Arms Trade Treaty: Arab NGOs launch their campaign in Beirut

Rima Chemirik, Advocacy Officer for the Treaty on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) of Oxfam France, has recently been in Lebanon to attend the launch of the regional campaign for the ATT.

It is always a pleasure to come back to Lebanon, the Land of Cedars. Not just for lemonade with mint or the delicious mezze, but also for the joy of living that remains here, despite the painful past that has resulted in so many dead, wounded, displaced persons and other victims.*

A symbolic gathering

It is in this country, which is familiar with the tragedies caused by arms, that the NGOs of the Arab world have officially launched, on 26th March, their campaign for regional mobilization in support of an international treaty on the conventional arms trade. They have chosen to state their commitment to a treaty on the arms trade loudly and clearly a full 100 days before the start of formal negotiations on this treaty at the UN in New York.

These NGOs**, coming from nine countries in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf, gathered at the symbolic Hope for Peace monument erected at the entrance to the Defence Ministry, next to Beirut. Some 5,000 tons of concrete, 30 metres high, encases 78 tanks, jeeps and various pieces of artillery. A work of art to bury war so visible that no one forgets its dramatic impact upon humanity.

Every day, 2,000 people die as a result of armed violence

Speak Out! Control Arms Now!” was the slogan proclaimed by the NGOs there supporting the international Control Arms campaign, which has been demanding that states control the arms trade worldwide since 2003. Is it not surprising to learn that the banana trade is more regulated than the trade in weapons that actually cause the death of about 2,000 people a day?!

So we are in the home straight of this historical process, which officially began at the United Nations in 2006. It is our responsibility to ensure that states coming to New York on 2nd July take positions that put human rights before political and financial interests. In the Arab world, which has experienced several months of uprisings all too often suppressed by armed force, civil society refuses victim status and is campaigning for a strong and effective treaty, a treaty that saves lives and protects populations. Back in their respective countries, these NGOs will take further action to mobilize and raise awareness so that their voices are heard even louder.

Arms without control = danger

Amongst all these voices, is Abdou Bendjoudi, a democracy and human rights activist, member of the Club des démocrates algériens, an NGO involved in the Control Arms campaign in the region: “In October 1988, the Algerian army used live ammunition to kill 500 people while they were demonstrating peacefully to demand their democratic rights. My country then experienced a bleak decade in which soldiers were killed with a variety of conventional weapons. In 2001, 128 young people were killed in Kabylia. So the uncontrolled use of weapons is a danger for both the State and the people.”

* The Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) resulted in more than 150,000 dead, 70,000 permanently disabled, 17,000 missing and a foreign debt of $70 billion. In 2006, the war with Israel resulted in more than 1,000 people being killed in a few weeks. [Figures from the Permanent Peace Movement, a Lebanese NGO]

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, a hundred Syrians a day have crossed the border into Lebanon. There are between 30,000 and 35,000 of them currently in Lebanon, according to the Lebanese MP Mouin Merheby. This is four times the figure given by the United Nations.

** NGOs who joined the ATT campaign in Beyrouth: Club des démocrates algériensLigue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l’HommeEgyptian Initiative for Personal RightsPermanent Peace Movement

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