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Small Arms: an Overview of the Devastation They Cause


In this week’s special series, we’re looking at small arms in Africa and the devastation they cause. International efforts are underway to limit the proliferation of small arms. One of them is the conference opening today in New York. For about two weeks, representatives of a number governments will discuss the problem and try to come up with proposals to deal with it.

Anthea Lawson is spokesperson for the International Action Network On Small Arms, IANSA, a global coalition against irregular arms trade. English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe asked her for the definition of the term “small arms.”

“Small arms are weapons that can be carried and used by one person… easily fired, easily transported, not so easy for border control between countries to see what is going across, and that is why it is necessary to have global control, to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.”

Lawson blames most of Africa’s numerous wars on proliferation, which she says has fueled many conflicts over the last two decades, even though the arms are not manufactured there. “The weapons have come from Eastern Europe through complex routes involving entirely unregulated arms brokers.” Lawson recommends that governments come together to control in the system because many countries are suffering devastating effects. “Terribly affected is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even after several years, armed groups are still terrorizing civilians, women are still afraid of going out, of being raped at gunpoint. And now that the weapons have leaked out of other conflicts, the desperation is gone up dramatically, ripping these communities to shreds.”

Lawson says arms control is greatly hampered when it is only partial. “There is no point one country having strong export controls if others make the sales, regardless of how the weapons are being used. It is vital that all governments sign up to global principles that have everybody agreeing to the same standards. A lot of governments are now realizing that this is necessary. So the will is there. The majority of states that want progress should not allow the minority to hold the day.”

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