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Small Arms Day: Promoting A Gun-Free Society

9 July, 2002

Today, July 9 marks Small Arms Destruction Day, to commemorate the first day of the UN Conference on Small Arms that was held last year in New York. This year, the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) joins activists regionally, and globally, to raise concern on the devastating impact of small arms, and on how we can all play a part to prevent their spread and misuse.

Small arms such as revolvers and rifles, machine guns, mortars and hand grenades, are instruments of death. A recent world survey indicated that there are at least 500 million out there, enough for one in every 10 people on earth. Most of these are controlled by legal authorities, but when they fall into wrong hands such as terrorists, unscrupulous arms dealers, corrupt officials, drug dealers, criminals and rebel or deviant elements, they are lethal.

The easy access to small arms has given rise to increased armed conflicts in the region, undermining good governance and the rule of law, and generating a culture of violence. In short, it is a threat to peace, security, development, democracy and human rights.

Guns have been used to change forever the course of history in a number of Pacific island countries. They are used to overthrow legally elected governments, influence political decisions, settle ethnic conflicts, and contribute to growing waves of crime and corruption. Given the high level of moral corruption and glorification of guns in the region, those who have access to armouries and guns often wield great power similar to drug lords.

The impact of small arms locally and globally are far-reaching. Direct effects include casualties caused by conflicts, homicide, suicide, robbery, and random violence. Indirectly, it is a great burden to the economy. Resources that could otherwise be dedicated to health, education and social services to better ensure human security, are instead diverted to deal with the trauma generated by gun violence. The heavy stress on limited health and law enforcement resources in the region are telling examples. With high-powered weapons still unaccounted for in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, the overall situation in these countries are still far from normal.

PCRC therefore views with great alarm the recent announcement that Police providing security to ACP Leaders will be issued with firearms. Small arms proliferation can not be solved by more arms.

As a region recovering from post-conflict situations, we need more resources to provide greater support for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in society of ex-combatants, including child soldiers. Voluntary surrender of weapons over the recent past has taken place in Fiji, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. But more needs to be done.

We need better laws and more effective enforcement and monitoring regulations and resources. We need to be vigilant about the illicit trade on small arms that transcend our borders and port of calls. We need to strictly monitor the import, transit and retransfer of arms and military goods and technologies. We need to cut down altogether the import of and stockpiling of weapons of war.

There is also a need to account for the gender impact of gun violence. Women and children suffer direct effects of small arms violence through the death or imprisonment of their husbands and fathers, displacement, and for children, the trauma of witnessing violence.

The glorification of guns also sends children a terrible message: that power is to be gained and violence resolved, not through the use of one's intellect and skills or by peaceful and non-violent alternatives, but through violence, law-breaking, intimidation and inflicting harm on others. This is the greatest harm that a society can inflict on its younger generation.

For their sake and ours, let us work towards a Gun Free Pacific.

For further information contact Ema G. Tagicakibau at the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre

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