Real faces of Control Arms: From 4077 M*A*S*H to 2012 UN-ATT

July 17 2012, 7:11 AM by Rosie Cowling

Guest blog by Øistein Moskvil Thorsen, Arms Control Oxfam International, New York

I’m 11 years old and I am watching a convoy of trucks loaded with young boys from the comfort of a white NGO branded Land Cruiser in East Africa. “Where are they all going?” I ask my dad. “To the front,” he replies. My first real memory of war. They were kids driven out of the capitol for a military training before being sent to on one of the world’s deadliest battlegrounds.

It is an image that has stuck with me. Even if that particular war is no longer raging like it once was, the senseless slaughter that is war and armed violence continues around the world at a staggering rate of up to 2000 people every day. This must stop. One way to help stop it is to make sure we get an Arms Trade Treaty with strong and unambiguous language which will say clearly that States shall not transfer arms when there is serious risk of them ending up in the hands of ruthless killers and human rights abusers.

I’m 15 years old and I’m watching my daily episode of the TV comedy show “M*A*S*H” – about an American army hospital during the Korean War. Through the sarcastic lens of heroic and overworked surgeons, sipping home-made Martini’s between pulling out bullets and sewing together bodies torn apart in battle, the craziness of conflict sunk in, yet again.

Wars cannot be fought without ammunition, and access to ammunition makes a difference to the deadliness of conflict and can sometimes be the deciding force between atrocities being carried out or not. An Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that does not cover ammunition – the actual piece of equipment that makes a rifle or a tank that much more deadly – will fail to achieve what it has set out to do. We need a robust treaty to help prevent human suffering, armed conflict, and serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights.

I’m 21 years old. I’m standing in the corridor at the School of Oriental and African Studies with my friend Mamoudo from Sierra Leone. Someone had just pinned the latest list of how countries scored in the UN Human Development Index on the wall. I find my own country Norway at the top, then Mamoudo finds his, at the bottom.

Violent conflict engrains and deepens poverty. It doesn’t just destroy individual lives, it also tears apart entire societies. Armed violence prevents children from going to school, hospitals from treating patients, farmers from growing their land and commerce from thriving. Oxfam and partners issued a report some years ago called “Africa’s Missing Billions”, which estimated that conflict costs Africa $18 billion every year, a staggering amount. 22 of the 34 countries least likely to meet the Millennium Development Goals are in, or emerging from, conflict. Conflicts that are fuelled by the reprehensible and irresponsible trade in weapons.

I’m 32 years old, and I still have high hopes for the ATT negotiations happening at the UN. I believe that States will not let this opportunity to bring the global weapons trade under control slip away. That’s why I go to work every morning for Oxfam. We want to bring people from around the world together to make it clear to our governments that now is the time to lead the charge for global rules on the arms trade! If you’re going to engage is this deadly trade, it’s a collective responsibility to ensure that no weapons end up in the hand of terrorists or human rights violators – at home or abroad. That’s why I think we need an Arms Trade Treaty.

Originally posted in Per La Pau / Peace in Progress: Issue 13 – June/July 2012