Women explain why an arms trade treaty can save many lives

It is estimated at least half a million people are killed with guns every year and on average a further 200,000 men, women and children die as an indirect result of armed conflicts and violence that are frequently fuelled by the uncontrolled flow of small arms.

And for every person that is killed in an armed conflict, many more are injured and tortured, raped, abused, forcibly disappeared, taken hostage or displaced. Even more have their access to food, water, shelter, employment and health and education services denied.

Millions of them are women and girls.

Amnesty International and thousands of organizations and human rights activists are working to ensure governments from across the world support an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate the flow of arms.

Three women talked to Amnesty International about why strict control of the international flow of arms is crucial for human rights and to protect women and girls from violence.

Marren Akatsa-Bukachi: “One man with a gun can rape a whole village”Marren Akatsa-Bukachi is the Executive Director of the Eastern African sub Regional Support Initiative for Advancement of Women (EASSI). They work with women survivors of violence.

“Men and women are affected differently by arms.

“In Africa, guns are used to rape women, disempower them. Women are also affected when their husbands die or become incapacitated by small arms as they become head of the household.

“I myself, have been affected by the misuse of small arms. I’m from Kenya and twice, people came into my home with guns and robbed my family. It was four hours each time. They tied us up, face on the carpet, terrorized us, threatened us with their guns. They took everything I had ever worked for.

“I was lucky because I was not sexually molested but I’m still traumatized. Now I live in Uganda and even though it is very hot, every night before I go to sleep, I lock all the doors and windows, even the bedroom door. Who wants to live like that?

“We really need to control the flow of arms. In Africa, we don’t even know where the arms come from.

“We really need to prevent countries where there’s real potential of sexual violence from accessing small arms.

“You don’t need a hundred guns to abuse women’s rights. One man with a gun can rape a whole village.

“We are now conducting training in the great lakes region on gender issues. It is a very slow process. We train people but we don’t have the capacity to see if they are implementing this. In most countries in Africa, we take two steps forward and one step back.

“This is the last opportunity that we have. The gender aspect must be included in all sections of the Arms Trade Treaty.”

Mariame: “People were being killed everywhere”Two years after the end of the post-electoral crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, which resulted in almost 3,000 deaths, Cote d’Ivoire continues to be home to serious human rights violations, including extra-judicial executions, illegal detention and torture, committed against known or suspected supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo. These violations are primarily committed by the national army (FRCI), military police and local militias receiving state support, such as the Dozos.  Mariame lives in Côte d’Ivoire and has survived gun violence. All names have been changed to protect the family’s identity.

“When the local Dozo militia arrived on 30 March 2011 (armed with Kalashnikovs) everyone fled to the bush. We knew they were Dozos as they were wearing their traditional clothing. At that time, me and my husband had six children and we all fled together. But we got split up and I ended up with three of my children. We eventually arrived at a camp where my husband’s cousin was staying.

“Then they started to shoot. We didn’t know where it was coming from. People were being killed everywhere. My four-year old son was lost and the moment he shouted out to try and find us, they shot him. But to save my other two children’s lives, we had to flee.

“We then came across two men. One of them had a gun, the other had a machete. The one with the machete caught hold of me but the man with the gun said, don’t kill her, we’re going to rape her. They did what they were able to do. I was very weak as I hadn’t eaten for three days.

“My children were crying the whole time. The men then let me go and they left.

“I eventually found my husband and he went to the place where I had been raped. That’s where he found my son’s dead body. That day, they killed at least 10 people from my village, including a woman who was nine months pregnant.

“And they shot my 12-year old daughter. She now has two bullets lodged in her head. There was also one in her arm but doctors were able to remove it. If she takes a knock she has a nosebleed. She even gets nosebleeds if she takes too much sunshine, for example. And she has very bad headaches. We don’t have the means to send her to a big hospital to get the treatment she needs.

“When the war started, everything finished for us. Armed groups invaded all the villages. They have machetes and guns, others have axes. Once they know that you’re Guere (ethnic group considered pro-Gbagbo), they kill you.”

Irma Pérez Gil: ‘Women are usually killed with small guns bought on the black market’Irma Pérez Gil, Amnesty International Mexico’s campaigner on arms transfers, is part of the organization’s team lobbying negotiators of the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations.

“Last July at the United Nations conference, where a treaty originally proposed by Amnesty International to strengthen regulation of the global trade in arms was discussed, we participated in the plenaries, listening to what each country said and, during the breaks, we approached ambassadors to share our recommendations.

“The conference lasted four weeks. It was exhausting, enriching and interesting all at the same time because finally the draft text of the treaty was being discussed in detail. During the final two weeks, there were meetings that lasted until 2:30 in the morning.

“On the last day, with Obama worried about his re-election campaign, the US ambassador said they needed more time to agree the text. China, Russia and even Cuba supported the USA and so the negotiations collapsed.

“A new conference was scheduled by the United Nations for this March 2013, which hopefully will be the last one.

“At the UN, processes tend to be long and arduous but at the end we reach binding international instruments that, when approved, hopefully last forever.

“One of the articles in the draft treaty says that when a country is going to export arms, they will “consider” taking measures to prevent the arms they export being used to perpetrate violence against women and girls. Amnesty International wants it to say that they “shall” take such measures.

“This is a very big problem in places like Central America because frequently domestic violence and killings of women are committed with small arms, usually bought on the black market.

“This treaty, like all treaties, is not a magic formula but if it is strong it will create a safer world.”