Human cost of unregulated Arms Trade
- Speech delivered by Ms Binalakshmi Nepram at the UN General Assembly -

16 July 2009, New York

Human cost of unregulated arms trade and the urgency for an international Arms Trade Treaty
Speech delivered by Ms Binalakshmi Nepram at the United Nations General Assembly, 16 July 2009, New York

Thank you Ambassador Moritan, chair, fellow panelists, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

A very good morning to everyone.

Allow me to dedicate this presentation to tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives in my part of the world over the last past decades.

The very fact that I am here at the sanctum hall of the United Nations is a testimony of how myself and millions of others worldwide have survived violence caused by unregulated arms trade and chosen a life dedicated to the cause of peace.

In my home region of Manipur alone, I find weapons from 13 countries fuelling a bloody conflict.

Ms Binalakshmi Nepram at the UN General Assembly, New York, 16 July 2009

Several countries present in this room will have never heard of my state, Manipur. But the very fact that weapons produced in your countries have found their way to our towns and villages are a valid reason to find out how they came and what can be done to prevent the flow of arms.

We have a responsibility and an urgency to end this mayhem.

Throughout my childhood I saw weapons both of state and non-state actors taking control of our lives, our futures and I thought all this is a normal part of growing up. I lost my 12 year old niece in the violence. And later my family was subjected to a death warrant and displaced for almost half a year due to the conflict.

Every day in our work we come across men, women and children who have endured a deep psychological crisis to overcome the impact of unregulated arms trade on their lives. Several years back I came across a young Phillem Johnson of Moirang, who told me his story, “A firing incident in 1999 robbed me off my teens & my future. One boy was killed & I along with another was wounded. A bullet pierced through my spinal cord & I became paraplegic. My dreams of becoming a doctor & a sportsman were shattered in an instant”

They are not able to be here at the United Nations to speak to you.

Therefore we all present have a responsibility.

We have to think that we sitting and debating in this room to take decisions on ways forward for an Arms Trade Treaty that will transform the lives of millions worldwide.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have a responsibility to make the ATT happen so that no further human lives are lost.

The monetary value of international authorised exports of arms is relatively small in global terms, amounting to around US$ 51.1 billion per year – representing less than half of the value of the global coffee market.

But this completely belies the international significance of the arms trade. The arms industry manufactures products and provides services, which maim and kill.

One would expect, therefore, a strong degree of control commensurate with this responsibility - governments and industry working together to ensure that these weapons are used and sold responsibly.

Yet the arms trade is like no other, operating outside the jurisdiction of the World Trade Organization, the parameters of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and the bounds of the arms non-proliferation regime. The control is left to individual governments, which may be unwilling or unable to ensure responsible practices.

Recent research has identified 1,135 companies manufacturing arms and ammunition in at least 98 countries; and these numbers are increasing only.

The profusion of arms-producing companies and nations presents a clear challenge to those who advocate strong controls.

Yesterday at the General Assembly of the United Nations, several governments stated that if national controls are strong enough, we do not need an international treaty.

But most national controls are woefully weak, riddled with loopholes, characterised by wide gaps between policy and practice – and as a result they allow easy access to lethal weaponry.

Besides national and domestic legislation such as in India cannot tackle the problem alone as for instance in many national legislations, sophisticated arms used in terrorist acts and rights violations are not included and hence not subjected to controls.

One country alone cannot tackle the problem and it is time that we recognise this.

Ms Binalakshmi Nepram, at the UN General Assembly, New York, 16 July 2009.

An international Arms Trade Treaty is desperately needed, in order to ban all international arms transfers if there is a substantial risk that they will be used in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, if they will be used to undermine poverty reduction or if they will be used to facilitate crime.

Governments thus need to work together to be more accountable to their citizens in their provision of protection from armed violence.

Governments and civil society need to work together to improve safety at the community level and to help men, women and children who have survived the violence. In Manipur, we started women's gun survivor network to help women survivors of armed violence.

The call for an ATT has been supported by millions of citizens around the world. We have an active civil society community working on these issues. Several emminent Indians like Nobel Laureate, Professor Amartya Sen, Former Scientific Advisor to PM, Prof MGK Menon and over 50,000 people in India have called for an ATT. We are working around the clock with parliamentarians and more then 40 of them are already supporting us in the endeavour.

We must turn off the irresponsible supply of arms... and drain the pool of existing uncontrolled weapons.

All governments must take responsible and concerted action to control the proliferation, possession, and misuse of arms, in line with international law. The irresponsible use and transfer of arms is neither inevitable nor in the interests of states. An Arms Trade Treaty would make citizens around the world safer.

The time for action is now.

I call upon countries to take leadership in the important process.

To end with words of Mahatma Gandhi: Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.

I thank you all for your attention.

Ms Binalakshmi Nepram is a Scholar Activist and Founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivor Network and Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India. She is the author of three books namely "South Asia's Fractured Frontier". "Meckley" and the recently published "India and Arms Trade Treaty". She has represented South Asia civil society meetings on disarmament at the United Nations in New York since 2003. Ms Nepram can be reached at BNepram(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in
This was webcasted on July 21st 2009 .

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