FEATURE: Push for global arms trade treaty

Every year illicit trade in small arms results in thousands of deaths. Most of them in developing countries, including the Pacific, where the impact of gun violence has been devastating.

Now the international community is to meet at the United Nations to finalise the first ever global arms trade treaty.


VIDEO from Asia Pacific Foucs

United Nations to finalise world's first arms treaty

Created: 19/03/2012

Kesha West, Asia Pacific Focus

Last Updated: Mon, 19 Mar 2012 18:36:00 +1100

Every year illicit trade in small arms results in thousands of deaths. Most of them in developing countries, including the Pacific, where the impact of gun violence has been devastating.

Now the international community is to meet at the United Nations to finalise the first ever global arms trade treaty.

HELEN HAKENA, WOMEN'S RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER: I was seven months pregnant when gunmen came into our village terrorising the entire village community. My house was burnt to the ground. It was the first to be burned on the island.

EMMA TAGICAKIBAU, FORMER FIJIAN MP: We were surrounded, night and day, by gunmen and threatened at certain points. It was my first experience with real life situation and it was very intimidating.

KESHA WEST, reporter: There are strict laws that govern the global trade in everything from bananas to coffee. Yet, none exist for conventional weapons. Weak border patrols and inconsistent national regulations create huge gaps ready to be exploited by unscrupulous arms traders.

JAMES ENSOR, OXFAM AUSTRALIA'S POLICY DIRECTOR: Around the world every year thousands and thousands of people die as a consequence of illegally traded small arms that aren't appropriately regulated. And the vast majority of deaths and injury associated with small arms trade is in developing countries.

KESHA WEST: Even a small number of arms in the wrong hands can have a devastating effect. In May 2000, just seven gunmen, led by George Speight, staged a civilian coup in Fiji, holding then prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and his cabinet ministers hostage. Emma Tagicakibau was among them.

EMMA TAGICAKIBAU: We were held in parliament by gunmen. And later on, on the day, there was a lot of guns leaked out from the military to the rebels who had gathered in parliament.

KESHA WEST: Violence soon erupted across the capital, Suva, as the now armed supporters of the coup leader ran riot.

Ms Tagicakibau says she has seen the damage guns can do and she now campaigns to reduce the impact of small arms in the Pacific.

EMMA TAGICAKIBAU: The situation in Fiji is actually about legal carriers, licensed gun carriers. And by that I mean the security forces abusing their power and misusing their power to inflict and to perpetuate violence and grab power.

KESHA WEST: In Bougainville, once the most prosperous province of Papua New Guinea, now one of the poorest, the human and economic cost of a decade of gun violence is plain to see.

HELEN HAKENA: There are so many women out there who are now widows, who are single mothers because guns have taken away the lives of their husbands, their brothers, their sisters. I lost two uncles on the same day.

KESHA WEST: Helen Hakena was born as a woman chief on Buka Island in Bougainville. During the 1990s civil war gripped the province and Ms Hakena watched her home being torn apart by guns.

HELEN HAKENA: If there were no guns infrastructure would have not been burned, lives would not have been lost, villages would not have been terrorised.

KESHA WEST: Helen Hakena, like Emma Tagicakibau, now devotes much of her time to lobbying for tougher regional regulation. And more crucially, a global arms trade treaty.

HELEN HAKENA: In the Pacific we have weak regulations and weak laws that can bring in international illegal traders to come and pass through our waters, our borders, our big land mass, particularly in Papua New Guinea. So our countries need to participate fully to strengthen the ATT (Arms Trade Treaty) so that it can minimise the course of conflicts.

KESHA WEST: Earlier this month, representatives from the Pacific met in Australia for talks to develop a regional position to take to the United Nations in July where the international community will hopefully finalise the first legally binding global arms trade treaty.

JAMES LAKI, RETIRED PNG MILITARY OFFICER: The whole thing is some form of a standard to register arms or be able to trace arms. And that's something I think the region will be talking about.

KESHA WEST: Aid agencies say a global arms agreement is long overdue.

JAMES ENSOR: Until l quite recently, governments and international institutions have been very reluctant to take action to regulate the trade in small arms globally. What has emerged over the last five years in particular is growing international recognition of the human impact of the trade in small arms around the world.

KESHA WEST: But there's much work to be done and no guarantees that every player will being pushing in the same direction.

In negotiations at the UN last month, China, Russia and several other countries were resisting attempts to include strong human rights safeguards in the treaty. Groups like Amnesty International and Oxfam want an agreement with measures preventing arms transfers where there is a substantial risk they will be used to commit serious human rights violations.

Amnesty International says in Syria president Bashar al-Assad's military assault is being bolstered by ammunition from Russia, while the ongoing conflict in Dafur is fuelled by arms suppliers in Sudan from China and Russia.

JAMES ENSOR: We're confident there's enough goodwill internationally across the vast majority of countries to make progress in this area. We also recognise that there are interests, particularly around the arms industry, that are not necessarily in favour of regulation. But overall, the political will is there.

KESHA WEST: For the people of the Pacific, the treaty cannot come soon enough.

HELEN HAKENA: Even if guns are not a problem in some countries in the Pacific, it is for our children. It may come one day. Guns may come into the countries that have no guns now at this time.


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