Friday, March 24, 2006

The arms trade is out of control.

by Georgia Dent of Oxfam Campaigns, Birmingham

Every day one thousand people die because the arms trade is out of control. Every year guns kill more people than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

There are around 639 million small arms and light weapons in the world today. Eight million more are produced every year.

The global arms trade that brings these weapons into the hands of killers is big business. Annually the world spends US$1 trillion on defence, around US$325 billion on agriculture and just US$60 billion on aid.

Guns have never been so easy to obtain. The availability of weapons seriously undermines any gains made in development as fear and violence limit people’s ability to earn a living and prevent access to essential services such as health care, education or markets.

Weapons are easily available to individuals or militia groups, not just armies or police forces. Around the world today, 60% of small arms are owned and used by individuals.

Women and Children Under Fire

Those affected by armed violence are often the most vulnerable. Men are the biggest buyers, sellers and users of weapons, but women and children suffer disproportionately from armed violence.

Guns affect women’s lives even when they are not directly in the firing line. Women become the main breadwinners and primary carers when male relatives are killed, injured or disabled by gun violence.

Women are particularly at risk of certain crimes because of their gender, crimes such as violence in the home and rape. And women, like men, are caught in the crossfire, both in times of war and peace.

Guerline’s Story

In 2004 Guerline X became a widow when her husband was killed during a gang war in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. More than 700 people were killed by firearms between September 2003 and December 2004 yet no guns are produced in Haiti except crude, home made ‘Creole’ guns.

The victims are ordinary citizens like Guerline and her husband. The availability of guns in Haiti destroys lives and victimises women in many ways. Guerline continues her story: “On Christmas Eve 2004 the gangs raped me. Chimeres (gang members) came to my home in the middle of the night. Their faces were covered with masks, and they had large weapons. They fired their weapons outside of the door and then four of them entered the house where I was sleeping. The two children who were there saw what happened. They beat me that night. I did not get medical care for a long time after that. When I did I found out that I had syphilis.”


Children are particularly vulnerable in war situations. They are often injured, killed or orphaned. With the advent of new technologies making guns lighter and easier to use, children are forced to fight in many of the world’s conflicts.

Benjamin’s Story

There are 300,000 child soldiers fighting in the world today. Children like Benjamin who was 15 when he was abducted and forced to fight for a militia group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Benjamin describes the day he was taken: ‘I was playing soccer with four of my friends, when some men in uniforms came up to us with guns and sacks. They took all of us and told us to carry their sacks to their camp. They taught us how to use Kalashnikovs and revolvers.”

Benjamin became a fighter in the DRC conflict: ‘I was involved in several combats. In one, we fought the [rebel group] RCD-Goma and we killed a good number of them. I was able to kill two. And I managed to take two people that came from this area and I held them hostage. They were fighters. I shot them both in the stomach. Since it was under my commander’s order, I didn’t have a problem with it. I was supposed to kill them, so I accepted this.’

Eventually, Benjamin was able to leave. After time in a demobilisation and reorientation centre, he returned to civilian life, but not without side-effects. ‘Today, when I see a gun, I can’t tolerate it. I would like weapons to stay away and the guns to protect the population instead of kill them.’

The Problem

You would be forgiven for assuming that because of the destruction caused by small arms there are strict international rules governing the sale and export of small arms. You would be wrong.

There are no international laws for the arms trade. It is more difficult to buy and sell dinosaur bones or postage stamps on the international market than weapons.

This year governments have the opportunity to start negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty that would create legally binding arms controls and ensure all governments adhere the same minimum standards. The treaty would stop the sale of weapons to repressive regimes, conflict zones and human rights abusers. In short, international controls would save lives and help stop others suffering as Guerline and Benjamin have.

What you can do…

100 Days of Action

From 16 March to the end of June there are 100 days of action to raise awareness and support for the campaign before the UN meet to discuss small arms. World leaders have the opportunity to end these atrocities by agreeing principles for an Arms Trade Treaty. Demand governments stop this suffering and agree an International Arms Trade Treaty by …

Your Face Can Make a Difference

Oxfam, Amnesty and IANSA are calling for people across the world to take part in the Control Arms campaign by joining the Million Faces Petition. This will be presented to world leaders at the UN Conference meeting at the end of June 2006.

You can add your photo at or text your picture to 07955 47 47 47 with your name, city and age or, if too shy to appear, text the word faces to 84118 and a shadow picture will be added for you.


Write to your MP asking them to support an Arms Trade Treaty and keep the pressure on the government to push for strong measures in any agreement.


Hold events on campus, in your home town or anywhere else you can think of. Invite the media and your MP to attend.

· Have a stall with information and a digital camera for the petition at events or on campus.

· Hold a press stunt such as a blood bath to highlight the devastation caused by weapons.

· Organise a film showing of the new Hollywood blockbuster, Lord of War with Nicholas Cage and discuss the issues

· Tell your family, friends, lecturers and everyone you know to join the Million Faces Petition and support the Control Arms Campaign

For more information go to or contact Georgia at the Oxfam Campaigns office in Birmingham, 0121 609 4102.


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