Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

Friday, 26 December 2008

Removing Military Weapons from Civilian Hands

Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, Principles, Self-Defense — Tags: , , , — mikewb1971 @ 12:02 AM (00:02)

Current mood: bitter, cranky, and cynical

What follows is the text of a draft paper released at a 1998 disarmament conference held by the UN. When they use the word “disarmament,” most people think that the hoplophobes are referring to nuclear devices and ballistic missiles. Read the following text, then look at these pages on the UN site — Small Arms and Light Weapons and Towards an Arms Trade Treaty — and you’ll see the real story.

No, the anti-gun-owner bigots won’t be satisfied with nukes and ICBMs. They want to ultimately outlaw everything.

And if those pages on the UN site don’t convince you, maybe this picture will —

That’s what the hoplophobes want to do to YOUR revolver. Doesn’t matter that you’ve never even displayed it in a threatening manner to anyone, much less actually fired it in anger. The fact that your ownership of a firearm isn’t under their explicit supervision means, that by default, you WILL go crazy in a shopping center, or kill your co-workers, or shoot people as part of being in a drug gang.

Removing Military Weapons from Civilian Hands
Patricia Lewis, Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR)
I want to thank everyone for his or her effort and for coming to this seminar because I think it is time to actually look at this issue from quite a different perspective. I want to just say a few words about UNIDIR and what UN IDIR is doing on the issue of small arms. UNIDIR is the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. It was setup twenty years ago and we have been looking at the issue of small arms for quite a number of years. Prior to this a great deal of work was done on the issue of conflict resolution and disarmament under what was in the early 1990s called micro-disarmament.

Presently we divide our work into three themes: global security and disarmament; regional security and disarmament; and human security and disarmament. Into regional security and disarmament and human security and disarmament comes the topic of small arms. We do quite a lot of work on the various aspects of small arms and light weapons (SALW) issues in West Africa, Southern Africa and South Asia. We are researching the transport of arms, how arms are transferred around the world from conflict to conflict. One of the things we have been looking at and trying to get more information on is the issue of military weapons, military-style weapons and the way they are used in society and in post-conflict situations.

The thinking behind this comes from quite a different perspective to the perspective that has come from the arms control community. There are many aspects to it. It is very difficult to separate which types of weapons are the most dangerous, which types of weapons are the most significant, how to deal with whether one can or cannot separate legal from illegal sales and transfers of weapons. How can one separate the use of small arms by civilian use, civilian combatants, or by paramilitary, mercenaries or governmental military? These issues can become very blurred in certain regions of the world where there are conflicts. What we are trying to do is look at it not just from an arms control perspective but to come at it from a humanitarian angle. What is it that is actually killing people? What are people suffering from in conflicts and what can we do? Can we address some of these questions? There are obviously many things that need to be addressed.

We all know that we have to deal with the roots of conflict. We know that we have to deal with development issues, economic issues, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. All of these are fundamental to the whole approach when it comes to conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

What I am saying adds to that. It doesn’t substitute. I think that is very important because quite often people tend to get very focused on one thing and what we often hear is it is not the weapons, it is the people. Well of course if no one ever used weapons there would not he a problem. We know from certain cases that where you have small conflicts they can be exacerbated by an Influx of large numbers of weapons, which young people can get their hands on, and which are used quite indiscriminately. And small conflicts, perhaps even non-violent conflicts, can be exacerbated into becoming large-scale violent conflicts with many weapons flooding into that region.

They are partly the stimulating factor and partly the consequences. These things are very complex and what we wanted to do is try and focus on something that might help. What are the biggest needs of people in conflict and post-conflict situations or what one might call intra-conflict situations? What can we focus on that might actually gain the support of people, might be readily understood and might actually have a chance of making a dent on the effects of small weapons in conflicts?

Along with a large number of other people we have been thinking a great deal about the issue of military weapons or military-style weapons. There is an AK-47 culture ill some post-conflict regions. This has meant that there has been circulation of these weapons from one conflict region to another and post-conflict, into societies and the criminal world. That has meant that others, in order to protect themselves, have had to arm themselves often with the same types of weapons. There has been a whole exacerbation of this type of culture.

We are looking at the problem from the point of view of it being a major humanitarian disaster. This is an urgent situation. People are being killed today. We are not talking about weapons that may one day be killing people. We are talking about weapons that are currently killing people. This is not to negate the fact that lots of other types of weapons kill people too, but these weapons are weapons that have been specifically made for war. They are weapons that were designed to be used by military personnel. They spread well beyond their intended clientele and into the hands of illicit arms traders, civilians and often into the hands of young children. What makes them so dangerous is that they are highly destructive. They have a rapid rate of fire. They are not very accurate but nonetheless you can do a great deal of damage in a crowd for example. They are powerful. They are also easy to use and relatively inexpensive.

They are in abundance and one of the reasons they are in abundance is that there was a glut of them in the post-cold war period. They were essentially distributed during the Cold War for free and since the Cold War they have been available at very cheap prices in many parts of the world. For example, it is estimated that more than 70 million assault rifles produced since World War II are in use in well over 90 countries. We are talking about a very large scale, widespread problem which is enhanced by the fact that the weapons are portable and can be used by both adults and children. They require very little training and very little skill to be used even though they were designed for the military.

Following a conflict or prior to conflict these weapons can really distort a society and inhibit that society from rebuilding itself. Small arms enhance the capabilities of criminals. They compromise the effectiveness of police forces and they end up with law-abiding citizens being encouraged to arm themselves for their own protection. That is how the threshold for violence is lowered.

Small arms are not always a major problem. States may have permissive legislation because the society is well ordered and there is no conflict. But in weak States or States where there is poorly enforced legislation and in States where there are paramilitary forces, terrorist groups and uncontrolled militia, then I think we are looking at a much more serious problem.

In addition, as we have known from some of our work in West Africa, this situation severely undermines the humanitarian system in the conflict zones and in refugee camps. In fact these weapons often increase the difficulty of re-integration and demobilization of refugees.

Is there anything we can do? One suggestion that was made some years ago Is banning sales to non-state actors. Many threw it Out with derision because the problem with banning sales to non-State actors is that there are sometimes legitimate reasons for them — for example to wish to overthrow a repressive government — to obtain weapons. The humanitarian arms controller would say that this would only be as a last resort to overthrow a cruel, corrupt government when non-violent means have been exhausted. [n fact the whole experience of South Africa is one example of this kind of situation.

In many cases non-violent pressure can he more successful, and certainly more successful in the long run, than violent pressure in overcoming a corrupt and cruel government. Atrocities committed by those who are trying to overthrow a government can often become as horrific or even more horrific than governmental atrocities. Those atrocities can also be aided and abetted by the use of these types of weapons. There is a debate starting about how much should we take into consideration the legitimate needs of certain types of free societies compared with the legitimate needs of people to be protected from large-scale violent conflict? Many people say, keep the conflict away from civilians. However, when you have these types of weapons in society, the conflict is right there on their doorstep.

Additionally, another very important thing to consider is when a conflict has ended or when there is a cease-fire or some kind of halt to what is going on, the weapons need to be collected and destroyed, so that they then don’t go back into feeding the conflict or go on to feed another conflict. Weapons add fuel to the fire, a fire that may already exist or be smouldering. Weapons can ignite it in a massive way. So it is crucial that these weapons are collected and destroyed. This is not always easy. In fact in order to be able to do it effectively the whole of society, particularly women are needed.

What is critical to controlling weapons, trade and brokering is the control of ammunition. Restricting ammunition can certainly restrict the amount of violence done. Of course ammunition can be made indigenously. But it increases the cost and the time to the perpetrators of violence and therefore it is most likely to reduce the risk of exacerbating violent conflict.

One example that we are looking at is the South African initiative to destroy the redundant stockpile of weapons. There are certainly some lessons that can be learned in both the positive and the negative sense. We are hoping that the experiences of South Africa will inspire people. The other possibility that needs to be looked at is how to mop up weapons prior to conflict. This gets us into the difficulty of how to encourage people who are feeling insecure in a conflict situation to give up their weapons. When someone is trying to protect his or her family or their land they may not feel that they have an option.

One thing that can help in terms of trying to break the chain of transfers includes national legal measures to prevent civilian possession. This cannot be done at just an international forum. [t has to be done at the national, regional and local level. It has to come from the ground up. It cannot be imposed by an international conference. It has to be done in the villages where there is a problem. It also has to be something that is understood by every citizen who can be involved. Perhaps the most important thing is the role of civil society. If we are trying to deal with these weapons, which are on the ground and integrated into many societies, we cannot do it just by national legislation, police or military means. It has to be done by the community itself. Indeed, the monitoring of the flow of these arms, the monitoring of where they are in society again has to be done by the people in that society.

One of the things we have learned from our work in West Africa in particular is the very key role of women in doing this. For example, let us imagine a village in Guinea on the border with Sierra Leone and in that village there are people trafficking weapons through refugee camps from Liberia or perhaps a number of other villages. Most of those doing that trafficking would be young men. Their mothers and their wives know that they are doing it, They may be aiding and abetting it or doing it themselves. If they understand the effect that war is having on their society, then they begin to feel very differently about the way in which this is done. They start to have a debate in the village about their security and long-term development. And if there are incentives for the development of the village then this can actually help the monitoring of the flow of weapons and the actual collection and destruction of these weapons that could take place. This is not utopian. This has actually occurred in a number of places over a longer period of time.. The role of women is key in this respect. And what we have learned is that it actually cannot he done without the support of the women.

This has to be a major issue for the NGO community. The NGO community has traditionally been focused on disarmament in terms of the larger weapons. But in this case what we have is a serious humanitarian situation. Therefore, I think it is very important that NGOs are involved at the international, regional and local level. It is also important to make NGO involvement as broad as possible. This should include NGOs concerned with health, children’s welfare, education, development, and human rights and with humanitarian action. Those involved with disarmament can be helpful in the technical sense. But those involved in the thrust and drive need to come from the health and development community. Indeed the lead on this issue needs to come not from the disarmament community but from the health, humanitarian, human rights and development communities.


NOTES

[1] See Gran’pa Jack #5 — The United Nations is Killing Your Freedoms! by JPFO

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