Commemoration of the 2021 Africa Amnesty Month

Amnesty Month

Date | 08 September, 2021

Tomorrow (8 September) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to convene its 1029th session to commemorate the Africa Amnesty Month. Representatives of all AU Member States, Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs), and the international community in Addis Ababa are expected to participate in this open session.

The PSC Chair for the month and Permanent Representative of Chad to the AU, Mahamat Ali Hassan will be delivering opening remarks. The Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), Bankole Adeoye, as well as the representatives of the United Nations (UN) and the Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States (RECSA) are expected to make presentations.

The PSC has been convening annual sessions to commemorate Amnesty Month since 2017, following the decision of the Assembly during its 29th Ordinary Session to declare the month of September of each year, until 2020, as ‘Africa Amnesty Month for the surrender and collection of illicit small arms and light weapons’. It is initiated as an occasion for drawing attention to the challenge of small arms and weapons as major drivers of conflicts on the continent and for promoting the surrender and control of illicit arms and weapons. The 14th Extra Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly held on 6 December 2020 on Silencing the Guns extended the commemoration and conduct of Amnesty Month until 2030. As Commissioner Bankole stated in his statement for the launch of the Africa Amnesty Month 2021, ‘this September is yet another golden opportunity for anyone who owns an illegal gun to surrender it to their national authorities’.

One of the focuses of tomorrow’s session is expected to be the consideration of the compendium developed by the Commission, which highlights best practices and challenges in the implementation of the African Amnesty Month. This is in line with PSC’s request of the Commission, at its 943rd session, to conduct a lessons-learned study and submit to the Council in the course of 2020 for its consideration.

Beyond commemoration, tomorrow’s session is also an opportunity to take stock of the implementation of the Amnesty Month initiative and remaining challenges, and reflect on how to move the initiative forward in the next 10 years. The occasion is largely symbolic. But tomorrow’s session can also examine the need for and the ways for addressing the challenge of illicit arms and weapons, among others, drawing on the compendium on ‘African Union Member States’ Experiences in Voluntary Surrender of Civilian Firearms’. The session can also consider how to follow up the recommendation of the 2019 mapping study on the illicit small arms flows in Africa.

It is also to be recalled that the Amnesty Month initiative led to the joint project initiated by the AU and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) last year. As an implementing partner of the project, the presentation by RECSA is expected to shed light on the supports provided to interested member states in sensitization and awareness campaigns and collection and destruction of illicit SALW, as well as training of law enforcement officials. One aspect the presentation is expected to highlight is the growing number of member states joining the project since last year. In 2020, the project succeeded in bringing seven member states on board, namely Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire. More member states have expressed interest this year including Madagascar, Niger, The Gambia, and Uganda. Furthermore, the project reportedly supported the collection of some 3,500 SALW in 2020, though this is only fraction of the staggering 40 million illicit arms/weapons circulating in the hands of civilians in Africa.

Disarmament programmes yet remain the most effective means for Amnesty programmes to deliver better results in collecting illicit arms and weapons. There are encouraging steps in this regard including the most recent one in Nigeria where Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province terrorists started to surrender en masse last month. The controversy that sparked following the amnesty for ‘repentant’ terrorists also highlighted the delicate tightrope between ending conflicts and justice for victims.

There are plethora of regional and global legal instruments relating to SALW, but AU is yet to develop a consolidated and binding legal instrument on the area that responds to the unique contexts and realities of Africa. One of the issues the Council is expected to take practical steps in the years ahead is developing a comprehensive continental legal framework on illicit flow of arms and weapons.

The Amnesty Month initiative also contributed to support measures to strengthening institutional and human capacities of member states in the areas of stockpile management, record keeping and tracing, and the destruction of illicit firearms. Diversions from national stockpiles remain a big challenge for many African countries. As highlighted in the mapping study on illicit small arms flows in Africa, the massive national stockpile diversion due to the crises in Libya, Mali and CAR not only intensified armed conflicts in these countries and beyond but also became significant source of material for terrorist groups. The other big challenge is illicit inflow of firearms into the continent. The study reveals in this regard the ‘robust trend’ in the involvement of Middle Eastern states in illicit arms transfers to Africa. But most of all, trafficking across the borders of Africa remains the main source of illicit arms on the continent, further exacerbated by the porous nature of African borders. These challenges not only require strengthened national law enforcement agencies but also highlights the need to promote the greater use of AU mechanisms such as the AU Mechanism for Police Cooperation (AFRIPOL) and Committee of Intelligence and Security Service (CISSA).

The expected outcome is a press statement. Among others, the Council may welcome the contributions of the African Amnesty Month initiative over the past few years and may stress on sustaining the gains and redouble efforts towards the significant reduction of illicit SALW circulating in hands of non-state actors in Africa. The Council may reiterate Commissioner Bankole’s statement issued for this year commemoration which appealed to ‘all the citizens of the African Union Member States who are in possession of illicit firearms’ to surrender them to national authorities. The Council may further reiterate its call at its 716th, 793rd, and 943rd sessions for the Commission to effectively engage African civil society including the youth and women, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, faith-based organizations to actively participate and contribute to the surrender of arms during the Amnesty Month. The Council may particularly appeal to the media to actively engage in the advocacy of the need for surrendering of firearms in the hands of civilians, reiterating Bankole’s statement on the launch of this year Amnesty Month. The Council may also echo its 832nd session in encouraging the Commission to closely work with the RECs/RMs in popularizing the Amnesty Month to bring about tangible results in the collection of illegal firearms. On challenges relating to illicit flow of arms, the Council is likely to reiterate its previous call for member states to strengthen their national legal and institutional frameworks that would enhance stockpile management, arms marking and record keeping, as well as border security. In light of the worrying trend of illicit inflow of arms into Africa, the Council may particularly reiterate its decision to ‘name and shame suppliers, brokers and recipients of illicit arms/weapons in Africa’. Taking this further, the PSC could mandate the AU Commission to develop a legal framework with a monitoring and enforcement mechanism for the control of the importation and circulation of illicit arms in Africa. The PSC may finally underscore the importance of addressing the root causes driving illicit firearms by non-state actors and explore ways in which AU’s existing Peace and Security as well as Governance Architectures can be utilized in this context.


Insights on the Peace & Security Council - Open Session: Celebration of Amnesty Month

Amnesty Month

Date | 05, September 2019

Tomorrow (5 September) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is scheduled to hold an open session to commemorate the celebration of amnesty month. The discussion is expected to focus on the progress made on the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap on silencing the guns by 2020 mainly the challenges and perspectives, with a focus on the Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Africa.

The Department of Peace and Security (PSD), particularly the representative of the Director of PSD and Acting Head of the Division on Defence and Security are expected to deliver briefing to the PSC. Also expected to make a statement is the Head of the UN Office to the AU. The Institute for Security
Studies is expected to present as well. Tomorrow’s session is taking place in line with the 2017 Assembly decision Assembly/AU/Dec.

645(XXIX), which after deliberating on the Inaugural Report of the PSC on the Implementation of the AU Master Roadmap on Practical Steps for Silencing the Guns in Africa by the Year 2020,
declared the month of September each year, up to 2020, as “Africa Amnesty Month” for the surrender and collection of illegally owned weapons/arms. It is expected that tomorrow’s session will address three inter-related thematic issues. The first relates to Security Sector Reform/Governance (SSR/G). The second is the commemoration of the Amnesty Month. The last is the implementation of the AU Roadmap on Silencing the Guns by 2020. In the presentation from the Head of the Defence and Security Division. particular attention is expected to be given to SSR including the AU SSR program and the AU SSR Policy framework.

Tomorrow’s session follows the inaugural meeting of the AU steering committee on security sector reform, held from 3 September 2019 in Addis Ababa.

The Silencing the Guns Roadmap recognizes the challenges around SSR policies. The Roadmap calls on the need to promote ownership of national SSR Programs in member states and the need to stipulate clear obligations and timelines on SSR in peace agreement including putting in place adequate
follow up mechanisms.

For PSC members it would be of interest to identify the challenges relating to SSR in Africa. One set of issues expected to be highlighted is the sensitivities of member states and wrong perceptions that SSR concerns only post-conflict situations. Studies also show that another challenge in SSR relate to civilian possession and use of small arms and weapons. The recent report by the AUC and Small Arms Survey ‘Weapons Compass: Mapping Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa’ has noted that civilian actors including individuals, private businesses and nonstate armed groups hold almost 80% of small arms on the continent. Among the civilian held firearms only around 10% has been registered.

This is also an indication that security regimes in various African countries have been characterised by a range of non-state actors, including private security companies, local militias, guerrilla armies, community self-policing groups and others. With the lack or weakening monopoly use of force by the state particularly in countries affected by violence leads to the emergence of reliance by individuals and communities on self-organized security provision. While a locally driven SSR is key in designing a
tailored approach, account should be had to the transnational nature of insecurities. This also requires enhanced coordination among the security institutions of neighbouring countries including through the Regional Economic Communities/Mechanisms and the AU SSR processes.

Tomorrow’s session may also highlight that SSR is not solely a security matter and may call on for a comprehensive approach to reform encompassing state-society relationship. Therefore, its effective implementation may require the concerted efforts and cooperation among wide range of institutions in the government structure and the public at large. There is also the challenge of effective formulation and proper implementation of SSR provisions in peace agreements. As the experiences of South Sudan and the Central African Republic show, this is one of the major sources of disruption of peace processes. In the light of the return of countries to conflict after signing of peace agreements, there is also interest in post-conflict reconstruction and development. Hence the PSC and participants may reflect on how to sustain peace including through enhanced consideration of the SSR dimension of peace and post-conflict processes.

In terms of the amnesty month, the recent report on small arms and light weapons referred to above highlighted the need for focusing on private possession and use of small arms and light weapons. In this regard the 860th meeting of the PSC stressed ‘the need for improved measures to regulate nonstate actor possession of small arms and light weapons, in order to prevent the diversion or misuse
of weapons and encourages Member States to implement initiatives that are in line with the Africa Amnesty Month’.

However, there is a need for national level measures including the boosting of state-based provision of security services for encouraging the surrender of weapons in the hands of non-state actors and reporting on how and whether member states are observing the Amnesty month. Central to this is the need for finding ways of establishing or restoring the capacity particularly of states lacking effective provision of security to all their populations. This is directly linked to security sector governance as a measure of conflict prevention.

With respect to the AU Roadmap on Silencing the Guns, tomorrow’s session affords an opportunity for taking stock of where implementation of the Roadmap stands and the progress made towards achieving its ambitious objectives. Also important is the lessons to be learned from the process of elaboration and implementation of the Roadmap, including in terms of identification of areas of intervention and effective implementation of relevant measures. With 2020 only months away, it would be of particular interest to PSC members to discuss what will happen post-2020.

The expected outcome of the session is a press statement. The Council may highlight that the prospects for sustainable peace and stability are ensured by the extent to which SSR is anchored on the state of security broadly defined, instead of a narrow focus on certain security institutions. The PSC may reiterate its previous decisions for Member States and RECs/Regional Mechanisms to submit reports to Council, through the AUC, on the actions taken in implementing the Africa Amnesty Month, to feed in its report to the upcoming Assembly. With respect to the Roadmap on Silencing the Guns by 2020, the PSC could request the AU Commission to provide it with a comprehensive report reviewing implementation of the Roadmap and proposing on how the agenda on silencing the guns by 2020 will be followed up post-2020.


Insights on the Peace & Security Council

Amnesty Month

Date | 03, September 2020

PSC session on africa amnesty month:implementation of the au theme of the year 2020: ‘silencing the guns: creating conducive conditions for africa’s development’ within the au flagship project on silencing the guns

Tomorrow (3 September) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is expected to hold its 943rd session. The session is expected to be partially open and will commemorate the Africa Amnesty Month with a focus on the implementation of the AU theme of the year 2020: ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’ as part of the AU flagship project on Silencing the Guns.

Representatives of the five geographic regions of the AU, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Regional Mechanisms (RMs) as well as beneficiary member states of the joint AU and UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) project, which are Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya are expected to participate.

The PSC Chair Ambassador Mohamed Idriss is expected to deliver the opening statement. The Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Cergui and Commissioner for Political Affairs Minata Samate Cessouma and the representative of the UNODA are expected to deliver presentations. Others who are also expected to address the session are the Regional Centre on Small Arms (RECSA) and the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) are also scheduled to provide briefings.

Tomorrow’s session will be the fourth commemorative session since the 2017 Assembly decision Assembly/AU/Dec.645 (XXIX) declared the month of September each year until 2020 as “Africa Amnesty Month”. The session affords the opportunity to assess the efforts around surrender and collection of illicit weapons and in curbing the flow of illegal arms. It also aims at taking stocks of ongoing activities and challenges in realizing the objectives of the Amnesty Month.

One aspect of the tomorrow’s deliberation will focus on the joint AU and UNODA project implemented in the seven countries. The project was launched in March 2020 in Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Kenya, the reaming three countries namely Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ethiopia joined in July 2020.

Countries are expected to share their experiences, best practices and lessons learned in managing and controlling the flow of illicit arms and weapons. The countries represent various regions and are at various stages in peace and security as well as in terms of experiences in managing illicit flow of arms. The joint project implemented in the countries has four major activities planned for the year. The first activity is a campaign and media events to mobilize and sensitize people on the risks of illicit trafficking of small arms. In line with the AU decision and the purpose of the Amnesty month, governments do not prosecute or undertake punitive measures against individuals that voluntarily surrender illegal weapons during the month of September.

The second strand of the project aims at activities related to the collection and safe storage of illicit weapons. The third component aims at destroying the weapons and arms that been collected. The fourth element is community policing training workshops to law enforcement for increased security.

Apart from the national focal points on small arms control, RECSA is an implementing partner of the project, hence its intervention may further complement the statements that will be made by member states. The contributions from the various stakeholders is also expected to feature in the report of the PSC on Silencing the Guns that will be submitted to the AU Assembly.

In addition to the experience sharing from national institutions, the discussion will also benefit from the intervention of RECs and RMs. The proliferation and flow of illicit arms is trans-boundary in nature and particularly in countries with limited border control it can be a serious security threat that stretches over multiple countries or even regions. Hence the response requires a regional strategy and concerted efforts among member states. In this regard, it is of interest for PSC members to explore how to further enhance and reinforce their coordination at national, regional and continental levels in order to control and monitor the use and movement of arms in the Continent.

UNODA’s presentation may broadly shed light on planned activities for the year in the various countries. It may also highlight on the role of youth in realizing the activities under the Amnesty month. In fact, one of the campaigns targeting the youth is the “Your Voice Matters – What is your Slogan for the Africa Amnesty Month” contest that is open to any young person from the six participating countries (with the exception of Ethiopia). The winning slogan will be used in the nation-wide campaign for the Amnesty month.

The AU through its Youth Envoy has also launched a campaign in July 2020 to provide a platform to mobilize and advance the role of the youth in the realization of the Silencing the Guns agenda. It will also be important in linking such kinds of continental initiatives with national projects that are currently being undertaken in the seven countries. Tomorrow’s commemoration of the Amnesty month is taking place in the context of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. The various presentations and interventions may also highlight the impact of the pandemic on the surrender and collection processes of the illicit weapons.

The extent to which the overstretched capacity and resources of member states can effectively undertake disarmaments efforts is one of the key challenges that might be raised by participants. A recent study by UNODA demonstrated the possible impact of the pandemic on the collection and analysis of data on diversion risks; national ammunition management-related programming; and on international assistance, cooperation, and funding initiatives.

It is known from the experience in various parts of the continent the lack or weakening monopoly of use of force by the state particularly in countries affected by violence leads to the emergence of reliance by individuals and communities on self-organized security provision. Accordingly, effective implementation of the collection and voluntary surrender of arms requires that states implement measures including the boosting of state-based provision of security services.

It is to be recalled that at the margins of the 2019 Amnesty month PSC session, the AU launched a steering committee on security sector reform (SSR). It may be of interest for PSC members to follow up on this mechanism and on its work over the past year. The expected outcome is a statement. The PSC may reiterate its previous decisions for Member States and RECs/Regional Mechanisms to submit reports to Council, through the AUC, on the actions taken in implementing the Africa Amnesty Month. The PSC may also underscore the necessity of monitoring and reporting on the movement of arms within the various regions and across the continent. It may call on the AU Commission to establish in collaboration with RECs and the UN a mechanism for monitoring, reporting on and addressing the illicit flow into Africa and movement within Africa of illicit weapons and arms that have made intercommunal conflicts in places such as the Sahel most destructive and deadly.

In terms of enhancing national capacity, the PSC may call on member states to put in place legislation on the ownership and possession of arms as well as safe keeping of armaments and ammunition depots and develop strategy for enhancing the provision of security services and peaceful conflict resolution mechanisms so that members of the public do not feel the need to resort to acquiring and using arms for defending themselves. The PSC may also welcome the mobilization of the youth in Africa in pursuit of the fight against illicit possession, circulation and use of illegal arms and weapons. Given that Amnesty month requires the
contribution of various sectors of society, it may also call for strengthened coordination not only at national,
regional, continental and international levels but also across the AU system and with various sectors of the African public including most notably civil society organizations and the media.