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Known also as the Kinshasa Convention, the Central African Convention regulates the manufacture, possession, stockpiling, transfer, brokering, collection and destruction of small arms, light weapons, their ammunition and components. It is a regional agreement covering the Economic Community of Central African States, as well as Rwanda.
As many members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) also belong to other sub-regional organisations, the Central African Convention overlaps to some extent with the 2001 SADC Protocol, the 2004 Nairobi Protocol, and the 2006 ECOWAS Convention.
Central Africa was one of the last sub-regions in Africa without a legally binding instrument on the control of small arms and light weapons, even though it is also one of the sub-regions most affected by these weapons. It does, however, benefit from a regional organization, ECCAS, created in 1983 and bringing together ten States: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome & Principe.
ECCAS ceased to function between 1992 and 1998, and was only slowly reactivated after this period. As a result, since 1992, questions of peace and security have been addressed within the UN Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa (UNSAC). Composed of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the DRC, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe. See The United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. UNSAC member states are essentially the same as ECCAS, and meet twice a year at ministerial level.
In May 2003, at a meeting to review the implementation of the 2001 UN Programme of Action on Small Arms in the sub-region, UNSAC member states adopted the Brazzaville Programme of Priority Activities (proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and disarmament of the civilian population). Annex IV to a letter dated 2 June 2003 from the Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to UNSAC, Programme of Priority Activities of Central Africa for the implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, UN doc. A/57/823-S/2003/610, 4 June 2003. The two-year programme of activities lays out seven objectives at national and sub-regional level:
These objectives were to be attained through the establishment of a small arms and light weapons unit within the ECCAS secretariat, and international cooperation, assistance, and resource mobilisation.
In March 2005, member states met again to assess progress. UN Programme of Action Implementation Support System (Regional organisations: ECCAS), UN, 2008. But progress had been slow, a sign of the weaknesses of purely voluntary endeavours. I. Berkol, ‘Vers un instrument juridique sur le contrôle des armes légères et de petit calibre en Afrique central’, Note d'analyse, GRIP, 20 avril 2008, p. 2. In response, in May 2007, states adopted the so-called ‘Sao Tome Initiative’, one of whose components was the drafting and adoption of a legal instrument or convention to control small arms in Central Africa. The work was entrusted by UNSAC to the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC), which was asked to take into account international and regional legal instruments and the recommendations of independent international and African experts. A memorandum of understanding between the two bodies was signed in August 2007.
From then on work proceeded in several steps:
In July 2010, UNREC issued a draft plan of action to facilitate the implementation of the Convention. Implementation plan for the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and All Parts and Components That Can Be Used For Their Manufacture, Repair and Assembly. This also received inputs from states and independent experts, and was adopted in November 2010.
The Convention was formally adopted on 19 November 2010 in Brazzaville, at the Thirty-first UNSAC Ministerial Meeting by Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tomé and Principe. Rwanda, although it withdrew from the Economic Community of Central African States, joined the remaining members of the Committee in signing the Convention in August 2011. The Convention entered into force on 8 March 2017, 30 days after receiving the necessary six ratifications.
The Kinshasa Convention consists of a preamble and nine chapters. The subtitles used in this description do not necessarily correspond to the chapters in the Convention. It adopts the definition of small arms and light weapons developed by the 1997 Report of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on small arms (Art. 2.).
Industrial or artisanal manufacture of small arms and light weapons, ammunition, and parts are all subject to licensing (Art. 11(1).). Licensing modalities are to be determined by law (Art. 11(2), (4), (5), and (6).), as are the registration, storage, and management of all weapons produced (Art. 12.). Weapons and ammunition must be marked (Arts. 12(2) and 14.), and entered into a national database (Arts. 20 and 24(13)). Illicit manufacturing is subject to penalties (Art. 11(3) and 12(5).). States must also adopt policies and strategies to limit or reduce local manufacture (Art. 11(2).).
A degree of confusion around civilian possession of firearms is introduced by the English version of the Convention, which differs from the Spanish and French versions. Indeed, the English text prohibits civilian possession of small arms (Art. 7), but allows civilian possession of light weapons under certain circumstances (Arts. 8–10). In contrast, the French and Spanish versions prohibit civilian possession of light weapons, but allow for civilian possession of small arms in certain circumstances. From the content of the articles, it can be inferred that the French and Spanish versions are consistent with the definitions cited in Article 2 of the Convention, and hence this description inverts the references to small arms and light weapons included in the English version.
As just noted, civilian possession of light weapons is prohibited (Art. 7.). Civilian possession, carriage, use, and trade of small arms have all to be regulated by national law, and those manufactured to military specifications, such as sub-machine guns, assault rifles, and light machine guns are excluded (meaning their possession by civilians is always to be unlawful) (Arts. 8 and 9). All weapons must be marked (Art. 14); unmarked weapons will be considered illicit and are to be destroyed.
A licence must be obtained for each small arm, which must be delivered based on the following criteria (Art. 8(3).): minimum age; no criminal record and proof of good conduct; no involvement in criminal proceedings or belonging to a criminal gang; valid justification; familiarity with the law; proof of safe storage; no record of domestic violence or psychiatric history; and possession of a fixed address. In addition, states must impose a limit on the number of weapons that can lawfully be owned (Art. 8(4).), and impose a minimum period of 30 days to deliver a licence (Art. 8(5).). Licences must feature an expiry date not later than five years after delivery (Art. 8(6).), and renewal will involve reconsideration of all the previous criteria. In addition, states must establish a sub-regional system to verify the validity of licences (Art. 9(6).).
States must maintain a registry of owners and dealers of small arms (Art. 9 (5)), as well as a national database of small arms and light weapons, ammunition, and components (Art. 20.). Norms and standards for stockpile management by civilians, particularly manufacturers and dealers, must be spelt out (Arts. 9(3) and 12.). Carrying weapons in public places is strictly prohibited (Art. 8(8).). Civil and criminal penalties for illicit possession, carriage, use, or trade in small arms are to be determined by law (Art. 9(4).).
Illicit weapons must be collected, seized, and registered (Art. 15(2).), and systematically destroyed (Art. 15(3).), including through joint operations to locate weapons caches (Art. 15(6).). Civilians wishing to hand in weapons must receive a receipt, and the weapons are to be destroyed (Art. 8(7).). Information on destroyed weapons must be stored for 30 years (Art. 15(4).) and transmitted to a sub-regional ECCAS database (Art. 15(3).).
All small arms and light weapons, ammunition, and components found within the territory of member states must be marked (Art. 14). Unmarked weapons are considered illicit, and must be recorded and destroyed (Art. 14(2)).
States are required to ensure adequate stockpile management (Art. 16.). They must ensure adequate administrative measures and procedures (Art. 16(1) and (2).), inventories (Art. 16(3).), create and maintain a database (Art. 20.), and conduct semi-annual reviews of stockpiles (Art. 15(1).). Surplus and obsolete weapons must be collected, seized, and registered (Art. 15(2).), and systematically destroyed (Art. 15(3).).
Weapons collected during disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) operations must be registered in a sub-regional database, where weapons, ammunition, and components used in peacekeeping operations will also be consigned (Art. 22.).
State-to-state transfers of small arms and light weapons, their ammunition, and components are authorized if they are necessary to maintain law and order, for defence or national security, or to participate in peacekeeping operations (Art. 3.). They are subjected to a system of national authorizations (Art. 5.) involving inter alia an end-user certificate, whose content and modalities are also detailed (Art. 6.). Imported weapons must be marked with the year of import (Art. 14(6).). Transfers to non-state actors are prohibited (Art. 4.). Civilians wishing to import or ship in transit their small arms and ammunition must obtain a temporary visitor's certificate (Art. 10.). All information on transfers is to appear in the national database (Art. 20.), and in the sub-regional electronic database (Art. 21.), and will be published in an annual national report (Art. 24(7)ff.).
Brokers must be registered both in their country of origin and in their country of residence (Art. 13(1) and (2).), and require a licence to operate (Art. 13(7).). Their number must be limited by national law (Art. 13(3)). Financial and shipping agents must also be registered (Art. 13(4).), and require a licence (Art. 13(7).). Transactions must be traceable (Art. 13(5).). Unregistered brokers, financial, and shipping agents are to be considered illegal (Art. 13(6).), and illicit brokering must be established as a criminal offence (Art. 13(8).).
Adequate border controls must be put in place to combat illicit trafficking (Art. 17.). This includes specifying the modes of transport and points of entry that can be used for small arms and light weapons, ammunition, and components (Art. 18(1).). States must also define the competent services for border controls (Art. 18(2) and (3).). Regular controls must take place at official entry points (Art. 18(5).), and weapons that do not use designated points of entry will be deemed illicit (Art. 18(4).).
States must also develop education and awareness programmes to support efforts to combat the illicit trade and trafficking in small arms and light weapons, ammunition, and components (Art. 19.).
States must establish a system of judicial cooperation and information exchange (Art. 24.). In particular, they shall adopt weapons tracing procedures, and submit requests to ECCAS or any other organizations to which they belong, or to another state (Arts. 14(10) and 24(10)ff). They will ensure their national Interpol offices are fully operational (Art. 14(11).). Cooperation between states on border controls is encouraged (Art. 17(4) and (5).). States may also exchange information on criminal groups and networks for illicit trafficking (Art. 24(2) and (3).), convictions for weapons-related offences (Art. 24(4).), and manufacture, transfers, and stockpiles (Art. 24(5).). Training on investigation procedures and law enforcement techniques is encouraged (Art. 24(6).). Furthermore, they will establish both national (Art. 20.) and sub-regional (Art. 21.) databases of small arms, light weapons, ammunition, and components.
States will cooperate to prevent corruption and other forms of criminality (Art. 26.). They will also maintain a dialogue with international producers and suppliers of weapons, and with competent international and regional organizations, to strengthen implementation of the Convention (Art. 23.).
States will revise, update, and harmonize their national legislation to bring laws into line with the Convention (Art. 25.). In particular, they will ensure penal sanctions for illicit trafficking; manufacture; possession and use; falsification, obliteration, removal, or alteration of markings; or violations of arms embargoes (Art. 25(2).).
States parties must appoint a national focal point (Art. 27.) and a national commission (Art. 28.), which will be supported with adequate human, material, and financial resources. They will prepare national action plans on small arms and light weapons, in cooperation with civil society (Art. 30.), and submit to ECCAS an annual report on the status of implementation (Art. 34(2).).
The Secretary-General of ECCAS will ensure the follow up and coordination of implementation (Art. 29.). S/he will prepare a sub-regional action plan (Art. 31.).
Resources for the implementation of the Convention will come from states parties (Art. 32.). International cooperation and assistance will also be promoted (Art. 33.).
One year after entry into force of the Convention, the UN Secretary-General will convene a Conference of States Parties (Art. 34(2) and (3).). A review conference is to be convened five years after entry into force of the Convention, and upon request subsequently (Art. 34(5) and (6).).
Last updated on: 08 August 2017