A Survivor’s Case for a Strong #ArmsTreaty

July 21 2011, 9:29 AM  by Øistein Thorsen

I am writing this because I have personally experienced the hostility of weapons – I was injured when I was 14 years old by a firearm, and have witnessed the destruction they have caused in my country. I, together with my fellow survivors are here to join a growing chorus of individuals from all corners of the world, committed to ensuring that the Arms Trade Treaty is recognized as much for its humanitarian impact as for the technical guidance it provides to member states on the responsible transfer of arms. We are committed to making this treaty work. We need states to commit to it as well. This treaty must be more powerful than the force of weapons. It must be more robust than the pressures of politics. And it must be more beneficial than the incentive of profits.

by Suela Lala, Albanian lawyer working on disability rights, This blog was delivered as speech to the delegates of the UN’s 3rd Preparatory Committee on the Arms Trade Treaty
Among its nine recommendations for action, the 2002, World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health specifically calls on the international community to “seek [a] practical, internationally agreed upon response to…the global arms trade.” Fully recognizing the diversity of assistance that will be required by States to bring them into compliance with the Arms Trade Treaty, I would like to draw your attention to the diversity of needs, and the requisite types of assistance and cooperation available to states.

Before discussing particulars, please allow me to put a human face on the scope of this problem that illustrates the need for a strong treaty.  Mine is one of the human faces that you should keep in mind when you negotiate this treaty. Combating armed violence requires national and international investments by states. It diverts limited monetary and human capital from health systems and socio-economic priorities. Africa is a good example. On that continent, armed violence has shrunk national economies by a staggering 15 percent, ruining countries’ development trajectories, and preventing them from meeting the needs of their population.

Examples like this show the true costs of armed violence. Not only does armed violence kill and injure people and imposes enormous cost on the already strained health care systems. The immeasurable socio-economic costs of armed violence means that people like me – or my colleagues – who are here in New York with me, and many others living in affected communities, are prevented from pursuing our life’s potential and contributing to the development of our countries. The human and national security imperatives combine to require action.

A strong ATT will help reduce the costs that armed violence imposes, on us, the victims and survivors, whose lives are changed forever in that one moment when a weapon becomes the integral part of our life’s story. In order for all states to be able to effectively implement their obligations under this treaty and make a difference in the lives of the people living with the consequences of poorly regulated trade, a strong ATT must include a comprehensive framework for international co-operation and assistance.

This would allow states to request and receive support from other states and relevant international, regional, and sub-regional bodies in implementing their obligations under the treaty. Just as importantly, a strong ATT will not be possible without cooperation between and among states and civil society. When the text of the ATT is negotiated, it should create mechanisms to facilitate such cross-sectoral cooperation, both nationally and internationally including relevant civil society organizations.

States are in a good position to make this happen. There are a number of aid frameworks which currently exist that can assist countries to strengthen the institutional capacity of their security sector, and other sectors including health, research, development, education and justice that must be involved to effectively implement the treaty. It should be noted that said assistance must be conflict sensitive and be provided alongside training on human rights, UN principles on the use of force and firearms, and other relevant international norms.

Besides bilateral assistance and multilateral processes, there are regional and thematic assistance frameworks, like development assistance, which can be helpful in making sure that states get the adequate resources and support needed to implement the treaty domestically. For example, in 2009 Germany provided financial and technical assistance to support the development of a National Customs Enforcement Network for a number of African countries.

As an example, building the capacity of state architecture to comply with a strong ATT includes, at the very least:

  • Development or review of national legislation and administrative procedures
  • Enhancing the capacity of law-enforcement agencies
  • Development of the capability to produce an annual report
  • Training of relevant personnel – such as judiciary, customs, export license officials
  • And coordinating with disability, health, development and human rights mechanisms to ensure adequate assistance to victims 

On this last point, I would like to say a few words specifically about this issue of assistance to victims. This is an area that has been seen by some as outside of the purview of an Arms Trade Treaty.  We, the survivors, having suffered first-hand the consequences of armed violence, urge governments to:

  • Work together in the context of international cooperation and assistance, to ensure that those who are willing and committed to implementing a strong and robust treaty have access to support and resources they need to make a comprehensive ATT a reality.
  • Acknowledge the rights and needs of victims and, where possible, undertake to assist them in recovery and rehabilitation as a fundamental human rights obligation of each state toward its own citizens and our global community’s responsibility toward each other.

As a lawyer, I fully realize that this can be seen by some as an ambitious request.  I also know that it is imperative that this treaty prioritize potential humanitarian gains. The reason for the existence of this treaty are people like me. Recognizing our foundational role in the existence of this treaty and committing to assisting us in recovery and as we work to maximize our life’s potential is within reach with the proper amount of political will. Governments and civil society can work side by side to achieve a robust and effective ATT, and ensure that it is fully implemented.

We are committed to making this treaty work. We need states to commit to it as well. This treaty must be more powerful than the force of weapons. It must be more robust than the pressures of politics. And it must be more beneficial than the incentive of profits.