Small Arms and Human
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 Im 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
More than 500,000 civilians die each year from the misuse of
conventional arms, thats 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 peoples right to security is lost, its not just
their lives that are endangered or destroyed. They
lose their livelihoods, children cant go to school, some flee for their lives and a
countrys 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
Internationals 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 Iraqs 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 Africas 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
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. Id 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.