UNODC and INTERPOL to continue supporting the fight against firearms trafficking in the Sahel

Building on the success of joint initiatives during 2019 –including on cross-border operations–, UNODC, through its Global Firearms Programme, in cooperation with the INTERPOL Firearms Programme, as well as national authorities from Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger, organized a hybrid meeting on 25 and 26 June in order to discuss ongoing cooperation and plan upcoming activities in 2020 and 2021 aimed at improving international cooperation in the fight against illicit firearms trafficking.

During the two days national meetings took place in Abidjan, Bamako, Niamey and Ouagadougou gathering more than 50 practitioners from various institutions including National Commissions on Small Arms and Light Weapons; INTERPOL National Central Bureaus; National Police; Gendarmerie; Customs as well as representatives from the criminal justice system from the target countries. In addition, via teleconference, experts from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), INTERPOL Headquarters and its Regional Bureau for West Africa, UNODC, the World Customs Organization and GIZ (German Corporation for International Cooperation) were able to connect and share views with the national experts.

The meeting was opened by the Director of the Small Arms Division of ECOWAS, Mr. Joseph Piex Ahoba, who stressed the importance of joint efforts that support the implementation of the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons and how this contributes to the implementation of the African Union’s Silencing the Gun initiative in the sub region. Mr. Ahoba mentioned the interest of the regional organization as well in supporting such efforts. Making remarks on behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office, Ms. Lisa Müller-Dormann spoke of the importance of continuing coordination and cooperation work in the sub region against the proliferation of illicit firearms, even during the continuing crisis linked to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, particularly since criminals find ways to adapt to crises. The activity is part of the project “Countering transnational illicit arms trafficking in the Sahel sub region and its links to terrorist and organized crime threats” financed by the German government.

The encounter addressed various topics including the importance and strategies of continued work against firearms trafficking in a COVID-19 and post-COVID context. Other topics addressed included upcoming capacity building activities and operational support; improving the exchange of information -including on the trafficking of firearms-; and improving investigation and prosecution of related crimes in West Africa and the Sahel sub region.

On behalf of UNODC, Ms. Simonetta Grassi, Head of the Firearms Programme, highlighted some of the positive results of joint work in the past year. Recent cooperation has led to the arrest of individuals and the seizure of illicit firearms and other illegal merchandise, thus shedding light on organized criminal networks in the sub region. She agreed with others on the importance of continuing such work. For INTERPOL, Mr. Joaquim Rodrigues, who leads the organizations’ Firearms Programme, stressed that cutting the flow of circulation of firearms and their distribution and dissemination networks means increasing security and contributing to the stability and development not only of the region but at the global level. Cutting this also means cutting profits, influence and above all the power of criminal networks.