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News from the ground: November update on AOAV’s field programmes

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) conducts field-based programming in support of its mission to reduce the incidence and impact of armed violence globally. Utilizing experience and knowledge gained from its research, policy-work, and fieldwork, AOAV conducts evidence-based programming in five countries in West, Central, and North Africa – Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Western Sahara. Over the past year, financial support for these activities has been generously provided by the Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Australian Government, and a number of private foundations and donors.


AOAV’s Director of Programmes Devin O’Shaughnessy and its Programme Manager for Central and North Africa Ruth Simpson visited Burundi in early October to monitor AOAV’s projects, meet with partners and stakeholders, and help facilitate a workshop on Armed Violence (AV) monitoring. During this visit AOAV HQ staff and Burundi Country Representative Julie Claveau met with the Ministry of Public Security, Civil Protection Department, National Commission for Small Arms and Light Weapons (CNAP), the Training Centre for Development of Ex-Combatants (CEDAC), international NGOs and bilateral and multilateral donors (Belgium, Netherlands, Swiss, Norway and UNDP) to discuss how best to collaborate on armed violence issues.

AOAV, CNAP and partners at the armed violence monitoring workshop, October 8-9

AOAV, CNAP and partners at the armed violence monitoring workshop in Burundi

On 8-9th October AOAV co-hosted a workshop with CNAP to advance Burundi’s efforts to monitor, measure, and analyse armed violence in the country. Approximately 25 representatives from government departments, civil society, police, army and national institutions (such as the Human Rights Commission) met and shared experiences on armed violence data collection and analysis. This is a significant achievement, as armed violence is a sensitive issue in Burundi; its civil war ended only four year ago. Despite this, by the end of the workshop state and civil society partners showed a remarkable commitment to collaborate, with nearly every participating institution signalling its intention to share data and collaborate on conducting analysis and publishing joint reports on armed violence.

AOAV intends to continue supporting Burundi’s Armed Violence Observatory (AVO) by helping it develop its terms of reference and plan its activities for 2014, including the likely publication of its first national report on armed violence.

In addition to its work on armed violence monitoring, AOAV has continued apace with its victim assistance and victims’ rights programmes. In collaboration with its local partner CEDAC (and with AusAID support), AOAV conducted advocacy training and basic campaign planning in July and August. This September and October, AOAV and CEDAC offered hands-on mentoring for armed violence survivors and women with disabilities as they developed detailed advocacy plans and communication strategies. Campaigns will commence in November, and have been designed to peak alongside key awareness dates including the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), 16 days of activism against gender violence (25 November – 10 December), and International Women’s Day on 8 March 2014.

Some of the creative advocacy initiatives being designed by the participants include:

  • A three-day peaceful “sit-in” by people with disabilities in front of the National Assembly to push for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • A workshop with the Muramvya provincial police and Justice Department officials to educate them on the issues faced by women with disabilities and to jointly identify solutions
  • Lobbying Muramvya Education Department officials to highlight and address the challenges facing children and girls with disabilities in local schools
  • Lobbying the Ministries of Public Security and Justice to nominate and train focal points in every province and major town focusing on the security of women with disabilities and those affected by armed violence
  • A letter writing campaign and formal discussions with the Ministry of Health to address the particular needs of women with disabilities through health sector interventions
  • The development of a multi-stakeholder Network for Women with Disabilities in Burundi

To date, AOAV’s victims’ assistance programme has supported 937 armed violence survivors and men and women with disabilities through peer-based psychosocial support. In August, AOAV conducted a mid-programme assessment to capture 12 months of peer support data and analyze beneficiaries’ improvement in mental health. Analysis of the results will be finalized in mid-November. An early sampling of the data, however, has shown that Mental Health Survey (MHS) scores improved during the follow-up period for 94% of beneficiaries, with an average 48% improvement in psychological and emotional well-being.


The Liberian Armed Violence Observatory (LAVO), set up with AOAV assistance in 2009, is currently drafting its first independently-produced report, which will be published in mid-November. The report will analyze armed violence trends over a two year period, utilizing data collected and processed by the LAVO. This marks a significant achievement in the maturation and long-term sustainability of the body, as AOAV has previously taken the lead in collecting members’ feedback and putting together initial drafts of the LAVO’s reports. The LAVO played a critical role in securing the commitment of the Government to producing a national report on armed violence using the template developed by AOAV and other leading members of the Global Alliance on Armed Violence (GAAV). The LAVO is also becoming more active in sharing its experiences globally; the LAVO Coordinator is expected to conduct a presentation on LAVO’s development, challenges, and successes to Sierra Leone stakeholders in early November as part of an AOAV workshop on armed violence monitoring.

Youth Living in West Point, Liberia

Youth Living in West Point, Liberia

AOAV’s Borders Project, taking place in ten communities along the Liberia-Sierra Leone border and implemented in partnership with the Liberian NGO Sustainable Livelihoods Promoters Programme (SLPP), has continued to collaborate with local community watch groups to finalize a workplan and timeline for the coming year. A workshop to enhance the capacity of the groups in terms of surveillance, reporting, and engaging with government/security agencies was rescheduled for November to allow for full integration of stakeholders’ suggestions and input in the training curriculum. The local Field Office of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) station, the County Superintendent, the Community Watch Forum (a network of community representatives who assist police in exposing crimes and curtailing violence), and the Liberian National Police have all contributed to the development of the workshop and plan to help facilitate the session.

Attendance at AOAV’s first Youth Drop-in Centre in West Point – a poor urban community on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia – has exceeded expectations, with events at the centre consistently drawing thirty to forty participants. A key component of AOAV’s Strengthening Communities project in Liberia, the Centres provide psychosocially empowering spaces where youth can take part in positive group activities, including skills-building drop-in classes and workshops. Already, numerous participants are displaying significant engagement and leadership, taking on responsibility for community outreach, time-keeping, and leading simple activities. Youth who demonstrate particular leadership skills will be trained as Youth Outreach Specialists, undertaking informal counseling, lesson-planning, and facilitation. The second Centre opened on October 22, with a total of 53 young people attending the opening event.

The West Point Conflict Transformation Teams (CTTs) handled over 76 cases in October, a 25% increase from the previous month. 14 of the incidents in October involved potential armed violence, and a further 10 involved physical fighting. CTT members are showing increased leadership in their community, engaging children in their activities, teaching the basic principles of conflict transformation to others, and intervening in conflict situations outside of West Point. In the future, CTT members will undergo more intensive training, including a train-the-trainers component for those showing leadership potential, through which they can pass on their skills to other community members. AOAV is currently investigating ways to further integrate its work in West Point with existing community services, such as offering after school programmes or partnering with local NGOs and churches to host joint activities.

In September, AOAV signed a contract with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to train members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), including the recognition and management of unexploded ordnance (UXO), Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and munitions. AOAV will also be assisting the Liberian National Police (LNP) in developing a comprehensive national reporting and response system for these items. Four international technical experts were deployed in late October to Monrovia, with training scheduled to begin the first week of November.


October marked AOAV’s first official foray into field-based programming in Nigeria. Following two years of collaborative research between Nigerian stakeholders and AOAV’s Policy and Research Department, the Programmes team visited Abuja in late October to help the Nigerian Working Group on Armed Violence (NWGAV) develop its strategic plan for 2014 and beyond. The NWGAV – currently consisting of eight organizations, each significantly involved with armed violence prevention in at least one region of the country – decided to focus its efforts on undertaking, sponsoring, evaluating and sharing armed violence research as well as conducting advocacy on the development and effective implementation of armed violence reduction initiatives nationally and regionally.

AOAV’s Director of Programmes also discussed plans for the launch of the joint AOAV-NWGAV report on armed violence in Nigeria, as well as an AOAV’s workshop on media engagement and public advocacy for the Working Group and key members of the national media. Both are scheduled to take place in early December 2013.

Sierra Leone

In AOAV’s national survey on armed violence in Sierra Leone (published in early 2013), locally-made guns produced by unlicensed blacksmiths were identified as a significant source of armed violence in the country; moreover, there was evidence that some of these weapons were being illegally exported into neighboring Guinea and Liberia.

To combat this problem, AOAV began conducting detailed surveys of blacksmiths throughout the country to determine the extent of and possible solutions for illegal gun production. In October, AOAV began conducting in-depth analysis of its initial surveys in order to identify the majority of blacksmiths that are actively engaged in weapons production, their approximate income from arms manufacture, and to ascertain their interest in either registering as legal gunsmiths or seeking alternative items to manufacture. While legal registration will eventually depend on the passage of an amnesty for local weapons manufacturers, AOAV was able to gain the confidence of many blacksmiths who willingly shared information on their involvement in gun manufacturing, helping AOAV better understand the problem. AOAV is developing a variety of capacity building interventions for these blacksmiths to help wean them off producing unregistered firearms.

As part of AOAV’s firearms Marking and Tracing project, the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA) organized a week-long workshop in late October for ten members of the police and armed forces on the proper operation of Dot Peen Markers, which had been provided by AOAV earlier in the year. The workshop was conducted by officers that attended training in Chicago, facilitated by AOAV, on how to operate the equipment. This brings the total to twelve trained Sierra Leonean operators able to implement the marking process.

Over the past two months, AOAV has made considerable progress towards the development of an armed violence observatory (AVO) in Sierra Leone. In September, AOAV identified and began engaging the 16 government ministries and 8 civil society organizations most involved in armed violence issues. AOAV organized nine individual stakeholder meetings to describe the AVO concept, all of which resulted in support and enthusiasm for the initiative. In October, more stakeholders were identified, particularly from civil society, in advance of the multi-stakeholder forum planned for early November. Planning for the forum is underway, and is intended to bring together all armed violence reduction stakeholders to discuss the convening of a Sierra Leone Armed Violence Observatory.

Western Sahara

AOAV’s demining and Battle Area Clearance (BAC) teams returned to the Mijek Field Base for training and accreditation in advance of the start of a new operational season on 16 September (demining is suspended for two months each year during the peak of the West Saharan summer). Additional funding from the UN allowed AOAV to train 23 newly recruited Saharawi in order to fill fourteen demining positions, with the remainder serving as potential replacements or additional deminers in the future. The trainees successfully passed UN MACC accreditation and began operating in late September. The addition of these new clearance operators, who have been integrated into the existing Multi-Tasking Teams (MTTs), has already led to a quadrupling in productivity from the previous year to over 1,940m2 per day. In September and October alone, the MTTs cleared over 122,000m2. AOAV’s BAC team was also highly productive, clearing 125,000 m2 the past two months. Together, the teams found 3 Anti-Tank (AT) mines, 55 Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs) and 8 Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) in October.

AOAV Clearance Operator during Training

AOAV Clearance Operator during Training

AOAV, together with its partner for mechanical clearance Mechem (a South African demining company), successfully deployed a new mechanical asset in Western Sahara in October, the CASSPIR vehicle mounted mine detection system. It is currently surpassing its initial monthly productivity expectations. A second, similar mechanical asset is expected to be field tested by late November and begin operations immediately afterwards. The third mechanical asset, a MineWolf demining system, began operating in early 2012 and continues to reach its daily target of 4,000m2.

Sept-Oct 2013 AOAV Programmes Update-6

CASSPIR Executing Verification and Clearance

AOAV has continued to develop its victim assistance programme for Western Sahara, building on its previous experience supporting victims’ cooperatives in Saharawi refugee camps in southwest Algeria. In September, AOAV began disbursing funds to 27 new cooperatives (consisting of 116 survivors) through its micro-grants project, after which cooperatives began their activities (livestock rearing and trading, commerce and agriculture). With its local partner the Saharawi Mine Victims’ Association (ASAVIM), AOAV will support and monitoring the cooperatives as they implement their projects. AOAV also offered 10 cooperatives that had participated successfully in the first phase of the project an opportunity to receive additional assistance through a partial re-payment scheme, which should aid cooperatives in making the transition to sustained economic independence. AOAV continues to support ASAVIM as it maintains and updates its records on survivors of ERW. Their database currently holds information on over 1,390 victims, which they share with relevant authorities and service providers to ensure they receive needed assistance.

At the end of October, AOAV Director of Programmes and the Western Sahara Country Manager Ahmed Sidi Aly attended a Western Saharawi solidarity conference in Abuja, Nigeria. The event was attended by government ministers, officials from over a dozen countries, and representatives from Nigerian civil society. During the conference, the Country Manager presented on AOAV’s mine clearance and victim assistance work and appealed to the international community to contribute additional resources to Western Sahara, particularly for humanitarian work and responding to landmine and ERW contamination.

AOAV’s institutional development

In September, AOAV submitted proposals to the Journalists and Writers Foundation for work with vulnerable youth in Western Sahara and for peer support to victims in Burundi. In partnership with the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery (CISR) at James Madison University, AOAV submitted a proposal to the U.S. Institute of Peace for work with vulnerable youth in Liberia, adapting and applying the psychosocial peer support model developed originally by the two organizations for the Burundi context.

Building on the visit of HQ staff to Burundi, AOAV submitted a proposal to the Dutch Security Sector Development programme and is preparing a proposal for UNDP for enhanced armed violence monitoring surrounding the 2015 elections. AOAV also submitted a proposal to help Burundian youth resist participating in elections-related conflict to the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Finally, AOAV submitted a stage one proposal to the UK-based foundation Comic Relief to provide peer support, life skills training and education, and livelihood opportunities to vulnerable groups living in Bujumbura slums.

Success story – Sierra Leone begins national gun registrations

The Sierra Leone Arms and Ammunition Act 2012 mandates marking of all weapons used by the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), and legally registered civilians. Since the passage of the Act, however, Sierra Leonean authorities have not been able to start marking weapons due to the lack of weapons marking machines and trained operators.

Army Officers Learning how to Operate Dot Peen Machines for Marking Weapons

Army Officers Learning how to Operate Dot Peen Machines for Marking Weapons

To assist the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA) in the marking and tracing process, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) organized a working group of relevant experts and government officials to develop Standard Operating Procedures for setting up a national registry for civilian weapon owners. AOAV also procured 2 Dot Peen Markers for the Commission, and in August 2013 arranged for a senior police officer and an army officer to undertake operational training at the manufacturer’s factory in Chicago, Illinois.

Following the handing over of the machines and training, SLeNCSA has made significant progress in preparing for the official launch of the weapons marking process in January 2014. Since returning from Chicago, the two newly trained officers have co-led a workshop on marking and tracing for an additional ten personnel, five from the Sierra Leone Police and five for members of the armed forces. The five day workshop was organised via the Directorate of Defence Training Education and Recruitment in the Ministry of Defence, with AOAV providing logistical and technical advice.

This joint project between AOAV and SLeNCSA presents a clear example of how, with the right partnerships and programmes, relatively small amounts of technical and financial support can have a significant impact on the ground. By helping Sierra Leone authorities develop their own capacity to implement a national marking and tracing initiative, AOAV has helped the country rapidly implement their new Arms and Ammunition Act, which over time will contribute to the reduction and prevention of armed violence. It is anticipated that over 30,000 weapons in Freetown and a further 30,000 weapons in the Districts will have been registered and marked by March of next year.