Vol. 4 Num 232 Sun. January 18, 2004  

Campaign launched to control small arms trade

Former Ireland president Mary Robinson said yesterday development and human rights groups had launched an international campaign for a treaty to control small arms, along the lines of the Landmine Convention.

"Really, small arms are the weapons of mass destruction. There are more than 600 million in circulation," said Robinson, a former UN Commissioner for Human Rights.

"There are incredible deaths which I had witnessed personally in East Timor, in Africa, Columbia. Children in Somalia are getting names such as AKA, which are names of guns," she told AFP on the sidelines of an anti-globalisation summit in Mumbai.

"It is a shocking problem for women, who are raped at the end of a gun. I hope this campaign on small arms will become an early example in this century of the same spirit of the Landmine Convention," Robinson said.

The campaign has been launched by Oxfam International, a development agency, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms.

According to the United Nations, 1,000 deaths occur every day due to small arms -- the vast majority of victims being women and children.

Oxfam, of which Robinson is honorary chairwoman, says 639 million small arms were in circulation around the globe.

Arms are so prevalent, it adds, that there is now one weapon for every 10 people --- men, women and children -- worldwide.

"The people in the international organisations need an arms trade treaty and it will not get rid of the problem as there are so many guns in circulation. But it will have the same impact as the Landmine Treaty had," Robinson said.

She said more than 80 percent of arms were traded illegally but that the campaign for an international treaty on small arms was gaining momentum.

"A number of Latin American, European and African countries are signing on to support this campaign. This is where the human security is at risk," Robinson said.

"This is the first time we are all coming together on a campaign," she said.

According to Oxfam 90 percent of the small arms are made by the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China.

Robinson said the treaty would have a deterrent effect.

"Once you have an arms treaty you have much more monitoring of it. It is a lucrative industry. In the last century victims of wars were mainly soldiers. In this century the victims are civilians," she said.

The campaign, she hoped, would receive a further boost during the World Social Forum (WSF) being held in India's financial hub of Mumbai, where activists from 130 countries are debating and demonstrating against the world's economic and political order.

"This is a good opportunity as it is not an abstract campaign. One of the key issues in this WSF is human security," Robinson said adding she would also be attending the upcoming meet of the World Economic Forum in Davos.