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DISARMAMENT: “The Carnage Must Stop”

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 2008 (IPS) - An international coalition of human rights and humanitarian aid organisations is calling for the world community to create a treaty that would prohibit the illicit business in guns and other small weapons around the world.

“This is the chance for the world’s nations [to] say that the carnage from the irresponsible use of weapons must stop,” said Anna Macdonald of the London-based Oxfam International ahead of the U.N. vote on the proposed arms trade treaty set for Friday.

According to Oxfam, the arms trade fuels conflict, poverty and grave human rights abuses. On average, more than 1,000 people are killed by firearms every day. There are tens of thousands who are raped and tortured by those in possession of illicit weapons.

In the past two weeks, in addition to some Noble laureates, including South Africa’s highly-respected spiritual leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, many parliamentarians and former military leaders have also voiced their support for the treaty against the illegal transfer of guns.

“It is time to end the slaughter,” said Desmond Tutu, the Noble Peace Prize-winning archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, in a statement calling for the 192-member U.N. General Assembly to adopt the proposed Arms Trade Treaty.

The proposal to create the arms control treaty was endorsed by the General Assembly in December 2006.

“People are watching, waiting and holding you to account,” Tutu said in a letter sent to the diplomatic missions of all of the U.N. member states. “They are demanding [a treaty] with human rights at its heart. It is down to each and every one of you to see it done.”

Ahead of the General Assembly vote, the coalition, known as the Control Arms Campaign, held a series of public gatherings around the world and gathered about one million signatures in support of the treaty.

“An overwhelming U.N. vote by governments to move forward and develop the Arms Trade Treaty will give the world new hope, despite the spoiling tactics of a few countries,” said Brian Wood of Amnesty International.

In recent years, a vast majority of U.N. member states have expressed interest in creating the treaty to control arms supplies, but the United States and some other major weapon manufacturers continue to oppose it.

The United States is estimated to have an over 35-percent share in the global market of light weapons.

Studies show that at least 300,000 people are killed every year with conventional weapons, many of which are used by human rights abusers due to the poorly regulated international arms market.

The U.N. experts identify small arms as assault rifles, pistols, sub-machine guns, light machine guns, mortars, portable anti-aircraft guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank missile and rocket systems, hand grenades, and anti-personnel landmines.

This year, the U.N. held several meetings on the treaty proposal, which were attended by a number of government officials from several countries. Observers say that discussions leading to the negotiation of the treaty could continue into 2009.

The proposal to create such a treaty was first adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 after more than 150 countries voted in its favour, 24 abstained, and one – the United States – opposed it.

In addition to ordinary citizens, recently the Control Arms Campaign has also involved several former military leaders who are concerned about the illegal trade in guns and other weapons.

“It is the illicit trade and trafficking of arms which is causing all the problems and causing all the casualties in the civilian population,” said retired Brigadier Gen. Mujahid Alam from Pakistan, who is serving the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At a news conference at U.N. headquarters this week, Lt. Col. John Ochai from Nigeria expressed similar views.

“Countries which supply Chad and Sudan with arms should be made to act according to the treaty. Currently it is easy to move arms around Chad and Darfur,” he said.

According to the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, currently, about 25 percent of the 4-billion-dollar annual trade in small arms is either illegal or not recorded.

Research shows that arms dealers in several African countries continue to violate embargoes – whether imposed by the United Nations or the United States – by using false documents or bogus certificates.

Most of these violations, according to the U.N., are committed by the middlemen involved in the illicit brokering of weapons. Most of them are currently operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, and Cote d’Ivoire. U.N. data shows that, in 2005, small arms alone were responsible for the deaths of over half a million people – 10,000 per week on average.

Though mindful that a final, legally binding treaty is still a distant goal, anti-gun activists say they would continue to campaign for urgent action on the treaty proposal.

“We need every country to show that they want to end the useless waste of life we see every day around the world because of the misuse of arms, said Mark Marge, from the International Action Network on Small Arms, which is part of Control Arms Coalition.

“An Arms Trade Treaty can’t come soon enough. It is a matter of extreme urgency and we need every country to show that they want to end the useless waste of life we see every day around the world because of the misuse of arms.”

Amnesty’s Wood fully shares that view. “No one wants to jeopardise the right of states to acquire arms legitimately,” he said. “But the basic issue is whether world leaders will concede the argument and commit themselves urgently to prevent irresponsible arms transfers that contribute to massive violations of human rights.”

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