Did you know…

Licit arms trade

Between 2005 and 2007, the UK sold small arms to over 100 countries. Under official UK guidelines, no arms exports are allowed that would exacerbate regional conflict or be used for internal oppression (Guardian, 2012). However Britain remains one of the world’s top five arms suppliers, selling more than £2 billion of arms in 2009, (figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies).

The effects

The Small Arms Survey estimates that supplied arms have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of injuries each year across the African Continent. They are further responsible for 60 to 90% of total conflict deaths. A report from the BBC states that while the availability of weapons did not cause Africa’s wars, it has prolonged them and made them more lethal. Because these weapons are easy to use and conceal they are the weapon of choice for non state actors and insurgent groups. Small arms are freely available in much of the region and new or recirculated supplies continue to flow freely to, from and around different conflict zones. Few other sub-regions in the world have been blighted by insecurity and conflict like the Great Lakes Region.

The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty

On 2 April 2013, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to adopt a global Arms Trade Treaty. The treaty, if properly implemented will prevent any arms flows when the sending state knows the weapons in question could or will be used for human rights abuses. The treaty also mandates that signatories of the Treaty will meet and report regularly on issues related to the arms trade. Importantly this is the first time a treaty has explicitly enshrined conventional arms control and human rights rules in one document.

However others have been less optimistic about the potential effects of this new Treaty. As with previous agreements the responsibility to uphold the conditions laid out in the Treaty lies with the signatory countries and crucially the Treaty does not prohibit the sending of arms to dangerous non state actors. Often countries that are beset with political insurgency and armed conflict do not have the physical means in place to enforce measures that would be most likely to end the trade in weapons.(such as the implementation of a license system and addressing the lack of border controls that allows the illicit arms trade to flourish).

Arms – Resolution:Possible?

The issue of armed conflict is one of the most complex problems faced by the Great Lakes Region to date. Many experts have speculated that armed conflict is symptomatic of broader issues- such as poverty, food security and ethnic clashes- and it is therefore these underlying issues that must be solved to prevent the flourishing of the arms trade. Tackling the problem has also been compounded by inaccurate reporting, where even credible sources often fail to clearly state whether the discussion concerns the licit or illicit arms trade. And while recent treaties have shown more nuance in their approach to solving the arms problem (for example recognising the importance of attaching legislation to bullets in addition to arms) there are numerous problems around how to uniformly implement international treaties which have not been adequately tackled.