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DISARMAMENT: Nations Urged to Create Gun-Free Zones

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2006 (IPS) - The widespread proliferation of small arms and light weapons can be curbed more effectively by reducing demand than by merely cutting off supplies, according to a new report on arms control released here.

“Unless the motivations and means for gun acquisition are understood, arms reduction interventions will fail,” warns the 68-page study titled “Demanding Attention: Addressing the Dynamics of Small Arms Demand”.

“Demand reduction must be taken more seriously than has hitherto been the case,” the report says, pointing out that arms control programmes designed to reduce violence should adopt a demand perspective.

In South Africa and Solomon Islands – two of the countries surveyed in the study – demand for weapons has been successfully diminished through the promotion of gun-free zones established in villages, schools, bars and other communal spaces.

The study, a joint publication by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies and the New York-based Quaker United Nations Office, was released to coincide with the current two-week preparatory meeting – due to conclude Jan. 20 – for a landmark Review Conference on small arms in July.

The authors of the study were David Atwood, Anne-Kathrin Glatz and Robert Muggah.

The United Nations estimates that there are over 600 million small arms and light weapons – including assault rifles, grenade launchers and sub-machine guns – currently in circulation worldwide. Last year, small arms alone were instrumental in the deaths of over half a million people, mostly civilians.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a visiting professor at the Security Studies Programme at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, says that achieving effective control over the international trade in weapons requires work on both the supply and demand sides of the equation.

“So far, most activities at the international level have been focused on the supply side. While we need more effective supply-side controls, we also need to focus much more seriously on demand-side issues,” Goldring told IPS.

She said that “demand-side restraint” can be fostered through a wide range of measures, including ensuring that people are safe in their homes and that their basic needs are met, working to resolve conflicts before they become violent, and preventing easy access to weapons.

“Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against those favouring controls, because there are profits to be made from selling these weapons,” she added.

As with drug dealers, arms dealers are often pushers, working hard to create markets for their goods and to prevent governments from exercising controls over their actions, Goldring argued.

The London-based International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that includes Oxfam and Amnesty International, is campaigning for an international treaty to curb the proliferation of small arms.

Although 43 of the 191 U.N. states and several regional blocs have clearly stated their support for an arms trade treaty, others do not yet have formal positions, according to IANSA.

Addressing the preparatory meeting last week, Cristina Pellandini of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the upcoming July Review Conference on small arms should address four issues:

First, it was essential that an effective international framework was established to put an end to illicit arms brokering activities.

Second, the conference should define common standards for arms transfer decision-making, identifying the key elements of an effective transfer control system and the relevant international legal responsibilities of states.

Third, it was important that the conference recognised the need for increased efforts to address the demand for small arms and light weapons. Illicit markets were, after all, driven by an existing demand.

“Unless a reduction in the demand for such weapons could be achieved, attempts to better control their supply were likely to be only partially successful and might merely shift the source of supply to the weakest link in the control chain,” Pellandini told delegates.

Finally, she said, the conference should support further measures to reduce the misuse of weapons in violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws.

Meanwhile, in its survey of Brazil, the study says the South American nation has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth and income in the world. In many of its cities, as in the case of Rio de Janeiro, residential areas of both extremes are found in close proximity.

While class differences have serious and predictable implications for access to public services, with wealthier citizens generally enjoying better provision, policing is considered inadequate across all income levels.

“Material wealth is a risk factor for armed violence, and property crime is widespread. As a result, private security manpower rivals that of the police, and demand for firearms is considerable,” says the study.

In October 2005, about 64 percent of Brazilians who took part in a referendum to ban the sale of firearms to civilians voted “no”.

The “no” vote reflected that the demand for firearms as a means of protection in Brazil remains strong.

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