The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2005 Volume 26 Issue 1
Ongoing and widespread human suffering caused by the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons (SALW) worldwide demands urgent action. A far-reaching international Programme of Action (PoA) was agreed to at the 2001 UN Conference on SALW, but implementation is lagging due to insufficient funding, a lack of political will to make the necessary regulation changes that all States agreed were necessary, and a broad array of social/economic challenges in gun-affected countries.
Public pressure is essential to spur the kind of international action that is needed to halt the humanitarian disaster being wreaked by these weapons around the world. The estimated 639 million SALW in circulation are linked to some 500,000 deaths annually.
Internationally and here in Canada, NGOs are cooperating to encourage effective action. Working to control the proliferation and misuse of small arms, especially in the context of political conflict that degenerates into armed conflict, continues to be an integral part of Project Ploughshares’ program. In order to strengthen this work, we have developed a public education and policy engagement program to encourage further Canadian action and a constructive outcome to the forthcoming 2006 UN meeting to review the PoA and its implementation.
Why is this work so crucial?
Koffi Annan, Secretary-General of the UN, has gone so far as to dub small arms ‘weapons of mass destruction’ because of the widespread and unspeakable damage they cause. The proliferation and misuse of SALW is one of the leading threats to human security in the world today.
Although most small arms start out as legal weapons, the many that end up in the hands of warlords, drug cartels, and terrorists cease to be legal and circulate widely in conflict regions, adding to the duration and intensity of conflicts. In many regions around the world, small arms circulate with few border controls.
Even when an armed conflict ceases, if the guns in circulation are not removed, fighting continues on the streets, in homes, and in communities, and criminal violence escalates. In countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan, programs to disarm and demobilize former combatants and to reintegrate them into their home communities are needed to provide people with alternatives to livelihoods that are won down the barrel of a gun.
What can be done?
In the time before the 2006 UN Review Conference, Ploughshares is undertaking a public education and awareness-raising initiative to support action by churches, community groups, and individuals on the problems of SALW.
We have developed resources aimed at increasing public awareness of the extent and urgency of the small arms problem. The material consists of background briefings; information sheets about various aspects of the problem; policy proposals; draft resolutions; and suggestions on how local community groups, church congregations, and other civil society organizations can support more effective action related to the UN PoA process.
As well, Project Ploughshares encourages support for a campaign, Control Arms, launched in October 2003 by Oxfam, Amnesty International, and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). Control Arms seeks governmental and civil society support for an international Arms Trade Treaty, to more strictly control the international supply of arms, and for community-level projects to promote safety and reduced demand for arms. Project Ploughshares acts as the Canadian contact for the campaign, a key feature of which is “The Million Faces Petition.” The goal of this internet-based petition is to collect one million images of individuals around the world who support the Control Arms campaign and the Arms Trade Treaty. The images will be displayed at the 2006 UN Conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons.