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Human Rights Groups Propose Treaty on Small Arms Trade - 2003-10-09

Two leading human rights groups have launched a campaign for an international treaty on the trade in weapons. The groups say light weapons are killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year.

There are more than 630 million small arms in circulation around the world, more than one for every 10 people, say Amnesty International and the British humanitarian group Oxfam. The groups say the problem has become so widespread that in Uganda AK-47s are replacing spears, and in Somalia some children are now named Uzi or AK. In countries such as Iraq, there is now more than one gun per person.

Major world powers are largely to blame for the situation, according to the organizations.

There are 500,000 people killed every year," explained Sauro Scarpelli, Amnesty International's campaign coordinator for military security and police. "And that comes across like one every minute. And this is something that needs to be addressed urgently. And five of the main [permanent] members of the Security Council - France, Russia, China, UK [Britain] and the U.S. - they export 88 percent of arms all over the world."

In their report, Shattered Lives: The Case for Tough International Arms Controls the human rights groups say that since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the U.S.-led war on terror has focused on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, while trade in smaller arms continues. Mr. Scarpelli says several nations with poor human rights record are the recipients of this trade.

"Especially the United States and the U.K. they started to export weapons to countries where the human rights record is really bad. And these countries are Indonesia, Philippines, and Pakistan, to name a few of them," he said.

Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms are pushing for a new international arms trade treaty by 2006, and have launched a petition campaign for the pact in more than 50 countries. They hope to gather one million signatures.