West African arms transfers controls will be toughest in the world

Published: 16 June 2006

By agreeing to stringent new controls on the proliferation of small arms that have fuelled years of conflict, West Africa has shown itself to be a global leader in the fight to stop the illegal weapons trade, Oxfam International said today.

The 15 presidents from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed Wednesday to impose sanctions should any member state fail to comply with new laws governing the manufacture and import of small arms and light weapons.

“Once this Convention is ratified, West Africa will have the tightest and most rigorous laws governing arms transfers in the world ,” said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, West Africa regional director of Oxfam.

“Small arms have been weapons of mass destruction for West Africa and these governments are standing together to say ‘enough’. Surely wealthy countries – which are the main manufacturers of weapons sold in West Africa – can be emboldened to do the same.”

The new ECOWAS convention, which once ratified by the countries’ parliaments will replace a 1998 moratorium, will allow the regional bloc to suspend loans or aid to member states for violations.

It also provides governments with a new instrument to crack down on the illegal import of light weapons by armed non-state actors, whose conflicts have bloodied countries in the region from Guinea-Bissau to Nigeria, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast in between.

“The West African heads of state have had the courage to agree the toughest arms controls in the world. It is now for their parliaments to ratify this deal and bring it into force,” said Anna Macdonald, Oxfam International’s head of the Control Arms Campaign.

“As we head into the UN Review Conference on Small Arms in New York at the end of the month, we hope the rest of the world will take its cues from West Africa and commit to eradicating the scourge of illegal guns and move towards an international Arms Trade Treaty.”

This decision by West Africa is a collective response to a problem that has afflicted each of its members individually and kept the sub-region mired in conflict and poverty.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Lauren Gelfand in West Africa on +221 639 4178, or
Caroline Green in Washington, DC on +1 202 496 1774