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Together with Africa
March 2, 2010

Trafficking in illicit small arms

Africa Synod Proposition 23: Arms’ trade:

"Because of the prevalence of armaments and land mines on the continent and its islands, the Church in Africa, gathered in Synod, associates itself with the Holy See and gladly welcomes UN initiatives, African Union and regional intergovernmental organizations like ECOWAS - Small-Arms Embargo, to stop illegal arms-trafficking and to make transparent all legal trading in arms. The Synod recommends that the Pontifical Council ‘Justice and Peace’ update its document on the arms’ trade.

"The Synod Fathers encourage national governments to support the on-going study and preparation of an Arms’ Trade Treaty (ATT) within the UN, with binding universal standards for the global commerce of conventional weapons, which would respect human rights and humanitarian international law.

"The Synod Fathers, making their own the call of the prophet Isaiah, for love of God and neighbor, ‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’ (Is 2:4), propose that the design and production of all kinds of arms be drastically reduced for the sake of education and agricultural development which respects the environment. Moreover, the Synod Fathers absolutely condemn the production of nuclear arms, biological arms, anti-personnel and every sort of weapons of mass destruction. They demand that these be banned from the face of the earth.

"The Episcopal Conferences in arms-producing countries are encouraged to advocate that their governments pass legislation restraining the production and distribution of arms to the detriment of African peoples and nations.”

The following piece is based on articles on the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) website and the website.

The challenge to control the flood of small arms and light weapons into and through Africa is an enormous one. In mid-February, IANSA reported that a new cache of 30,000 bullets was seized by police in Narok, a town on the outskirts of Nairobi. The bullets were manufactured by the government-owned Kenya Ordinance Factory Corporation, which only produces ammunition for Kenyan security forces or government agencies. Police have traced the source of the bullets to a government armory in Nairobi.

Over the past months, other allegations have surfaced about state ammunition finding its way into civilian hands. A study by the Small Arms Survey provides strong evidence of a systematic unofficial initiative to supply government ammunition to the Turkana pastoralists in northern Kenya.

At almost the same time, the Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei reported that a Ukrainian weapons company has been shipping arms to rebels fighting in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

The Ukrainian company is said to have supplied artillery systems and small arms with the assistance of intermediaries through the territory of Eritrea. If true, this would be a violation of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions 1556 and 1591 adopted in 2004 and 2005 respectively which prohibited the sale or supply of arms and military equipment to all warring parties in Darfur.

Small arms and ammunition, including anti-personnel mines and antitank mines from Ukraine have apparently also been delivered to the Government of South Sudan through a private company registered in an offshore zone, but China and Iran are thought to be the main sources of weapons exacerbating violence in north and south Sudan.

Toward an arms trade treaty

Despite the suffering and poverty fuelled by irresponsible arms transfers, there is still no comprehensive, binding international treaty on the trade in conventional arms.

Since 2003, the Control Arms Campaign has been calling for a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a legally binding international instrument, which will draw together and consolidate states’ current obligations under international law. If properly implemented, such an ATT would reduce the human cost associated with the proliferation of conventional arms. It would prevent unscrupulous arms suppliers finding the weakest point in the supply chain, and ensure that all arms exporters and importers are abiding by the same high standards regarding the use, management and transfer of arms, leading to a more secure world.

The idea of a global ATT was inspired by Nobel Peace laureates and developed by lawyers, human rights organizations, and humanitarian NGOs. It now enjoys the support of a growing number of governments (153 states), as well as more than 800 civil society organizations worldwide.

Faith in action:

In October 2009, Secretary of State Clinton said that the United States “is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally-binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.”

If you are a U.S. citizen, write to Secretary of State Clinton, thank her and indicate your strong support for this commitment.  Send a copy to your senators.

If you are from another country, go to here to see the viewpoint of your country. Write to your foreign minister to encourage his or her fullest support for the Arms Trade Treaty and active participation in the Open-Ended Working Group on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which will meet July 12-23, 2010.


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