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NZ Urged to Join Campaign on Small Arms

FOR ATTENTION OF: CHIEFS OF STAFF / FEATURES EDITORS

16 March 2006 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


NZ Urged to Join Campaign on Small Arms

New Zealand has been urged to put its reputation for campaigning against weapons of mass destruction behind a campaign for better control of the small arms trade during the lead up to a crucial UN conference in June.

The call comes as Amnesty International released a report today documenting systematic violations of the thirteen UN arms embargoes imposed in the last ten years, 100 days before the UN conference on small arms, and on the eve of the New Zealand premiere of Lord of War - a film starring Nicolas Cage made by New Zealand director Andrew Niccol

8,000 New Zealanders have added their faces in photographs and portraits to a Million Faces Petition calling for international laws to be put in place to combat the illegal trade of firearms.

The petition is part of a "ControlArms" campaign organized by Amnesty International, Oxfam, and the International Action Network on Small Arms.

"100,000 men, women and children from Africa, South America, North America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific are set to die in the 100 days leading up to the UN conference for want of better arms control," said Amnesty's New Zealand director Ced Simpson. "We are aiming for a New Zealand contribution of 10,000 faces for the photo-petition by the end of April."

The Control Arms campaign has the support of the New Zealand Government and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"The death toll from small arms dwarfs that of all other weapons systems and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Mr Annan has said. "In terms of the carnage they cause, small arms could well be described as 'weapons of mass destruction'. Yet there is still no global non-proliferation regime to limit their spread."

Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms have drafted an Arms Trade Treaty for review at the United Nations Conference. If accepted, the three non-governmental organisations believe the arms trade treaty will provide a more concerted and cemented barrier to illegal arms trades based on countries' existing responsibilities under UN law.

At present, UN arms embargoes are routinely circumvented because member states do not back the UN position with proper enforcement. A mandatory arms embargo is legally binding under the UN charter, but many governments refuse to punish embargo busters under domestic laws.

Weapons distributors happily forward arms shipments to middle countries not subjected to embargo restrictions. From there, the weapons are delivered to conflict-zones around the world and payment circulates back to the supplier.

A Serbian company, Temex, delivered nearly 210 tonnes of weapons to embargoed Liberia at the height of a civil war. The shipment included five million rounds of ammunition - enough bullets to kill the entire population of Liberia - but no effective steps were taken to block the delivery of these weapons.

New Zealand-born director Andrew Niccol's latest movie, 'Lord of War', follows the story of a New York based arms broker (Nicholas Cage) who traffics weapons to dictators and militia around the world.

Niccol set out with the sole intention of creating a 'fascinating' movie - a piece of fiction - albeit one based loosely on the illegal arms trade in the 21st century, but "reality kept intervening."

"I needed 3,000 AK-47's for a scene in an armory and I was told it was far cheaper to get real guns than fake guns. For another scene, I'd written in the script, 'tanks as far as the eye can see'. I was loaned 50 Soviet T-72 tanks owned by one private arms dealer who had more tanks than the entire Czech Army" said Niccol, who has since become an avid supporter of the Control Arms campaign.

The New Zealand Government is one of 50 governments to publicly support the arms trade treaty - most recently as part of a UN Preparatory Committee in January 2006. Other nations to voice approval for the draft treaty range from the very wealthy (the United Kingdom, Denmark, France) to the incredibly poor (Mali, Cambodia, Sierra Leone).

Amnesty International is screening special premieres of Lord of War in Auckland, Dunedin, Napier, Tauranga, Paraparaumu and Wellington on 20-21 March. The film opens for general release in major centres on March 23.

New Zealanders can add their faces to the Million Faces Petition by visiting www.controlarms.org

ENDS

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