By Justus Nyang’aya, Director of Amnesty International Kenya
Two years ago, on 2 April 2013, the international community finally adopted the Arms Trade Treaty to regulate the international trade in weapons and munitions, which is estimated to be approaching US$100 billion annually. More than three-quarters of the world’s countries backed it at the UN General Assembly in New York. It was a hard-won victory that followed two decades of intensive campaigning by Amnesty International and other NGOs.
It was a moment of great pride and joy for those who genuinely cared most for security and the protection of human rights, which are severely threatened by often reckless and careless arms transfers. .
It is estimated that roughly half a million people are killed every year with firearms; in the battlefield as a result of state repression and by criminal gangs. Many other millions around the world die because they are being denied access to health care, water or food as they are trapped in conflicts fuelled by the poorly controlled flow of arms. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, it is estimated more than five million people died indirectly because of the armed conflict since 1998. And for every person who is killed in conflict and armed violence, we have to consider the many more who are injured and tortured, abused, forcibly disappeared, taken hostage or otherwise denied their human rights down the barrel of a gun. The problem is absolutely massive and ongoing as seen now in Syria, Iraq, Libya and South Sudan. In many parts of the world, irresponsible arms trading can sooner or later destroy every area of people’s lives and livelihoods.
By adopting the Arms Trade Treaty, progressive and well-meaning UN member states showed their commitment to end the irresponsible arms transfers. This showed an acceptance by most governments now that arms trade controls should be aligned with states’ international obligations to respect human rights.
Kenya took up a leade
Kenya took up a leadership in ensuring that arms trade is controlled and illicit arms no longer land in the wrong hands, fuelling serious human rights abuses. Kenyan officials declared their public support for an Arms Trade Treaty and Kenya became one of the six states who co-authored the initial UN resolution in 2006 calling for the creation of an international treaty to regulate the trade in conventional arms. This action kicked off diplomatic talks and Kenya’s leaders actively helped the world to get the Arms Trade Treaty.Justus Nyang'aya
rship in ensuring that arms trade is controlled and illicit arms no longer land in the wrong hands, fuelling serious human rights abuses. Kenyan officials declared their public support for an Arms Trade Treaty and Kenya became one of the six states who co-authored the initial UN resolution in 2006 calling for the creation of an international treaty to regulate the trade in conventional arms. This action kicked off diplomatic talks and Kenya’s leaders actively helped the world to get the Arms Trade Treaty.
But Kenya is now shirking its responsibilities. In fact, since the treaty opened for signature on 3 June 2013, Kenya has taken no further action at the UN to support the treaty. It is not among the states that have signed or ratified the treaty. Kenya is among the countries in the global south whose regions are plagued by high levels of gun violence, sometimes brutal repression of human rights and all-too-frequent armed conflicts.
The Arms Trade Treaty is now a reality and is legally binding after entering into force on 24 December 2014. A total of 65 states have now ratified the Treaty. Sadly, Kenya is not among them.
Kenya should continue its leadership in the ATT process and has every reason to ratify this very important treaty to help stem the never-ending story of insecurity that plagues our homes, communities and urban areas..
Armed violence has been responsible for thousands of deaths in Kenya in recent years. The small arms and ammunition that result in the death and injury of so many Kenyans are made in Europe, China and elsewhere. Unregistered weapons make it into the country and are often diverted to unauthorised users, including criminal gangs and armed groups. This is largely due to lax controls, particularly with regard to civilian possession, state possession, stockpile management and manufacture.
Kenya should be among the countries heading up the charge on the ATT and its implementation. It should serve as an example to other states in Africa and around the world whose regions suffer high levels of gun violence, serious human rights violations and war crimes carried out down the barrel of a weapon.
It is obvious that failure by the international community, including Kenya, to strictly regulate the international trade in arms, could put our lives and livelihoods at risk.
Stories of the hundreds of thousands of survivors of armed violence point to the real and present dangers of the international proliferation of small arms. Much needs to be done by national authorities in Kenya and other countries to deal with the day-to-day impact of this proliferation – to rein in criminality and beef up real security for the people.
But if we fail to ensure the strict control of arms transfers, millions of ordinary people will continue to suffer. It is crucial that Kenya live up to its commitment to stem the flow of arms to those that could use them for serious human rights violations. Protecting the right to life and security requires the Kenyan government to immediately ratify and begin implementing the Arms Trade Treaty without fail.