International arms control makes sense
International Gun Trade Targeted at U.N.
Tue., Jan. 10, 2006
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10 (OneWorld) - As diplomats from around the world gather this week to lay the groundwork for a major June summit on arms control, leading rights advocacy groups are demanding that governments agree on a proposed treaty that would ban the illegal trade in guns.
"No one but a criminal would knowingly sell a gun to a murderer, yet governments can sell weapons to regimes with a history of human rights violations or to countries where weapons will go to war criminals," says Barbara Stocking, director of the international humanitarian group Oxfam International.
Oxfam, which is part of the Control Arms Campaign, an umbrella group representing various organizations, believes that existing arms controls are powerless to protect innocent civilians from violence.
"This year, the world has a choice" says Stocking. "Either it continues to ignore the massive human cost or it finally acts to control the arms trade."
This week's meeting at the United Nations is part of a follow-up process to the world body's "program of action" to fight the illicit trade in small arms, an international instrument adopted by a U.N. Conference in July 2001.
Last July, the U.N. held its second biennial meeting on small arms control, but diplomatic efforts to negotiate a legally binding treaty failed mainly because of opposition from countries such as the United States, Iran, and Egypt.
Independent arms control experts argue that in the absence of a legally binding treaty, the existing international instrument would remain toothless and ineffective in curbing the illegal trade in guns and other small weapons.
The existing agreement sets up a system to record the serial numbers of small arms when they are sold or transferred between countries, but it allows any country to refuse to disclose information about arms sales on the grounds of "national security."
The Control Arms Campaign, which also includes Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), fears that this may be used as an excuse by those selling arms to oppressive regimes.
Last year, Amnesty International and IANSA released a report suggesting that arms sold to unaccountable and poorly trained military forces are often used to suppress human rights and exploit natural resources.
The groups noted that a large number of women and girls were increasingly vulnerable to armed violence, whether they were directly involved in the fighting or dealing with the economic, social, and emotional consequences of the loss of male relatives.
Currently, there are more than 600 million guns in circulation around the world. While there is no authoritative figure on illegal gun sales, researchers with Amnesty International and IANSA estimate that authorized small arms are worth at least $21 billion. They include pistols, revolvers, rifles, and light machine guns.
The study, entitled "The Impact of Guns on Women's Lives," identifies over 1,100 companies manufacturing small arms and ammunition in at least 98 countries, and says that these numbers are likely to grow.
The Amnesty research shows that G-8 countries--the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, and Russia--account for more than 80 percent of global supplies of arms. Six of them are among the top 10 arms exporters in a trade valued at about $28 billion a year.
Rights groups say that while gun manufacturers and merchants in rich countries continue to make millions of dollars in profits from arms supplies, it is the residents of poor countries that pay the price in bloodletting and the suffering of innocent people.
"Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone manufacture very few arms, yet they have been flooded with weapons, which have been used to kill, maim, displace, and impoverish millions of people," says Denise Searle, Amnesty's senior campaign director.
Despite the presence of 17,000 U.N. troops in Haiti, armed violence continues in that country. Last month, Haitians were due to elect a representative government, but failed to do so because the interim administration deemed it impossible to conduct polls in the face of raging violence in Port-au-Prince, the capital city.
"Time and again, peacekeeping efforts have been undermined by the failure of governments to introduce effective arms controls," she adds. "For the sake of millions of men, women, and children who live in continuous fear of armed violence, world leaders must seek this historic opportunity to begin negotiations on an arms trade treaty."