4. PGA national group to be capacitated to take the lead in the advocacy for the signing and ratification as they had done in the past for the ICC; This process has already started by a letter from me to the National Commission for small Arms for the attention of the Director General and Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Head of the Permanent Mission to the UN on the need for Sierra Leone to be among the first states to sign the ATT on 3rd June, 2013.

5. PGA national group can work with parliamentary committees of defense, human rights, foreign affairs, trade, gender and social services and youth to hold joint committee meetings, round table discussions and outreach programmes to educate and sensitize citizens on the ATT and call for their pressure on government to sign the Treaty and its subsequent ratification by Parliamentarians.

6. Share the Dar es Salaam Plan of Work with colleague parliamentarians, government officials, national arms control systems and entities, civil society organisations and the  media;

7. Use legislative tools such as question time, expert hearings and legislative briefings to  get government to tell parliament their plans for signing and tabling the Treaty for ratification as well as implementation;

8. PGA to provide technical assistance by way of literature on the ATT that is simple to read and easy to understand for both parliamentarians and the general public; and

9. PGA to provide resources for round table meetings at the regional level for the domestication of the Treaty when ratified.

Regional and sub regional level

At the regional  and sub-region! are the ECOWAS, EALA, SADCPF, EAC legislative bodies and groupings, that have been involved in the past in advocacy for the signing and ratification of continental, regional and sub-regional treaties and charters.  Their experiences could be tapped into for the purposes of the signing and ratification of the ATT.

Continental level

The Pan African Parliament has vast experience in mobilising for the ratification of Charters and Treaties, such as the 11 before 2011 campaign for the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which came into force in 2012. Given that  PAP has members from all the national  legislatures in  Africa, it can take the lead at the continental level to garner support for the signing and ratification of the ATT. As a sister organ of the African Union Commission, the administrative arm of the African Union, it can work with the African Heads of State through the AUC to advocate for resources for regional parliamentary advocacy workshops to sensitize its parliamentarians on the ATT and develop an advocacy plan for the signing and ratification of the ATT.


In conclusion, Africa, after playing a pivotal role in the negotiations leading to the adoption of the ATT, cannot now take a back seat in its signing and ratification. Although  insignificant arms and ammunitions are manufactured in Africa, yet it is the destination of most arms and the sufferers of its consequences.


Regarding the implementation of the Treaty, my advise is that we get the treaty signed and ratified first. Already, there are plethora of treaties and charters that are yet to be ratified.  Ratification is not always easy as sometimes the socio-political environment at the time of signing changes, which makes ratification difficult. So I say, let us sign and ratify first, after which we could now worry about implementation.


There are many opportunities for technical, financial and institutional assistance for implementation.

Thank you.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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