As it Ends 2-Day Conference in Freetown… ECOWAS Adopts Communiqué on Use of Autonomous Weapons in Sub-Region

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By Foday Moriba Conteh

A two-day ECOWAS Regional Conference on the Peace and Security Aspect of Autonomous Weapons Systems ended in Freetown on Thursday 18th April, 2024 in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Under the theme: “Peace and Security Aspect of Autonomous Weapons System: an ECOWAS Perspective on a Path towards the Negotiation Process of a Legally Binding Instrument,” the regional conference was held at the Bintumani Conference Centre on Aberdeen, Freetown bringing together delegates from member states and climaxed with the adoption of a Communiqué detailing ECOWAS’s position on the use of Autonomous Weapons in the sub-region.

While addressing the gathering on the adoption of the Communiqué, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Francess Piagie Alghali, expressed gratitude to all participants for their engagement in discussions related to the peace and security aspects of weapon systems.

She commended the collaborative efforts of ECOWAS members, Civil Society Organizations and International NGOs in adopting a comprehensive Communiqué detailing ECOWAS’s position on the use of Autonomous Weapons in the sub-region.

The Deputy Minister emphasized the significance of hosting the conference as a demonstration of Sierra Leone’s commitment to joining the international community in advocating for a regulated and binding instrument on the use of autonomous weapons. She underscored the urgent need for such an instrument in light of complex geopolitical tensions and the evolving landscape of artificial intelligence technology.

Francess Piagie Alghali revealed that the adoption of the comprehensive Communiqué reflects ECOWAS’s shared mission and commitment to addressing the challenges posed by autonomous weapons, contributing to regional peace, security and stabilization.

She concluded by acknowledging the pivotal role played by the Center for Accountability and Rule Law and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in organizing the event as well as extending her gratitude to the senior and junior staff involved in facilitating the conference’s success.

His Excellency Brigadier General (Retired) Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, while inaugurating the conference on Wednesday 17th April, 2024 highlighted Sierra Leone’s commitment to addressing the challenges posed by Autonomous Weapons Systems, emphasizing the urgent need for a legally binding instrument.

He noted that Sierra Leone played a pivotal role in drafting the UN General Assembly Resolution 78/241 on Autonomous Weapons and stressed the country’s dedication to upholding international agreements such as the Arms Trade Treaty.

Addressing the ethical, legal and security implications of Autonomous Weapons Systems, President Bio underscored the importance of ensuring that these technologies are developed and used in alignment with international law, human rights and humanitarian values.

He cautioned against the unchecked proliferation of such weapons, emphasizing the potential threats to global security and stability. President Bio called for proactive engagement in shaping global norms to address emerging challenges while harnessing the potential for positive change. He also urged delegates to engage in open, frank and constructive discussions during the conference, embracing diverse perspectives to shape ECOWAS’ collective future.

In conclusion, President Bio expressed gratitude to the Permanent Mission in Geneva and Civil Society partners for their efforts in organizing the conference.

Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, in her video message, began by expressing gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone for spearheading the organization of this crucial conference.

She highlighted the importance of deepening collective understanding regarding the implications of autonomous weapon systems on regional and global security, human rights and international humanitarian law. Sierra Leone was commended for its pivotal role in global discussions on disarmament and conflict prevention.

Ms. Nakamitsu emphasized the urgent need for new global governance regimes to effectively address the challenges posed by emerging technologies, particularly lethal autonomous weapon systems, underscoring the Secretary-General’s call for States to conclude negotiations on a legally binding instrument to regulate those systems by 2026, urging States to actively engage in discussions within the group of governmental experts of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and emphasized the importance of diverse voices in shaping multilateral responses.

Furthermore, Ms. Nakamitsu stressed that the issue of autonomous weapon systems is not exclusive to highly militarized States but concerns the entire international community. She called upon ECOWAS member States to align on the development of a shared vision regarding these systems and to heed the Secretary-General’s urgent call for new binding laws.

Ms. Nakamitsu ended highlighting the potential positive impact of the conference’s outcomes on current and future generations. She thanked participants for their attention and encouraged constructive engagement throughout the meeting.

Dr. Abdel-Fatau Musah, Commissioner of Political Affairs, Peace and Security at ECOWAS, emphasized the significant security implications associated with the development and deployment of autonomous weapon systems. He highlighted that similar weapons, capable of airborne attacks without human control, are already in use, underscoring the urgency of addressing that issue.

Dr. Musah stated that the conference is both timely and focused, stressing the importance for leaders in West Africa to implement regulations to discourage the use of such weapons in the region.

Other stakeholders including the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Timothy Kabba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of The Gambia, Hon. Dr Mamadou Tangara, also made statements at the opening of the conference.


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