Countries from the Great Lakes region and Horn of Africa are to harmonise their laws to fight the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
“In order to address the problem effectively, we have resolved to harmonise our laws so that we can rein in the culprits. Our state arms are being marked to help in tracing them if they fall into the wrong hands,” Tanzania Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Dominic Hayuma said.
The harmonisation programme comes amid prolonged internal wars in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and several other countries that have flooded the region with illegal weapons.
In order to address the scourge, the states — Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia — signed a declaration in Nairobi in 2000 to step up a fight against illicit arms.
From this declaration arose the Regional Centre on Small Arms (Recsa) that is responsible for co-ordinating joint efforts by National Focal Points in member states to prevent, combat and eradicate stockpiling and illicit trafficking of arms.
Representatives from the states have agreed to harmonise crime laws to effectively combat cross border movement of illicit arms as well as preventing arms from landing in the wrong hands.
The countries are also exploring identical penalties for culprits as a deterrent measure.
The resolutions were made during the conclusion of a recent two-day regional harmonisation legislation meeting in Mombasa.
Mr Hayuma said there was a need for the states to carry out joint disarmament of small arms and light weapons to curb the movement of illicit arms.
Tanzania police official said more than 10,000 small arms were recovered and destroyed in the country.
Uganda Commissioner of Police Ahmed Wafuba said the states should have identical penalties to deter illegal possession of arms.
“We want a situation whereby an offender in Kenya gets the same punishment as in Uganda rather than for one country to administer harsher sentences than the other,” Mr Wafuba added.
A Burundian police official Ndabaneze Zenon said his government has so far recovered 49,000 illicit arms with 3,000 of them having been recovered last month.
Col Zenon attributed this to forcible disarmament as well as the government incentives such as giving bicycles to those who volunteered to surrender guns.
He added that the proposed small arms policy was passed by parliament some months ago and is expected to become law this month.
Kenya’s Solicitor-General Wanjuki Muchemi, who officially opened the meeting said the government was harmonising the Organised Crime Bill, Terrorism Bill and International Crime Bill to boost the war on illicit arms.
Mr Muchemi noted that the changes include prescribing harsher penalties for people who possess guns illegally and addressing the misuse of firearms by police officers to avoid human rights violations.
Last year, Recsa kicked off the exercise of marking state owned firearms at the South Coast.
The markings, which include a country code, is to be added to all weapons in state stockpiles as well as at the point of manufacture, import or transfer.
The information will then be entered into national databases in which states will be able to trace any illicit weapon that might have been possessed by a state in the region through making a tracing request to Interpol.
States will have automatic access to the database as police and military stockpiles are considered to be a matter of state security.
The marking of state owned guns is a fulfilment of the requirements of both the Nairobi Protocol and the International Tracing Instrument.