2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In commemoration, human rights activists in over 60 countries around the world recognize that arms play a vital role in patronizing Human Rights and their control is absolutely essential in order to safeguard the basic rights of the peoples of world. An International Control Arms Week of Action is hence being held between the 13th and 19th of September.
A campaign initiated by prominent and reputable organizations, and human rights activists around the world, it aims at bringing to the notice of governments worldwide that the citizens of the world are peace-loving and they are waiting and hoping that their governments too will contribute positively in controlling arms.
Lives shattered but not forgotten:
Each day lives are being shattered, families broken and peace destroyed thanks to the evil of small arms. According to figures by Amnesty International, Oxfam and Iansa, 245,000 lives have been lost by gunshots since January 2008 alone. About 1000 lives are lost by way of small arms each day!
Each year, an alarming number of 1 million guns are either lost or stolen, with no account as to which hands they go into and what use they are being brought to. 12 billion bullets are produced each day. Amongst small arms, Kalashnikovs are the most popular and hence most widely spread across the globe. It is estimated that there are between 50 and 70 million of them all over the world being used by soldiers, fighters, and gangs inflicting horrendous pain and suffering. The spread of these weapons continues largely unchecked by governments, threatening safety and lives of millions.
Unchecked arms; unchecked injustice:
The above figures are evidence as to how arms directly violate international humanitarian law and domestic human rights law, hence proving to be the factor behind conflicts around the world. The unchecked spread of arms around the world implies harrowing facts that we are surrounded by:
i. A human being, a group of people, a tribe, an ethnicity, a nation is being suppressed by another of its like by the usage of small arms. As long as it is unchecked, it implies that the authorities either want or choose to ignore this injustice to one by the hands of another.
ii. The disrespect for a human life and how easy it is for us as individuals, and as groups to allow the loss of a life.
iii. Since one person is hurting or killing another person, a group of people is suppressing another group and so on, using these arms human rights are being violated. Since human rights are being violated, there is no curtailing of the frustration and bitterness amongst various groups of people, whether victims or guilty. This means that hatred is only breeding further hatred, hence minimizing if not eradicating our options to world peace.
iv. The greater the intensity of frustration, and dissatisfaction, the more the use of arms and hence the deadlier will be the conflicts in the world.
Why an Arms Trade Treaty?
What the world wants to see is a Global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Thanks to technological advancement, today’s world is known as a global village. Our economies are global, our communication is global and our politics is global. In this age of globalization arms trade is also carried out in a globalized fashion. Arms companies are now operating from a large number of location spread across the world. Components are being delivered from another part of the world, manufactured elsewhere and perhaps assembled in a third place. Assembly of products is often carried out in countries with lax controls on where the arms may reach eventually. Each year, at least a third of a million people are killed directly with conventional weapons and many more are injured, are displaced or lose their lives a result of armed violence. Rapidly widening loopholes in national controls demonstrate how this globalised trade also needs global rules – hence the urgency of an effective Arms Trade Treaty.
Women – suffering yet again:
Countless women and girls have been shot and killed or injured in every region of the world while millions more live in the constant fear of armed violence. Apart from suffering directly in deadly conflicts, their lives are shattered when they see lives around them being lost – whether it may of their fathers, children or husbands. Thanks to the havoc created by small arms, they are turned into single mothers running entire households. The economic, physical, social pressures on her stay on for a life time making her more vulnerable and degraded.
I am a child with a gunshot or a gun
Child soldiers is a tragic production of our peace-less conflict raged world. Vulnerable to manipulation, child soldiers make great resources to gang leaders who need maximum number of followers with guns. In a report released by IANSA, between the year 2001 and 2004 alone thousands of child soldiers were used in the armed forces of over 10 countries. The same report shares the harrowing fact that even today, at least 30 thousand children are fighting in the DRC. Of these 12,000 are girls.
On the other hand, children growing up in homes with single mothers and shattered homes, memories of dead fathers, experiences of injuries and repercussions of deadly conflicts or homicidal cases, are children not growing up in the most ideal environment. They need protection on a physical and mental level – they too have a right to grow like every other happy child in this world.
Poor and getting poorer:
Most developing countries have many faculties of the country to satisfy. With booming populations, their education needs extra attention, and social care has to be improved. At the same time, a self-sustaining economy can save from the budget deficits that many countries face. Inappropriate arms purchases are a drain on social and economic resources something which the developing countries can hardly afford, hence adversely impacting the sustainable development of these countries.
Resources spent on armed conflicts are at the opportunity cost of buying food, a basic human right, for the people of the country. A Survey by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation showed that between 1993 and 2003, conflicts caused 35% of the food emergencies.
Armed conflicts raise the level of insecurity in the country – people live fearing for their lives, for the economic future of the country and for their children’s future. Money is spent on rebuilding infrastructure whereas it could have been spent on social care human development had the conflicts not been occurring. Conflicts adversely affect the tourism of the country while also increasing the risk for investors wishing to invest in the country.
A conflicted nation is also impacted by brain drain. The educated elite of the country can afford to send their young children, if not entire families, to another country in order to be safe. Similarly young men of working age are either affected by gun deaths or injuries, hence not being a resource to the country.
War on “terror”
The war on “terror” has given the world a new perspective. “terror”ism has been marked a grave threat and it has become the aim of governments to keep their countries clean of “terror”ists. With such a vision, one would expect that the governments would take more of an interest in controlling arms, for fear they may end up in the wrong hands. However, we do not see this happening.
The US government has in fact increased its military aid to other countries. Strangely enough, some of these countries were said to have poor human rights records in the eyes of the State Department. These include countries in Latin America, Central Asia, South and South East Asia and the Middle East. What is further disturbing is that war on ““terror”ism” has become a tool to repress all those elements of the countries which the establishments fear. The result is an increase in attacks against the establishment, in suicide bombs, in fuelled conflicts within the countries. These tribal, ethnic, political group armed rivalries are used by the establishment many a times to distract people from the main weaknesses of the government and for the governments to use as an excuse to further repress the citizens.
As a result of the war on “terror”, today there is some armed operation or the other happening in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Syria, Colombia, Armenia, Azerbaijan etc. As a result, there is an increased supply of arms either via trade or military aid. With more weapons in the country, there is an increased trend of arms reaching the wrong hands, in a barter for money within the countries themselves. All of these factors combined, are further fuelling the lack of peace within countries.
What can the governments do?
There is an imperative need for a global Arms Trade Treaty, in order to protect basic human rights and lives, in order to prevent families from breaking and in order to save our women and children from abuse and vulnerability. It is the responsibility of the governments to ensure that the supply of arms is reduced, trade curtailed and violators of international law receive justice.
The Controlling Small Arms campaign precedes an important UN meeting which will be held next month where member states will decide on whether to move work forward with an international Arms Trade Treaty. In 2006 amongst 154 countries, the US was the only country to have voted against it.
While the governments contemplate their next steps, the world is watching and waiting for an Arms Trade Treaty.