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Small arms: The real weapons of mass destruction

27.09.2015 - Article

In a discussion during the UN week in New York, Germany pointed to the devastating impact of the illegal small arms trade. Guest of honour was Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Óscar Arias.

In a discussion during the UN week in New York, Germany pointed to the devastating impact of the illegal small arms trade. Guest of honour was Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Óscar Arias. At the event, Foreign Minister Steinmeier announced Germany was to launch a strategic partnership with the African Union to combat the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons in the region.

Half a million victims – every year

More than 500,000 people lose their lives every year due to the some 875 million firearms in circulation worldwide. Each of these weapons has a lifespan of between 30 and 50 years and there is a constant flow of new weapons being manufactured. Thus, small arms pose one of the most serious threats to the civilian population worldwide.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Arias in the German House

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Arias
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Arias© Photothek / Imo

This is the very reason why UN Secretary‑General Kofi Annan described small arms as “the real weapons of mass destruction”. On the fringes of the UN General Assembly, Germany hosted a discussion bearing this title among high‑level guests in the German House in New York. Guest of honour was Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Costa Rican President Óscar Arias. In his speech, he posed the question: Why does the death of lots of people all at once attract so much more attention than the death of many people one after another? He went on to point out that criminal groups and terrorists are still getting their hands on small arms and taking many innocent lives. For him, no country in the world should be allowed to sell arms used to violate human rights. He therefore thanked Germany for its commitment to concluding the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a milestone for the control of the global small arms trade.

Steinmeier warned of the consequences of firearms in the hands of non‑state actors

Foreign Minister Steinmeier during his opening speech
Foreign Minister Steinmeier during his opening speech© Photothek / Imo

Foreign Minister Steinmeier warned in his opening speech of the devastating impact of small arms in the hands of non‑state actors and announced Germany’s strategic partnership with the African Union to combat the illegal small arms trade in Africa. At a conference on 16 October 2015 in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the relevant players are to come together to coordinate their joint efforts. Steinmeier emphasized that Germany’s commitment remained firmly rooted in the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms.

Arms control as a Sustainable Development Goal

Disarmament is one of the guiding principles of the United Nations
Disarmament is one of the guiding principles of the United Nations© Photothek / Köhler

One of the participants, Sidi Mohamed, Malian Reconciliation Minister, lamented that Africa is today a very open market for the trade in illegal firearms. According to him, the arms were coming from fragile or collapsed states and sometimes cost as little as 150 US dollars. He went on to say that this threat made life in peace into a rare resource and a magnet for refugees. Those participating in the discussion agreed that including the arms problem in the new Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals was a major step forward. In his concluding statement, Foreign Minister Steinmeier underscored that this is an important reference point for future work in this field.

Find out more:

Germany’s commitment to the control of small arms

Joint Declaration by Foreign Minister Steinmeier and AU Commissioner Smaïl Chergui on Strategic Partnership

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