Arms trade is a new slave trade, says Desmond Tutu
As fourteen faith leaders write to the London Times newspaper today calling for new international restrictions on the sale of arms, Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains why the issue is so critical ñ in an article penned in September 2006 for the Control Arms Day of Action.
For many years, I have been involved in the peace business, doing what I can to help people overcome their differences. In doing so, I have also learnt a lot about the business of war: the arms trade. In my opinion, it is the modern slave trade. It is an industry out of control: every day, more than 1,000 people are killed by conventional weapons. The vast majority of those people are innocent men, women and children. There have been international treaties to control the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons for decades. Yet, despite the mounting death toll, there is still no treaty governing sales of all conventional weapons from handguns to attack helicopters. As a result, weapons fall into the wrong hands, all too easily, fuelling human rights abuses, prolonging wars and digging countries deeper into poverty.
This is allowed to continue because of the complicity of governments, especially rich countriesí governments, who turn a blind eye to the appalling human suffering associated with the proliferation of weapons. It is estimated that every year, small arms alone kill more people than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together. Many more people are injured, terrorized or driven from their homes by armed violence. Even as you read this, one of these human tragedies is unfolding somewhere on the planet. You only need to pick up a newspaper to see the worldwide scale of the problem.
From the conflict in the Middle East, to the killings in Darfur, to gun violence in Brazil, the lack of global controls on the arms trade is causing the suffering of innocent people. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed violence recently flared up again and millions have died during almost a decade of conflict. Despite a UN arms embargo against armed groups in the country, weapons have continued to flood in from all over the world. Arms found during weapons collections include those made in Germany, France, Israel, USA and Russia. The only common denominator is that nearly all these weapons were manufactured outside Africa.
Five rich countries manufacture the vast majority of the worldís weapons. In 2005, Russia, the United States, France, Germany and the UK accounted for an estimated 82 per cent of the global arms market.
And it is big business: the amount that rich countries spend on fighting HIV/AIDS every year represents just 18 days global spending on arms. But while the profits flow back to the developed world, the effects of the arms trade are predominantly felt in developing countries. More than two-thirds of the value of all arms are sold to Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. It is no coincidence that many of the worldís poorest countries have recently experienced armed conflict.
In addition to the deaths, injuries and rapes perpetrated with these weapons, the cost of conflict goes deeper still, destroying health and education systems. For example, in northern Uganda, which has been devastated by 20 years of armed conflict, it has been estimated that 250,000 children do not attend school. The war in northern Uganda, which may now be coming finally to an end, has been fuelled by supplies of foreign-made weapons. And as with so many other wars, the heaviest toll has been on the regionís children. Children under five are always the most vulnerable to disease and in a war zone, adequate medical care is often not available as hospitals are destroyed and people flee to make shift camps.
Last year, it was estimated that 41 per cent of all deaths in the camps for displaced people in northern Uganda were among children under five. The world could eradicate poverty in only a few generations were only a fraction of the expenditure on the war business to be spent on peace. An average of billion is spent on arms by countries in Asia, the Middle-East, Latin America and Africa every year according to estimates for the US Congress. This sum would have enabled those countries to put every child in school and to reduce child mortality by two thirds by 2015, fulfilling two of the Millennium Development Goals. This year, the world has the chance to finally say ëënoíí to the continuing scandal of the unregulated weapons trade. In October, the worldís governments will vote on a resolution at the UN General Assembly to start working towards an Arms Trade Treaty.
That Treaty would be based on a simple principle: no weapons for violations of international law. In other words, a ban on selling weapons if there is a clear risk that they will be used to abuse human rights or fuel conflict. The UN resolution has been put forward by the governments of Australia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya, and the United Kingdom.
Resources: The Christian Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade  in the UK.