Small Arms and Human Rights

I wrote the following article for the Birmingham Post for Internatinal Human Rights Day.

Human Rights an everyday matter?
Lynne Jones MP – December 2003

Today (10 December) is International Human Rights Day.  But even today I’m not likely to wake up thinking about my rights.  In the UK, we tend to take our human rights for granted.  But recently a new report by Oxfam and Amnesty International has made me realise just how lucky I am.

Part of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that we all have the right to personal security – to wake up safe in our beds and free from fear.  But Oxfam and Amnesty have highlighted the fact that for millions of people that right is violated every day.

Yem Para, a Cambodian woman in her twenties, gets up knowing that she has lost half her strength because she was shot during an argument.  In Cambodia more than 500,000 small arms remain following the arming of anti-Vietnamese factions by the USA and China in the 1970s.  These are now used against innocent people.

In Brazil, 16-year-old Camila Margalh„es Lima dreamt about becoming a gymnast.  But she was caught by a stray bullet in a gunfight between thieves and security forces in 1998 and now is confined to a wheelchair.

More than 500,000 civilians die each year from the misuse of conventional arms, that’s half the population of Birmingham.  Thanks to the spread of small arms, during International Human Rights Day, 1,440 people will die.  During the day, 21,000 new guns will be made.

And now the problem is spreading to our streets.  Gun crime in the UK is increasing by 35% a year.  In Birmingham the cost of gun crime has become all too clear recently. This issue is painfully close to home.  We are part of the international crisis that has already affected Yem and Camila and we need to be part of the solution. 

When people’s right to security is lost, it’s not just their lives that are endangered or destroyed.  They lose their livelihoods, children can’t go to school, some flee for their lives and a country’s wealth ebbs away.  In Africa economic losses due to war are valued at over £8 billion a year.

This 10 December I will be commemorating the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by joining a global petition to stop the spread of guns and calling for an international arms trade treaty.  This is part of Oxfam and Amnesty International’s new Control Arms campaign and is a petition with a difference, as it aims to collect one million faces (photos and self portraits) as well as names.

While the UK and US are still looking for Iraq’s elusive arsenal, the real weapons of mass destruction are all too visible on the streets.  There are enough guns in Iraq now for each person to have four.   The situation is increasingly similar worldwide, bullets claim more lives than tuberculosis, malaria or road traffic accidents in Africa and a gun can be bought for the price of a chicken in Sudan.  Life is cheap, but guns are cheaper. 

I remain deeply concerned that the UK Government is selling arms to countries like Indonesia.  What confidence can we have in ‘assurances’ from a Government with such an appalling human rights record that arms will not be used offensively or in violation of human rights?  Our Government is also giving military assistance to Colombia even though, as I learned on a recent visit to that Country, the Colombian Government is not honouring commitments it gave on human rights at a conference in London.  Nevertheless, there is some good news - projects like gun-free zones in some of South Africa’s hospitals, schools and towns are working.  And already Brazil has lead the way and signed up to the International Arms Trade Treaty.  If we can encourage others to follow suit, this Treaty can become a mechanism to prevent weapons being used to kill millions more innocent people.

There is a limit to what we in the West Midlands can do to help people like Yem and Camila but we must do what we can to stop other people ending up in similar circumstances, always remembering that whatever work is done to mop up the weapons that flood our world will be undermined unless we also strive to turn off the tap of an unregulated arms trade.

I will be calling for the UK Government to support the Oxfam and Amnesty Control Arms Campaign and to work on the international stage to make an international Arms Trade Treaty a reality. I’d like it if you joined me.  So, if you do one thing today, please visit www.controlarms.org and add your face to the thousands already there.  Call for an international Arms Trade Treaty and in the future perhaps millions more can wake up with their dreams intact, not shot to pieces. 

 

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