11 OCTOBER 2007
PRESIDENT SIRLEAF SUPPORTS THE ARMS TRADE TREATY
The President of Liberia, Her Excellency Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called on governments of Africa and the world “to be bold in our work towards the Arms Trade Treaty” which she says “provides an opportunity to agree on tough controls on the arms trade that would significantly help reduce armed violence in Africa and across the world, an opportunity that is truly priceless”. The President made this strong appeal in the foreword of a new study entitled: Africa’s Missing Billions: International Arms Flows and the Cost of Conflict, the launch of which was hosted by the Government of the Republic of Liberia through its Permanent Mission to the United Nations on October 11, 2007, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The Study was sponsored by the civil society coalition known as International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), the British charity OXFAM International and Saferworld. In a specially recorded video message played to an audience of UN diplomats and journalists at the launch, President Sirleaf described the report as “groundbreaking … which for the first time quantifies what many of us know – that on top of the human misery suffered by millions during armed conflict, these conflicts cost Africa billions of dollars each year”.
In his welcome address to participants at the event, Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Nathaniel Barnes articulated the sentiments of many Africans when he said, “It is our hope that this report will serve as a catalyst that will strengthen global resolve and recommitment to address these pressing and critical issues upon which a significant part of the prosperity of Africa’s future depends.”
Liberia’s Deputy Foreign Minister for International Cooperation and Economic Integration, Conmany B. Wesseh, noted in his remarks that although the quoted figure of US $300 billion is an understatement and conservative calculation of the cost of the 15 years of conflict, “the report was a major first step toward a process for accountability and responsibility on the part of arms producers, brokers, buyers and users”. He reaffirmed the Liberian government’s support to the ATT and arms control in general.
Important remarks acknowledging and highlighting the significance of the report were also made by the Chairman of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee (dealing with disarmament issues) Senegal’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Paul Badji, Kenya’s Deputy Permanent Representative Ambassador Owade, representatives of the civil society Control Arms Alliance Ms. Valery Wayne-Yankey of IANSA and Ms. Anna Macdonald of OXFAM. This was followed by an interactive session of questions, answers and comments from participants.
The report represents the first time that analysts have estimated the overall effects of African conflicts on GDP across the continent. It concludes that the cost was approximately $300bn between 1990 and 2005 – the same amount received in international aid during the same period. The study also shows that on average a war, civil war or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 per cent with the continent losing an average of about $18bn a year due to armed conflict, an economic cost which comes on top of the significant human cost that is paid by Africans every day. The report further suggests that at least 95 per cent of Africa’s most commonly used conflict weapons – Kalashnikov rifles – come from outside of the continent. The combatants, who ignore the rules of war and commit human rights abuses in Africa, almost always use weapons produced elsewhere.
Significantly, this report suggests that because armed violence has such a high economic cost and most of the weapons come from outside of Africa, there is the urgent need for the continent and the rest of the world to act to stop the flow of weapons. A strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is therefore recommended. Recently, within the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee an overwhelming majority of member states voted in favor of working towards an Arms Trade Treaty.