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Liberia: Amnesty for Surrender of Weapons

(Sept. 16, 2016) It was reported on September 12, 2016, that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia has issued a proclamation encouraging anyone in three of the country’s counties to surrender their small arms and light weapons. The counties are Grand Gedeh, Maryland, and River Gee, which are located along the border this West African country shares with the Cote d’Ivoire, a country that has experienced long-term civil unrest. It has been reported that armed men have crossed from nearby forested areas in Liberia into the Cote d’Ivoire, adding to that country’s instability. (Alaskai Moore Johnson, Ellen Grants “Full Amnesty” for Surrender of Small Arms, DAILY OBSERVER ONLINE (Sept. 12, 2016); Ivory Coast Profile: Timeline, BBC NEWS (Mar. 23, 2016).)

All those who turn in weapons will receive full amnesty; the Liberian National Commission on Small Arms will provide a dispensation from the usual legal consequences of possession of such arms for residents of the three counties and will guarantee confidentiality for anyone who reports on weapons possession in connection with this project. (Johnson, supra.)

The Foreign Ministry of Liberia issued a statement saying that Sirleaf sees that the availability of weapons threatens the peace of the country and the region and she “has established national structures by law to effectively control the illegitimate flow and possession of small arms and light weapons in Liberia, the sub-region, and the global community including the transfer of arms by suppliers and arms brokers through Liberia.” (Id.)

Background

The amnesty is related to a program jointly developed in 2015 by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union, and the United Nations Development Program to reduce the number of small arms and light weapons held by non-state actors, primarily through voluntary surrender projects. The presence of armed non-government groups poses a threat to security in the West African region. (Abdullateef Salau, ECOWAS, EU, UNDP Partner on Small Arms, DAILY TRUST (May 2, 2016); About ECOWAS: Basic Information, ECOWAS website (last visited Sept. 12, 2016).) Speaking in May, Dr. Cyriaque Agnekethom, the Director of Peace Keeping and Regional Security for the ECOWAS Commission for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, noted that the movement of weapons in the region was a concern of the Commission and served to sustain conflict in a number of countries. (Salau, supra.)