Small arms and light weapons (SALW) propagation is a severe threat to peace and security in Liberia. SALW are hand-held weapons such as machine guns, rifles, pistols, shotguns, and landmines. These are the weapons of choice for criminals and rebel groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. The accessibility of these weapons was a key element in the escalation of Liberia’s Civil War, which claimed the lives of nearly 250,000 people. The Liberian government needs to take immediate action to maintain
its fragile peace, in light of the United Nations (UN) drawdown. This policy paper calls on the Liberian Legislature to pass the Firearms and Ammunition Control Act (the Bill), which will create the legal structure to control and regulate SALW in Liberia.
In September 2015, the United Nations adopted Resolution 2237, which renews its sanction on arms in Liberia until June 2016. This action was propagated by militia activities along the border between Liberia and Ivory Coast, with deadly attacks committed in Ivory Coast during the months of January, February, March and May 2015. Moreover, the Panel’s assessment on Liberia found “weaknesses along all borders” and identified several suspected violations of the arms embargo; furthering the call for more action on the part of the Liberian government.
The Cost of Complacency
“Small arms not only make easy the taking and maiming of lives, but also kill economies and the social bonds on which every kind of collective institution and progress rely.” Liberians are keenly aware of the devastating cost of 14 years of civil war.
Many have vowed to do everything within their power to prevent a recurrence of such atrocities. Unfortunately, the Liberian Legislature has failed to do its part in preventing future crisis due to complacency.
In her 2015 Annual Message on the State of the Republic, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf urged the passage of the Firearms and Ammunition Control Act. Due to the failure of the Legislature to enact this critical piece of legislation, President Sirleaf has tactically signed and renewed, over the past four years, Executive Order # 34. This Order bans the ownership and use of firearms and ammunitions in Liberia. In July 2015, Counselor Tiawan Gongloe, a prominent Liberian lawyer, called on the Liberian legislators to hurriedly pass the Bill. He stated, “Anything short of the passage of the Act would amount to the proliferation of arms, which might eventually be used by illegal holders to create chaos.” The United Nations Panel of Experts Report shows chaos is pervading along the Liberian/Ivorian border.
In September 2014, the UN Mission in Liberia drawdown was suspended due to the Ebola outbreak. In April 2015, the UN Security Council authorized the resumption of the drawdown of its mission. The expectations here are that the Liberian government would fully shoulder the security duties of the nation by June 30, 2016. Without the framework on firearms and ammunitions, we should expect chaos in Liberia after the UNMIL drawdown. Moreover, the Government of Liberia isn’t doing all that is necessary to mark its stockpiles of weapons. The United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia reports the country lacks adequate weapons storage facilities. This needs to be corrected immediately.
UN arms embargoes and sanctions have been used in Liberia for more than two decades. An arms embargo by itself isn’t sufficient. The incidents at the Ivorian border illustrates the need to do more. The Government of Liberia will have to take additional measures to secure its borders and stop the proliferation of small arms.
• The Liberian Legislature needs to pass the Firearms and Ammunition Control Act.
• The Government of Liberia should expand its weapons marking program.
• The Government of Liberia should immediately strengthen its border with the Ivory Coast.
• The Government of Liberia should develop a computerized system to track the movement of arms in the country.
These recommendations are the first steps in ensuring the Republic of Liberia will not be held hostage by criminals and groups intended in creating chaos. The call is for all Liberians to contact their legislators and ask why they have not passed the Firearms and Ammunitions Control Act.