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Worldwide, Civilians Demand Arms Trade Treaty

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS - Driven by concerns over the continued loss of civilian lives in armed
conflicts, a coalition of rights groups and aid organizations is
calling for a worldwide crackdown on the illegal trade in guns.

In kicking off its week-long campaign last weekend, the coalition known as the Control Arms Campaign
said its activists would hold public meetings and events around the
world to urge governments to endorse the proposed United Nations Arms
Trade Treaty.

Diplomatic negotiations on the proposal to create an effective arms control treaty are scheduled to take place during a General Assembly meeting on disarmament and security early next month.

Studies show that at least a third of a million 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 United Nations says "small arms" include 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.

The London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International
said this week's events to promote an arms trade treaty include
football matches in Mali, a street march in Tanzania, a film screening
in Edinburgh, a parade in Mongolia, and a stunt outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Spain.

The week-long campaign coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights
as well as the release of a new Amnesty report on rights abuses
entitled "Blood at the Crossroads: Making the case for a global arms
trade treaty."

In recent years, a vast majority of UN member states have expressed
interest in creating the treaty to tighten arms control, but the United
States and some other major arms manufacturers and suppliers have
continued to say no.

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

This year, the UN held several meetings on the treaty proposal,
which were attended by a number of government officials from dozens of
member 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
favor, 24 abstained, and one -- the United States -- opposed.

Civilians, Generals Support 'Turning Off the Tap'

Gun control campaigners say last year they gathered more than 1
million signatures on a petition supporting a global treaty to regulate
the arms trade. A number of former UN military commanders also signed
the petition.

"It is very significant that these generals are supporting the
treaty," said Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, an
international aid group that is part of the Control Arms Campaign.

Oxfam and other groups contend that the proposed treaty would help
prevent small weapons transfers if they are used, or likely to be used,
in violation of international human rights law.


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"It's about people. It's about their struggle for life," says Janine
di Giovanni, a well-known European war reporter who has covered various
bloody conflicts around the world for well over 20 years. "These
weapons destroy entire societies."

According to UN and Oxfam researchers, in 2005, small arms alone were responsible for the deaths of over half a million people -- 10,000 per week on average.

The former UN military commanders who support the arms control
campaigners hold that strict and comprehensive international rules
against the illegal gun business is a must to save innocent lives.

In a past statement, Patrick Commaert, who has led UN forces in
several parts of the world, said that even as his troops were disarming
warring parties, he knew the flow of weapons would not stop.

"It was like you are mopping the floor, but the tap is on," he said

Illicit Trade No Small Concern Either

Currently, about 25 percent of the $4 billion annual trade in small
arms is either illicit or not recorded, according to the Small Arms
Survey, an independent research project at the Graduate Institute of
International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

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.

Such violations, according to the United Nations, are mostly carried
out by middlemen involved in the illicit brokering of small arms. Most
of them are operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, and Cote d'Ivoire.

But, as many independent experts have noted, these middle men are able
to operate on such a large scale only because they have the tacit
support of certain powerful governments and arms manufacturers.

"This trade is very lucrative," said Dr. B. S. Malik, former chief
of staff of the Indian army's western command, in an interview with OneWorld last year. "The industry makes money out of peoples' difficulties."

In Malik's view, many governments are still more interested in their
defense needs while the industry cares only about economic gains.

The Control Arms Campaigners
hope their efforts this week will help ensure the views of another
interest group are heard in the negotiations over whether or not to
regulate the sale of weapons: innocent civilians.


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