Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 35 Issue 2 Summer 2014
The Global Burden of Armed Violence estimates that more than 500,000 people are killed annually by armed violence—an average of one death per minute. The vast majority of those killed are either civilians deliberately or indirectly targeted by combatants in armed conflicts or, more often, young men caught up in criminal and gang violence in urban settings.
As we have seen to our horror in Syria, innocents are killed by the full range of conventional weapons used in combat: from fighter aircraft to tanks and armoured vehicles to artillery and rockets. More commonly, however, armed violence is the result of the use of small arms and light weapons (SALW)—the ubiquitous handguns, rifles, shotguns, and automatic firearms that are readily available to government forces, rebels, criminals, and civilians alike.
The international community has responded to the armed violence crisis with several multilateral agreements and instruments designed to better control the production, trade, and use of conventional weapons. These agreements include:
- The 2001 UN Programme of Action on SALW, a politically binding instrument that calls for specific measures to better control small arms at the national, regional, and global levels.
- The UN Firearms Protocol of 2004, part of a treaty addressing transnational crime and legally binding on states parties. The Firearms Protocol requires improved national standards in the commercial production and trade in firearms, including adequate recordkeeping to facilitate firearms tracing across borders.
- The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty, signed by the majority of UN member states and awaiting 50 ratifications before it enters into force, likely in late 2014. It obligates states parties to operate effective weapons export control systems that assess proposed transfers of large and small weapons to ensure that they are not diverted and do not contribute to breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law.
- Other global agreements (e.g., the International Tracing Instrument) and regional agreements (e.g., the ECOWAS treaty in West Africa and the CIFTA treaty in the Americas) designed to improve transparency and tighten controls on conventional weapons.
Canada and other states seeking to reduce the impact of global armed violence face two major challenges. First, important relevant multilateral agreements on conventional weapons control must be effectively implemented. This will require ongoing international cooperation and assistance to ensure that provisions are met by all states parties, including Canada. Second, ways and means must be found to “operationalize” the growing political awareness that security and development are integrated and mutually supporting (or eroding) programs. This awareness resulted in the 2006 “Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development” agreed to by more than 100 states and to which Canada is an inactive signatory. Both challenges need to be more widely explored and addressed.