Rio’s “Flame of Peace”

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2003 Volume 24 Issue 3

This article was adapted from a news release by Viva Rio.

In July 2003, the State Government of Rio, Brazil, in partnership with the NGO Viva Rio, organised the public destruction of 4,158 firearms. These weapons had been seized from criminals by the Rio police, and were crushed with a steam roller. Three hundred rifles and shotguns were also destroyed in a pyre. This “Flame of Peace” was the first arms destruction by this method to take place in South America, and is a method favoured by the United Nations due to its strong anti-violence symbolism.

The following firearms were destroyed:

Revolvers: 2,730
Semi-automatic pistols: 463
Single-shot pistols: 223
Shotguns: 593
Carbines: 68
Shortened barrel shotguns: 11
Rifles: 4
Hand shotguns: 27
Craft-made arms: 10
Others: 29

During the arms destruction, religious and peace groups together with schools took part in pro-peace activities. The display of 600 pairs of shoes belonging to firearms victims, brought from Sao Paulo by the NGO “Sou da Paz,” gave the event a mood of national mobilisation against violence.

The date (6 July) was chosen to mark the United Nations Conference of the Illicit Trafficking of Arms that began in New York the following day. The event also aimed to influence the Brazilian National Congress, which is currently voting on new public security laws. Under pressure from the arms and munitions industry lobby, Congress has thus far resisted measures for the effective control of the trafficking and proliferation of weapons in Brazil.

The event organizers explained the reasons behind the destruction of arms: “because good quality weapons have already been sent to the police, and weapons of historic value to museums; because even old arms can kill, and because surplus weapons ought to be destroyed, to eliminate the risk of diversion and to prevent these weapons from returning to the hands of criminals.”

This was the fourth public destruction of arms organized by the state government of Rio, in partnership with Viva Rio, and with the backing of the Brazilian Army and the Rio State Court of Justice. The first took place in 1999 in Maracana football stadium and involved 50,000 people. The second, in 2001, broke the world record with the simultaneous destruction of 100,000 weapons, while last year saw the public destruction of 10,000 firearms.

The State Government of Rio has been praised by the United Nations for its organisation of the public destruction of surplus weapons in partnership with an NGO, as it believes that issues of public security require the collaboration of state and society in the fight against urban violence.

In a recent opinion poll 78 per cent of the inhabitants of Rio came out in favour of a ban on the civilian possession of firearms. In 2002, 40,000 people were killed by firearms in Brazil.

Project Ploughshares provided technical support for a joint six-month research project with Viva Rio. The project, Small arms control in the MERCOSUR countries, was funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The main objective was to increase knowledge of the national legal and institutional mechanisms for small arms and ammunition control in the MERCOSUR sub-region (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile), thereby facilitating the policymaking process, and contributing to international arms control policies and efforts.

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