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Verifying the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

The African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE): Verifying the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone
Noel Stott

In July 2009, the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba) entered into force. Having been opened for signature in 1996, today, the Treaty has 41 States Parties with only 14 states still to deposit their instruments of ratification with the African Union (AU). Under the terms of the treaty, African states renounce all nuclear explosive devices and undertake to prevent the stationing of such devices on the African continent and its associated islands. They also pledge to prohibit the testing of nuclear devices and the dumping of radioactive waste, while improving the physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities and promoting the peaceful use of nuclear material in the Zone. Uniquely, the Treaty of Pelindaba also prohibits armed attacks on nuclear installations, including nuclear research or power reactors.

Protocols to the Treaty are designed to ensure that non-African states respect the status of the zone and undertake not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any African country thereby providing ‘negative security assurances’. Only Spain and the United States have not ratified the relevant Protocols.

The African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE)

In line with Article 12 States Parties have established the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) to ensure that there is compliance with the basic principles of the treaty. AFCONE members are elected for a three-year term and presently include: Algeria, Chad, Ghana, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Operating from offices in South Africa, AFCONE’s secretariat is headed by an Executive Secretary, currently Messaoud Baaliouamer, an experienced nuclear physicist from Algeria.

AFCONE’s overall goal is ‘to ensure safety, security and socio-economic progress in Africa through coordinating, strengthening and developing continental nuclear peaceful applications programmes and playing a dynamic role in disarmament & non-proliferation affairs’. To achieve this goal, AFCONE has established four thematic working groups to develop activity plans in relation to: Applications of nuclear science; Compliance and verification; Safety, security and safeguards; and Co-operation and partnerships.

Key verification activities of AFCONE include: ensuring compliance by all parties with all their non-proliferation obligations; protecting Africa from nuclear testing and the dumping of nuclear materials; promoting the peaceful application of nuclear science and technology; and developing outreach activities to states eligible to ratify the Treaty. AFCONE also undertakes certain administrative functions in support of compliance, such as soliciting and collating reports from States Parties, facilitating the exchange of information and establishing a complaints procedure. So far, 17 States Parties have designated a National Point of Contact while 12 have submitted annual national reports.

Article 9 of the Treaty deals with the verification of peaceful uses. The provision obliges states not to provide source or special fissionable material to any non-nuclear armed state unless it complies with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The Treaty thus explicitly recognises that verification of States Parties’ compliance with their treaty obligations can be met by ensuring that all their nuclear material, facilities and activities are subject to full-scope IAEA safeguards. The Treaty thus reinforces the obligations of states under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), in addition to those provided under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) (and its 2005 Amendment) and the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa (Bamako Convention).

The Treaty of Pelindaba is thus explicit in linking African nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts to international organisations and regimes mandated to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons and to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In order to avoid duplication of verification efforts, AFCONE has or is currently drafting memoranda of agreements with the IAEA and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) as well as the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA). What is also required, however, is for AFCONE to initiate a complete assessment of the laws and regulations currently in force at the domestic level of States Parties to identify regulatory gaps. This should be done with the assistance of the secretariats of the abovementioned international organisations—many of whom offer legal assistance with implementing the various related instruments.