"The More Guns, the More Violence"


Nuclear Abolition News | IPS

By Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY (IPS) - Traffic in light weapons and small arms is one of Latin America's major disarmament concerns, because they fuel urban violence, especially in countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil. JAPANESE

This is one of the issues on the agenda of the 62nd Annual Conference for Non-Governmental Organisations associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI/NGO), attended by 1,700 delegates from 75 countries under the banner "For Peace and Development: Disarm Now!"

"These weapons, trafficked illegally for huge profits, are used by common criminals and organised crime to attack society and the members of the security forces," Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa said Wednesday at the start of the conference, which is being held at a former convent near the historic centre of the Mexican capital.

Small arms are a particular scourge in Mexico, because of the widespread activities of drug cartels. An undetermined number of weapons are acquired on the legal market in the United States, or are smuggled in from Central America.

Defence Ministry statistics indicate that between 2000 and 2006 a total of 257,993 firearms were destroyed, 723 lost, 2,367 stolen, 238,838 registered and 31,931 transferred between owners or jurisdictions.

Since taking office in late 2006, conservative President Felipe Calderón has deployed thousands of soldiers around the country to fight drug trafficking. However, since then drug-related killings have soared, leaving over 14,000 people dead up to August this year, according to unofficial counts.

Behind these deaths are the small and light arms which provide the drug mafias with most of their fire power.

Worldwide there are more than 500 million light arms in circulation, an average of one for every 12 people. They were instrumental in 46 out of the 49 major conflicts fought since 1990, and were responsible for the deaths of four million people, most of them civilians, women and children, according to the United Nations.

It is estimated that only about half the global trade in small arms is legal. Furthermore, legally exported weapons often end up on the black market.

Illegal dealing in small arms is estimated to net between two billion and 10 billion dollars a year, according to the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), founded in 1998 and made up of 800 NGOs from 120 countries.

Nearly seven million rifles and handguns are manufactured every year, mainly in the United States and the European Union.

To tackle the problem, a United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects was held Jul. 9-20, 2001 at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"In Mexico, armed violence and violence against women are severe problems. The more guns, the more violence," Héctor Guerra, IANSA representative in this country, told IPS.

IANSA is proposing legislation to ban or revoke firearm licenses for people convicted of using guns to commit gender violence.

The high levels of violent crime in this country of over 107 million people have had an impact on life expectancy, shortening it by more than half a year, according to a study by researchers from the United States, Canada and Switzerland published late July in the British journal Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Mexico is a keen supporter of efforts toward an international agreement on the small arms trade and fighting illegal arms traffic.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is another concern at the DPI/NGO Conference, which runs through Friday. This is the second consecutive year that the meeting has been held outside of U.N. headquarters in New York.

In his opening address, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "there are over 20,000 nuclear weapons around the world. Many of them are still on hair-trigger alert, threatening our own survival."

"There can be no development without peace and no peace without development. Disarmament can provide the means for both," Ban said.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-I) signed in 1991 by the United States and the then Soviet Union, which imposed a cap on the nuclear arsenals of both powers, expires in December.

On Sept. 24, a special session of the U.N. Security Council will discuss global nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

A conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), in force since 1970, will also meet in New York in May 2010.

U.S. activist Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign against land mines, told reporters Wednesday she would "press for a convention on nuclear weapons," because "if we continue to talk about the eventual elimination of these weapons," they will never actually be banned.

The Latin American and Caribbean region is a nuclear weapons-free zone under the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, better known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which was signed in Mexico City in 1967. Mexico was one of the sponsors of the ban.

The U.N. strategy for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons proposes that disarmament must enhance the security of nations, be reliably verified, be rooted in legal obligations, be visible to the public and anticipate emerging dangers from other weapons, Ban said.

Williams said that if, at this critical juncture, NGOs did not step in and push for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the moment would be lost, and a new, uncontrolled and terrifying arms race might ensue - a frightening prospect for the future.

In Guerra's view, this week's conference should conclude with a strong declaration against all kinds of arms, particularly small arms and light weapons.