From Fri Jul 27 07:29:48 2001
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2001 19:54:55 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Direct from Cuba-Special July 26th Edition
Article: 123479
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Weapons that Cause Half the World's Civilian Deaths

By Hector Igarza, Prensa Latina, 26 July 2001

Havana, July 26 (PL)—Short-range, small and lightweight weapons, a subject to which the United Nations dedicated a special session this month, are responsible for half the deaths of civilians in armed conflicts around the world.

The United States, which leads the world in accidents with these weapons in the hands of young people, especially in the schools, was headquarters of this important meeting called by the UN Disarmament Committee. Between July 9 and 20, the Conference on Illegal Trade of Small and Light Weaponry was held in UN headquarters in New York. The purpose of the meeting was to find ways to eradicate or reduce the unnecessary suffering of thousands of relatives of the dead, survivors and others affected each year through their use. Although the task seems enormous, organizers hoped the effort might help to save the lives of hundreds of thousand of persons.

The conference did not achieve, of course, the end of the proliferation of small and light weapons nor will it control the destruction they cause.

It is, however, one of the most important steps taken so far in the effort produce real results in the interest of the millions of people trapped in conflicts. For the first time, as organizers stated, governments of the world had the chance to adopt measures to stop this immoral and dangerous business.

The millions of dollars gleaned by businesses in Hollywood, producers of video games, music and television programs, together with the strong lobby of the US National Rifle Association (NRA), play a determining role in sale of such weapons. The NRA, which contributes millions to the Republican Party and the George Bush presidential campaign, defends the Constitutional right of all US citizens to own at least one weapon to defend their homes and families.

During the 1990s, about five million people died in wars throughout the world. According to the International Red Cross, close to 50% of the victims were civilians caught in the crossfire. The illegal sale and traffic of weapons contribute to the needless suffering of women, the aged and children in the affected regions.

No one knows the exact number of small and light weapons in the world today. Some estimate there are half a billion, representing one weapon for every twelve persons on the planet.

The UN Disarmament Office reports that an AK47 can be bought in the market of Sudan for the same price as a chicken. In Kenya, the exchange rate for this gun has gone down from twelve cows to two. In the Philippines, machine guns cost $275, and a pistol as little $15.

Proliferation of small and light weapons has changed the nature of conflicts in many parts of the developing world. Wars that once were fought with bows and arrows are now conflicts of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The consequences of this for civilian residents in the areas of conflict are terrible, and mostly uncontrolled.

The Ottowa Treaty on Anti-Personnel Mines demonstrates that some simple actions taken by ordinary people around the world can be effective.

The UN conference could become a launching pad for future work to control the trade of short-range weapons. The meeting dealt with several programs that include the treatment of these weapons as a very important human affair.

One objective is to halt sales to those who would violate human rights and humanitarian laws, or inflame or maintain conflicts and undermine the economic and social development of the people.

A great responsibility after the conference is to demand control of these articles of death and to propose concrete measures to accomplish this goal. The UN is requesting agreement of all states on the text of the convention adopted and favors introduction of the appropriate means to control and monitor the final recipients of these weapons.