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UN and Africa’s normative frameworks on SSR and controlling SALW

Security sector reforms and controlling of small arms and light weapons proliferation are critical to the success of fostering of structural stability so that societies can live in a safe and secure environment. Normative frameworks have continued to influence extent of Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Controlling Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). Normative factors include both the binding quality of the set of rules as well as the subject matter on which behavior is prescribed or prohibited. International and regional normative frameworks have been concluded that commit States to carry out SSR and a series of regulatory and control measures to tackle the proliferation of SALW.

Security Sector Reform (SSR) is the political and technical process of improving state and human security by making security provision, management and oversight more effective and more accountable, within a framework of democratic civilian control, rule of law and respect for human rights. The goal of SSR is to apply the principles of good governance to the security sector. SSR also involves aspects of justice provision, management and oversight, because security and justice are closely related.

The illicit trade, transfer, and circulation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) cause  deaths, injuries, hindrance of development, sexual violence, forced displacement and migration, terrorism, crime, conflict, human rights abuses, violation of international humanitarian law, drug and human trafficking, and wildlife poaching.

The article provides an opportunity to establish common standards, and offers guidelines on how to bridge existing gaps in compliance with relevant UN and AU commitments and also offers policy oriented insights. I hope it helps equip policy makers, practitioners and academics working in the areas to address the multifaceted challenges of making the SSR and control of SALW objectives a reality.

UN and Africa’s normative frameworks on Security Sector Reform (SSR)

At the international level, the UN approach to SSR is contained in a 2008 report by Secretary-General titled “Securing Peace and Development: The Role of the United Nations in Supporting Security Sector Reform. Basic principles of the UN approach to SSR include national ownership and the commitment of involved states and societies, gender sensitivity, articulation of SSR frameworks in post-conflict contexts and a clearly defined strategy, coordination of efforts of national and international partners, and monitoring and evaluation to track and maintain progress. Following the Secretary-General’s report, the United Nations published the first volume of its “Integrated Technical Guidance Notes on Security Sector Reform” in 2012. The guidance contains generic and adaptable notes on the objectives, scope, rationale, conceptual framework and processes of key elements of the UN approach to SSR, including national ownership, gender responsiveness, peace processes, democratic governance and support to national security policy-making and strategy-making processes.

The UN Security Council’s first standing resolution on SSR (Resolution 2151) adopted in 2014 reaffirmed the importance of SSR for “the consolidation of peace, and stability, promoting poverty reduction, rule of law and good governance, extending legitimate State authority, and preventing countries from relapsing into conflict” It also reiterated “the centrality of national ownership …informed by broader national political processes” and the imperative of “supporting ‘sector-wide’ initiatives that aim to enhance the governance and overall performance of the security sector”. The resolution emphasized that “SSR is not just a matter of technical support” but requires the investment of political capital. The resolution demonstrated a new UN commitment to adopt a political approach to SSR processes; to enhance and expand partnerships with regional and bilateral SSR stakeholders; and to develop new training and capacity-building resources.

At the continental level, the African Union Policy Framework on Security Sector Reform was finalized in April 2012 after wide consultations with member states, civil society and experts. It was formally adopted by the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government in January 2013. It represents a major step in addressing the lack of African ownership of current SSR approaches, being an effort to bridge the continuing gap between existing approaches to largely externally driven SSR and deficits in the delivery and governance of security in many AU member states. It builds on the international normative framework established by the United Nations and is also aligned with other AU instruments, including the Constitutive Act of the African Union of 2000, the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union of 2002 and the Solemn Declaration on a Common African Defense and Security Policy of 2006. The AU Policy Framework establishes a continental framework for the democratic governance of a security sector that is effective and efficient. It further encapsulates core principles of SSR which are particularly relevant for the African continent, including: African solidarity and African partnerships, linkage between SSR and regional integration, national ownership, national responsibility and national commitment, adherence to a nationally defined vision of SSR and parameters for external support for SSR, integration of informal and customary security providers and traditional justice actors into SSR processes where appropriate, primary responsibility of states for the coordination of SSR assistance.

UN and Africa’s normative frameworks on Controlling Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW)

A critical starting point for any analysis of international strategies and frameworks to address the SALW issue is the 2001 UN Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, which affirms that:

States and international and regional organizations should seriously consider assisting interested states, upon request, in building capacities in areas including the development of appropriate legislation and regulations, law enforcement, tracing and marking, stockpile management and security, destruction of small arms and light weapons and the collection and exchange of information.

The program of action recommends enhanced cooperation and information exchange “among competent officials, including customs, police, intelligence and arms control officials, at the national, regional and global levels”. It contains national, regional and global commitments to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW, encompassing a wide array of issues including manufacturing, marking, tracing, stockpile management, international transfers, public awareness and DDR. While the program of action was a binding agreement, no mechanisms existed to enforce the compliance of signatories. Nonetheless, it provided the crucial foundation and framework for action on SALW globally, and was supplemented by other key UN conventions seeking to control SALW, such as the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Register of Conventional Arms.  National and regional-level accords on SALW have gone even further than the program of action in outlining reforms within the security sector that are needed to ensure the viability of SALW reduction and control efforts.

A watershed for the SALW issue globally came in 2013 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty; the landmark agreement signed by 130 states represented the most comprehensive global framework for conventional arms control ever established. Under Article 16 on international assistance, the treaty states that parties to the agreement may seek assistance – whether legislative, institutional capacity building, technical, material or financial – from “the United Nations, international, regional, sub regional or national organizations, non-governmental organizations, or on a bilateral basis”. The assistance could include “Stockpile management, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, model legislation, and effective practices for implementation. “The treaty clearly recognizes the indispensable nature of reforms in the security sector for the successful application SALW reduction and control.

The Organization of African Unity, , set out a common position on SALW in time for the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. Engineered at a ministerial meeting in Bamako, Mali, the agreement came to be known as the Bamako Declaration. The declaration contained clear language on the importance of SSR to SALW reduction and control efforts, recommending that the state parties “enhance the capacity of national law enforcement and security agencies and officials to deal with all aspects of the arms problem, including appropriate training on investigative procedures, border control and specialized actions, and upgrading of equipment and resources”. It also called for legislative and legal measures “to establish as a criminal offence under national law, the illicit manufacturing of, trafficking in, and illegal possession and use of small arms and light weapons, ammunition and other related materials”. The declaration reflected growing emphasis on the security sector as the locus for effective SALW control efforts, but failed to elucidate adequately how this relationship should be operationalized.

In 2011 the AU adopted the AU Strategy on the Control of Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons. The strategy set out to “address comprehensively the problem of the illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons through mainstreaming SALW control as a cross-cutting and multidimensional issue in achieving peace, security, development, and stability in the Continent”. It empowered the AU Regions Steering Committee on Small Arms, a group comprising ten AU regional economic communities (RECs) to oversee the implementation of the SALW strategy by national governments, the RECs and the AU Commission. The committee was also mandated to engage civil society actors and regional police organizations to advance the goals of the new AU strategy. The strategy explicitly recognized the holistic nature of the SALW issue, requiring interventions in the security and development spheres, including SSR.

I would like to conclude that the preceding analysis demonstrates the extent to which SSR has come to occupy a central place in SALW thinking and policy. SSR, by expanding the capacity of the state to regulate gun possession, secure state stockpiles, curb illegal trafficking, entrench the rule of law and provide the populace with a security guarantee, endeavors simultaneously to curtail the supply of arms and to reduce public demand for their acquisition. It creates the institutional conditions in which SALW reduction programs launched into long-term weapons control regimes. Put differently, Security Sector Reform   will be capable of scaling down violent conflict to proportions that can manage and accommodate provided that this occurs in tandem with a sustained and credible process of the protection of illegal small arms trade  However, while policymakers have recognized the intrinsic links between SSR and SALW programming, their relationship at the operational level remains underdeveloped. I would also argue that “to date, justice and security sector reform efforts have generally not been informed by current thinking on best practices on small arms controls – and vice versa”. The innumerable provisions on security sector capacity building and reforms encapsulated in the principal conventions on SALW have rarely been translated effectively into practice.

In the field, the implementation of SSR and SALW reduction and control programs continues to be advanced on parallel but separate tracks – only loosely connected under the peacebuilding banner – rather than as a single integrated framework of action as stipulated by both SSR orthodoxy and key SALW agreements and protocols. To take ownership of the global and Regional Framework for SSR and SALW control states should develop  national security policy or strategy ,a national policy framework for SSR and plan of Action for SALW. These are effective ways to fill gaps within the security sector in line with a fast changing security environment and the security and justice needs of states and peoples. SSR and SALW reduction will further be consolidated by promoting the role of CSOs the media, and think thanks.  CSOs and think thanks can play important role in supplying and supplementing human capacity and technical expertise in SSR and SALW.   The role of CSOs and think thanks includes technical support to norm setting, policy development and implementation, capacity development, conducting independent analysis and proffering policy options, advocacy and sensitization, dialogue and agenda setting, and peacebuilding, mobilization of stakeholders and resources, and ensuring accountability and transparency. In line with this, so long as Ethiopia is concerned, the think-tank called Institute of Strategic Affairs (ISA) the former Ethiopian Foreign Relations Strategic Studies Institute (EFFRSI) can contribute by carrying out targeted research on Security Sector Reform and Governance (SSR/G) and work plans for the control of SALW. Apparently indeed, the Institute conducted dialogue which is strong added value to the discourse on the issues in December 2019.

Getachew Mekonnen is a researcher at former Ethiopian Foreign Relations Strategic Studies Institute, now Institute for Strategic Affairs (ISA). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or The Reporter. The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Getachew Mekonnen