By Olivia Ward
Nairobi, November 7, 2009 – In Kenya's lawless slums, you can rent a gun
by the hour with no questions asked. In Somalia, teenagers boast of
using assault rifles to terrify and rape women. In other parts of
Africa, light weapons are supplied especially for child soldiers.
For countries where gun violence is an epidemic, there is some good
news. Major arms-dealing nations have joined a bid for a treaty that
would rein in the $55 billion-a-year (U.S.) trade in conventional
In a landmark vote last week, 153 of the UN's 192 members agreed to
start talks aimed at reaching a final accord in 2012. It was backed by
the United States, formerly the main opponent of the treaty under
president George W. Bush, who maintained it was a violation of the right
to bear arms.
"This is a very big moment," said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's
head of arms control. "With Washington behind it, the treaty has a lot
more chance of success."
Countries that abstained from the vote included Russia, China, Iran and
Saudi Arabia. But they are expected to attend the series of meetings
that will move the treaty closer to completion.
Advocacy groups estimate more than 2,000 people a day die as a result of
armed violence. Although the treaty would not be an automatic farewell
to illegal arms, it would plug some of the loopholes in existing export
control systems that let weapons slip through to black market dealers,
militias and gangs.
"Those who don't like the treaty are going to come under enormous
pressure," Wood said in a phone interview from New York. "Arms markets
are more globalized all the time, and manufacturers are using technology
from lots of different places. But if you're outside of the legal market
you'll be isolated. Governments will gradually realize it isn't good to
deal with countries outside the system."
If it passes, the treaty would create a "golden rule" demanding that
governments halt arms transfers that could lead to war crimes or serious
violations of human rights, Wood added.
The UN resolution focuses on stemming the misery caused by illegal arms
dealing when weapons are used for ethnic cleansing, terrorism and
Treaty talks will proceed through a series of five meetings, leading up
to the final vote. But advocates say it could still fail because of a
U.S. demand for it to be endorsed by all participating countries.
While groups campaigning for the treaty say it would give any country an
automatic veto, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the consensus
rule was "needed to ensure that all countries can be held to standards
that will actually improve the global situation."
Source: The Star, Fri Nov 06, 2009