Sierra Leone legalises civilian use of arms and light weapons

Free Town. FILE | AFRICA REVIEW |  

Sierra Leone's parliament has passed a new law legalising the possession and use of arms, ammunition and light weapons by civilians. The law was passed despite unease by some opposition members who are concerned about the timing with elections around the corner.

There are also concerns about its failure to address some pertinent questions regarding arms regulation. The new law allows the manufacture of small arms and light weapons and it provides for institutional and operational capacities to regulate possession and the use of small arms and light weapons in a country only recovering from an eleven year civil war.

The law will also seek to control cross-border arms activities which pose a serious threat to the war torn region.

The National Commission of Small Arms and Light Weapons will be responsible for the regulation and licensing of the transfer, manufacture, sale, possession and use of small arms and light weapons in the country.

However, the widespread concern that accompanies the law's passing revolves around arms getting into the hands of people seeking to derail the already charged campaigns.

But supporters say it will decrease the rampant harassment of armed robbers in the country. Sierra Leone is going through trying times because of runaway crime with the police seemingly unable to contain a growing spate of armed robberies.

'Arms for Development'

Opposition members are particularly apprehensive of the new law because they believe it does not explicitly provide for the regulation, search warrants and importation of arms.

The law provides for searches to be conducted, but it fails to provide for search warrants, and this, according to opposition MP Brima Kamanda, could encourage malice and envy when many people carry arms in the country without authorisation.

“The law is good for the nation, but it came at the wrong time,” said Kamanda, citing the pending November elections. "Small arms and light weapons ought to be in the possession of responsible individuals, because when they fall in the hands of reckless individuals they become dangerous,” he added.

While insisting that the law will help to reduce and control the spread of small arms in the country, deputy Minister for Internal Affairs, Raymond Kabbia, assured opposition lawmakers that government would not license any weapon until after the November polls.

A cache of 6,155 fire arms and ammunitions is currently lined up for destruction.

The weapons were retrieved through a UNDP ‘Arms for Development Program’ undertaken at the end of the war. The government has promised to destroy them before the November 17 elections.

Sierra Leone has been at the centre of the campaign for the quick domestication of the United Nations Convention on Small Arms and Light-Weapons in the region. 

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