Paula Soumaya Domit is a disarmament consultant working with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) — this report originally appeared in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Monitor published by Reaching Critical Will, WILPF's disarmament programme.

On 1 September 2021, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) hosted a side event to the Arms Trade Treaty’s Seventh Conference of States Parties (CSP7) titled “The Role of Effective Stockpile Management in Preventing Illicit Trade and Diversion: Lessons from Sierra Leone.” The event, moderated by Nicolas Florquin of the Small Arms Survey brought together a distinguished panel of representatives of governments and civil society to discuss Sierra Leone’s experiences with stockpile management to prevent illicit arms trade and diversion and how it can inform these efforts in other contexts.

The event began with opening remarks from Ambassador Lansana Gberie of Sierra Leone, via a pre-recorded message. Ambassador Gberie discussed the importance of cooperation and assistance in stockpile management practices between states, as outlined in the second and fifth recommendations of his working paper. He emphasised that this should not be limited to capacity building but should include more robust measures built on the sharing of information and best practices between states. He also stressed the importance of including civil society and states who are not parties to the ATT to find effective ways to address the issue of arms diversion. Ambassador Gbeire invited ATT states parties and all other actors to build on other existing frameworks working on this issue through effective stockpile management.

Emilie Mbaye, MAG’s Regional Programme Manager in West Africa, followed with key takeaways from MAG’s work on arms and ammunition management in Sierra Leone in partnership with the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA). She drew attention to partnership as a critical success factor. In 2019, SLeNCSA developed a National Strategic Plan on Weapons and Ammunition Management which sets out key objectives for the period up to 2023.This plan was developed through partnerships with MAG, civil society, the governments of Japan and Germany, and others, showing the importance of working collaboratively in building paths for future action. She specifically emphasised the critical role of regional and subregional organisations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the plan’s construction. In discussing the plan’s creation, Mbaye also drew attention to the importance of flexibility and allowing for course correction.

Ambassador Lansana Gberie of Sierra Leone

Philip Alpers from the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction then discussed the Arms Tracker Register, a tool to facilitate recordkeeping of arms and ammunition in West Africa supported by the UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR) and the ATT Voluntary Trust Fund. He noted that if data is not readily available to arms control officials, their jobs become more difficult, which is especially detrimental in cases where national governments are the sources of diversion. Arms Tracker follows arms and ammunition through every stage of use and aids compliance with ATT and all regional and international arms control mechanisms.

Albrecht von Wittke, Head of Division for Conventional Arms Control in the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, spoke on behalf of the German Federal Government. He noted that Sierra Leone’s experience shows that issues of stockpile management extend past national stockpile facilities but pose transnational challenges. As a result, he said, regional exchange of best practices and lessons learned are critical, emphasising that these efforts should be grounded in local and regional ownership.

Albrecht von Wittke, Head of Division for Conventional Arms Control in the Federal Foreign Office of Germany

Rtd. Lt.Colonel MS Bangura spoke next, on behalf of SLeNCSA. He outlined the work done in Sierra Leone with ongoing support from MAG. In contrast to the dismal stockpile management practices in Sierra Leone at the end of the conflict in 2002, substantial progress has been made. All weapons held by official and police forces have been marked and 32 armouries have been constructed. He also gave examples of weapons destruction which has formed part of SLeNCSA’s work, such the mass weapons demolition exercise in July 2019-December 2020 which destroyed dangerously degraded explosives and small arms and light weapons (SALW).

Adenike Cole, Coordinator of the Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms, discussed the intersection of gender with the diversion of SALW, given that women and children are uniquely impacted by gun violence. After the conflict in Sierra Leone, the Special Court for Sierra Leone made recommendations including the active participation and inclusion of women in government and decision-making for the prevention of conflict; nevertheless, the space of arms control remains male dominated. “We must treat women as stakeholders, not just victims or passive beneficiaries, when addressing SALW diversion,” said Cole. She has found that inadequate data and limited access to funding are main obstacles preventing civil society organisations and the National Commission from extending their scope of work from basic SALW issues to include gender sensitive initiatives.

Adenike Cole, Coordinator of the Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms

Dr. Adamu Mohammed Sani, Deputy Head of the Small Arms Division at the ECOWAS Directorate of Peace and Regional Security, continued by expressing the concerns of the ECOWAS Commission. Following the entry into force of the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials in 2009, all member states in the region have made significant strides, particularly focused on the construction of physical structures for control of SALW and activities to promote physical safety of armouries. A regional effort can mobilise technical support and partnerships which promote national efforts to strengthen armouries, move them to safe locations, and other similar measures. Dr. Sani indicated that ECOWAS is working toward fully effective national commissions within member states and mobilising technical and financial support for this.

The discussion which followed explored practical realities of improving stockpile management practices, with attendees posing questions to all of the event’s panellists about metrics for assessing progress, issues of staff retention when states build their capacities, and the relocation of arms storage sites.

Read the full report on the ATT CSP7 on the Reaching Critical Will website.