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Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) come together for first time in landmark meeting to combat illicit trade in weapons

On 17 February 2015, representatives from civil society and government agencies in Burundi and DRC gathered for a meeting in Bujumbura in their first step to tackle the illicit flow of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) between their two countries.

DRC and Burundi combating SALW

Photos of delegates to the Burundi DRC meeting to tackle cross-border trafficking of SALW on 17 February 2015

The border region between Burundi and DRC in the Great Lakes region of Africa has long been host to significant levels of armed violence and conflict. Today, weapons proliferation there is still perilously high and the illicit trafficking of small arms across borders is pervasive. The presence and trafficking of illicit small arms in the region makes firearms readily available to armed groups who continue to operate in the region, putting local communities at significant risk. In 2011 one study found that firearms could be purchased for as little as $20 USD.

The supply and demand of illicit weapons is a global problem, fuelling instability and violence, and hindering social and economic development. This particular initiative is a practical step towards addressing that problem – particularly through the implementation of important aspects of the UN Programme of Action on SALW and the Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of SALW.

SAWL meeting - DRC and BurundiA delegate from the DRC authorities declared in plenary discussion: “We, the authorities, have to mobilize. Some of us are complicit in the traffic and it is us who have the biggest role to play in stopping the cross-border traffic of weapons”

To date few practical steps have been taken to counter this organized crime.  But this situation turned a corner on 17 February when 98 representatives of civil society and government from Burundi and DRC met to start a practical project that sought to tackle the illicit trafficking of SALW across borders.

A Burundian delegate stated: “We should have done this long before. It is a great opportunity to exchange with our Congolese colleagues and even colleagues from other agencies relating to border control in Burundi”

This initiative is funded by UNSCAR and led by AOAV in partnership with the Burundi national SALW commission, (Commission National  Permanente de Lutte contre la prolifération des armes légère et de petit calibre or CNAP), and the DRC national SALW commission, (Commission Nationale de Contrôle des ALPC et de réduction de la violence armée or CNC-ALPC).

Together, DRC and Burundi are joining their efforts to improve domestic and regional control and reduction of illicit SALW, to combat their misuse, proliferation and illegal trade. During this landmark meeting, delegates discussed the incentives and reasons behind the illicit trade such as the porosity of the borders, impunity, and mismanagement of state weapons stockpiles.  Delegates also shared possible approaches to combating the problem together, such as capacity building of border police and customs agents; sensitising local populations on their responsibilities and the risks of illicit trade; job creation for youth vulnerable to engaging in armed violence; as well as seeking a ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty followed by implementation of SALW control measures.

DRC and Burundi delegates demonstrated great commitment to combatting illicit trafficking, and have formed a joint Working Group to tackle the problem. The Group have selected a mixed team that will conduct a border assessment to better understand the problem and inform evidence-based solutions. According to the results and recommendations of the border assessment the Burundi-DRC Working Group will develop a Joint Action Plan which will lay out concrete steps to fight the cross-border traffic of SALW.

picture 4The Coordinator of the South Kivu Commission on SALW in DRC said: “I am very satisfied about this workshop. It is a good beginning to a great project. Very few actions for disarmament and stopping the trafficking of weapons have taken place in South Kivu to date but it is essential to tackle disarmament for the peace and development of our province and region, which has been the theatre of so many armed conflicts. This border project is a first step and we are confident it will be a success”