African parliaments lead the continent's fight against weapons of mass destruction

2016-04-04

On 18 February, Moroccan police reportedly found chemical or biological agents while raiding a ‘safe house’ linked to Daesh in the province of El Jadida, on the Atlantic coast. It is presumed that the agents, possibly toxins, were intended for terrorist purposes.

Investigations are currently underway, spearheaded by the Moroccan Ministry of Interior’s Direction Générale de la Surveillance du Territoire. Official information remains scarce, but if confirmed, the discovery of a terrorist plot using chemical or biological weapons would mark a new milestone as extremists resort to more lethal and more devastating weapons, to spread violence with maximum casualties and the highest impact.

This development is not a surprise. Jihadist literature has, for a while, called for the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction – encouraging the production of ricin, botulinum and sarin. (An example of this can be found in the third edition of the magazine disseminated by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.)

The discovery in El Jadida serves as a strong reminder of a rapid surge in terrorist acts and violent extremism on the continent. It should underscore, for all African states, the urgent need to actively prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to non-state actors. It also confirms the relevance of United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution 1540.

A surge in terrorist acts on the continent underscores the relevance of UNSCR 1540 for Africa

Resolution 1540 is a key non-proliferation and counter-terrorism instrument, which obliges all states to refrain from providing any kind of support to non-state actors involved in proliferation activities. It also requires states to adopt effective laws to criminalise proliferation activities, and to establish controls over equipment, materials and technology that could be diverted for proliferation purposes.

Resolution 1540 completes and reinforces a global latticework of instruments such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention. It also complements counter-terrorism conventions such as the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; and the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

The resolution garners a high level of support on the African continent. Conversely in their implementation efforts, African states benefit from the support provided by the African Union (AU), the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), and the 1540 Committee and its group of experts. Within their respective mandates, these key partners assist in identifying implementation gaps and mobilising the resources that states need to effectively implement resolution 1540.

Africa has made important progress in its fight against WMD, but challenges remain

This week, from 6 to 7 April, the AU will host the Assistance and Review Conference on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1540. The conference adds to a long list of actions undertaken to facilitate the implementation of the resolution on the continent.

The 1540 Committee prepares matrices for each UN member state to track their implementation of the resolution. These matrices show that important progress is taking place in Africa.

As at December 2015, more than half of African states had measures in place to criminalise the use of any kind of weapon of mass destruction – be it a nuclear, a chemical or a biological weapon. And around 50% of African states have measures in place to criminalise the manufacture, production and acquisition of such weapons.

Criminalisation of WMD proliferation activities on the African continent: current status

(Source: ISS, using raw data by the UN)

Percentage of African states with national legislation in place to criminalise WMD proliferation activities

Manufacture/produce

Acquire

Possess

Develop

Transport

Transfer

Use

For all three types of WMD (nuclear, chemical, biological)

48%

46%

30%

24%

31%

31%

57%

For two out of the three types of WMD

11%

11%

20%

20%

7%

20%

7%

For one out of three types of WMD

24%

19%

30%

22%

17%

28%

19%

No measures

17%

24%

20%

33%

44%

20%

17%

These figures are much higher than those previously recorded, in December 2010. This points to a strong commitment on the African continent to implement resolution 1540.

The figures should not hide the remaining challenges, though. For instance, three-quarters of African states do not have measures in place to criminalise the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. In addition, many states on the continent lack effective enforcement measures. Out of the 17 states that have not sent an implementation report to the 1540 Committee, 13 are from Africa. This calls for continued efforts from all stakeholders concerned.

In addition to the important role of the executive branch of governments, the legislative branch also has a key role to play in advancing the full implementation of resolution 1540 at the national level. National parliaments can be a driving force in non-proliferation efforts: in their law-making function, for instance, to adapt their legal framework as called for by resolution 1540; and to encourage, push for, and monitor efforts undertaken by the executive branch.

National parliaments can be a driving force in non-proliferation efforts

They are further able ensure that adequate resources are made available in the national budget; and they play a crucial role in liaison with civil society and the private sector, thus contributing to awareness-raising and sensitisation. National parliaments are also able to encourage sub-regional efforts through bodies like the regional economic communities and their respective legislative assemblies; and at the continental level, particularly through the AU.

From 22 to 23 February this year, the National Assembly of Côte d’Ivoire and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) hosted a seminar for African parliaments on the implementation of resolution 1540 in Abidjan, with support from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.

The event represents an important step towards an increased role for Africa’s national parliaments in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Building on a working session on resolution 1540 that took place in October 2013 at the 129th Assembly of the IPU, the seminar successfully gathered 72 parliamentarians from 18 African countries, who shared experiences and discussed the way forward.

These in-depth exchanges are testimony to the strong commitment of African parliamentarians to undertake all possible actions to free Africa from the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The seminar also highlighted the need to develop tools that will assist parliamentarians in this endeavour. Developing a handbook on implementation of resolution 1540 for parliamentarians and a database of legislative measures taken on the African continent may be practical options to provide effective support to African parliamentarians.

The Pan-African Parliament could also be involved. While it is currently mandated with only consultative and advisory powers, there could be some benefits to sensitise its members, who can promote the implementation of resolution 1540 at the national level and contribute to broader awareness-raising efforts.

Nicolas Kasprzyk, Consultant, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria  

feature-5icon-printerlogo-chlogo-frPSC REPORT