With one month to go until governments negotiate the first global arms trade treaty, churches from countries most affected by unregulated trade in arms gathered between 29-31 May in Cape Town, South Africa, to make final advocacy plans.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) convened the meeting of African and other churches in an ecumenical campaign, building support for a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) over the past year.
The meeting in Cape Town was hosted by the Economic Justice Network of Southern Africa in collaboration with the South African Council of Churches. The event brought together church leadership and advocacy staff from faith-based organisations in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, South America and North America.
Daniel Pieper, ATT campaign manager and research associate for the WCC’s United Nations liaison office. said: “From conflict zones to gang violence, from guns used in instances of rape and sexual violence to arms deals that fuel conflict and tear communities apart, a strong and effective ATT would stop arms shipments from going to places where it is clear that people would abuse them.”
“Governments must realise that the trade in arms has human consequences. Human rights and human dignity must be secured in the Arms Trade Treaty,” said Sarah Gregory of Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
Churches and members of the ecumenical campaign will participate in July at the UN ATT negotiations in New York.
“Churches and people of faith should be worried about the potential for a weak treaty. At the end of the day, what can we say that we have done? Support for a strong and effective ATT is about caring for our communities and vulnerable people all over the world,” said Nomfundo Walaza of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town.
Participants rallied at a downtown church in Cape Town to bring attention to the dire need for an ATT. Handing out information and bananas to lunchtime passers-by, the message was that there are currently more global trade regulations for bananas than for weapons.
Campaign work taking place in more than 30 countries shows how well churches and related ministries are positioned for such a campaign. Through coordinated advocacy at both the national and international level, churches have a critical role to play ensuring that the human cost of the arms trade receives a hearing at the UN negotiation process.
The Ecumenical Campaign for a Strong and Effective ATT grew out of the WCC International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, in May 2011. A WCC Executive Committee statement set policy for the campaign in February this year.