A trade with deadly consequences – Kate Allen, guardian.co.uk
Unlike other weapons, small arms aren’t controlled by global treaty. The suffering they cause means this light regulation has to end (more…)
Unlike other weapons, small arms aren’t controlled by global treaty. The suffering they cause means this light regulation has to end
It seems far too often we see images on our television screens of the impact of the devastation caused by weapons, which have ended up in the wrong hands and fuelled dreadful human rights abuses.
The carnage caused by sectarian violence in Iraq; the shocking image of a young boy carrying an AK-47, a gun almost the same height as himself; and the account of traumatised women and girls who have suffered horrific sexual abuse, often at the hands of perpetrators carrying weapons.
Sadly it seems we have become so accustomed to seeing or hearing about these tragedies that it is easy for some of us to become immune.
But we shouldn’t. Most of the time, these dreadful acts are fuelled by the massive proliferation of weapons in the world, the majority of which are channelled to conflict-ridden zones.
Every day about 1,000 people are killed by arms and with approximately 639m small arms on the planet, we’re looking at around one gun for every 10 people.
This is far from acceptable. Much greater international political will is needed to curtail this seemingly incessant flow of weapons.
Last week David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said that it was “bizarre” that while there are international treaties and conventions for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons no such equivalent exists for weapons getting into conflict zones.
It is indeed bizarre. In fact it’s staggering to know that there exists no internationally-binding piece of legislation to control the transfer of weapons from one country or region to another.
The arms trade is poorly regulated and irresponsible arms transfers are allowed to take place with little international scrutiny.
Amnesty International’s new report (pdf) published today reveals how UN arms embargoes are regularly flouted as weapons are still reaching deadly conflict zones such as Darfur, DRC and Somalia.
Amnesty found that, in 2006, the Sudanese government was able to import arms and ammunition worth $17.2m mainly from China but also from Iran and Egypt despite the government’s armed forces carrying out serious human rights violations in the region of Darfur.
And in the fragile state of Somalia, which has been blighted by conflict and where the general population has been subjected to widespread human rights abuses, Ethiopia and Eritrea have played a key role in supplying Somalia militia with arms.
Ethiopia has imported heavy weapons such as tanks and other armoured vehicles mainly from Russia and China; and to a lesser degree from North Korea and the Czech Republic.
In Iraq there are about 360,000 weapons missing, primarily because of an unaccountable tracing process – a major failing on the part of the US department of defence, and potentially fuelling sectarian violence in the country.
Meanwhile, the rest of the international community appears to be turning a blind eye to these flagrant embargo breaches.
Perhaps even more concerning is that two of the principal exporters of weapons – which sometimes end up in the hands of rights abusers – are Russia and China, two permanent members of the UN security council.
Next month, country leaders will gather at the UN to decide on whether or not to move forward with developing an international arms trade treaty – a internationally-agreed binding piece of legislation which would seek to tighten the international transfers of weapons to and from states where they are likely to inflict serious human rights abuses.
In 2006, 153 states agreed to the proposal for such a treaty. Only the US voted against. This year, it is likely there will be a few member states which are likely to block, delay or water-down a resolution should any proposals to move the resolution be discussed. The main “blockers” are likely to be China, Russia, Pakistan, India and the US.
The UK Government has promised to champion the need for an arms trade treaty. It cannot afford to rest on its laurels at next month’s meeting. It must instead, do all it can to ensure that a robust arms trade treaty is agreed upon: one with human rights at its centre.
We cannot allow the unchecked trade in arms to continue. Tighter legislation governing this trade is long overdue.
I for one don’t want to see yet more images of the dreadful impact of weapons ending up in the hands of human rights abusers. It’s time for members of the international community to properly regulate this trade, by acting decisively when they meet at the UN next month.