How the UNPoA can support and address the rights of survivors

March 20 2012, 6:58 PM  by Ray Acheson

In this crucial year for the UN Programme of Action on small arms (PoA) we have a unique opportunity to address the needs of survivors and victims of gun violence building on knowledge and experience gained since 2001. IANSA, as a network of civil society organisations, continues to advocate for measures that we originally highlighted some years ago in the UN small arms process based on the growing community of survivors active and campaigning to prevent gun violence.

by Hector Guerra, International Action Network on Small Arms

As we are all aware, for every individual killed by small arms, many more survive with serious injuries, often permanent disabilities that impede the resumption of a normal way of life. Since the PoA was agreed in 2001, millions of people have been injured through non-fatal small arms violence, something that was acknowledged on Monday by Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs in her opening remarks. We all know that the economic, emotional and psychological effects of armed violence on survivors are huge, and also inflict a heavy toll on their families, friends, colleagues and neighbours. We know that civil society and member states alike are conscious of the need to reduce human suffering, prevent harm, and create safer communities.

The PoA addresses survivor assistance very weakly. It does not explicitly refer to the subject, although the opening declarative sentences of the PoA express the grave concern of States for:

  1. Human suffering (paragraph 4)
  2. The humanitarian and socio-economic consequences of small arms misuse (paragraph 2)
  3. The devastating consequences of small arms misuse on children (paragraph 6)
  4. The negative impacts of small arms misuse on women and the elderly (paragraph 6)

As a starting point, the IANSA Survivors Network urges member states to give more and thorough consideration to the needs and rights of victims and survivors and their inclusion as stakeholders in the UN small arms process. This includes:

Include survivors of armed violence in small arms programme design and intervention activities.

Victims of nonfatal small arms misuse are a constituency that can help identify risk factors and contribute to interventions and policy development. Through health service providers, advocacy organisations and government agencies, their opinions and input may provide fresh insights on issues that are not well understood, including how to reduce the demand for small arms.

Include stakeholders who are in a position to consider the needs of survivors of armed violence on National Coordination Agencies on Small Arms.

The PoA requires National Coordination Agencies to be ‘responsible for policy guidance, research and monitoring of efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects’. This should include ‘tertiary’ prevention, which reduces the worst consequences of the problem, including access to rehabilitation services, psychosocial support, trauma counselling and employment. In order to deliver this commitment, membership of National Commissions should include stakeholders such as health professionals, supporters and caregivers, as well as survivors, who are often voiceless in decisions that affect their own future.

Assess the gaps in service provision to survivors in National Action Plans on Small Arms, and develop measures for filling these gaps.

Although the right to health recognises the primacy of prompt treatment for all injured persons, regardless of the context or the legal status of the victims, the reality sometimes falls considerably short of this. States have a responsibility to ensure that adequate health facilities and medical personnel are available to serve the medical needs of all victims of armed violence. This should include emergency response systems, trauma care, and rehabilitation services.

Invest in trauma care for victims of small arms violence.

Prompt medical treatment cannot always rely on the availability and expertise of health professionals. Providing emergency first aid training for police officers and others likely to be the first to find an injured person — first responders — can be a low-cost and effective way to reduce fatalities and excessive injuries.

Coordinate measures to help survivors of sexual violence.

Sexual violence is widely used as a tool of war. States should address the trauma of sexual violence, as well as the physical effects on the reproductive health of women and girls. For example, these concerns can be incorporated in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.

Promote research on the trauma of witnessing gun violence or its aftermath.

Understanding the effects of being threatened by or witnessing firearm violence is necessary to help raise awareness of the problem. The trauma is likely to be greater than that associated with being threatened by or witnessing other forms of violence.

Strengthen the links between the UN small arms process, injury prevention and victim assistance, and pursue research into the impact of prevention activities in firearm-affected areas.

Greater engagement of the health community can help to identify clearer goals and approaches to tackling the small arms problem.

While to some, these issues may appear to pale into insignificance compared to the nature and scale of the global illicit small arms issue, the experience of members of the IANSA Survivors Network underscore why they must be taken into account. An appreciation of the experience and expertise of survivors of gun violence will have important consequences for the way in which successful long term strategies are formulated to help combat the global small arms crisis. The Review of the PoA is an important opportunity for this.