16 Days Campaign Theme series: Disarm!, by Binalakshmi Nepram

Binalakshmi Nepram

DISARM!

In an address to the United Nations two years back, I had stated,”In my home region of Manipur alone, I find weapons from 13 countries fuelling a bloody conflict.Several countries present in this room will have never heard of my state, Manipur. But the very fact that weapons produced in your countries have found their way to our towns and villages are a valid reason to find out how they came and what can be done to prevent the flow of arms”

Throughout my childhood I saw weapons both of state and non-state actors taking control of our lives, our futures and I thought all this is a normal part of growing up. I lost my 12 year old niece in the violence. And later my family was subjected to a death warrant and displaced for almost half a year due to the conflict.

Every day in our work we come across men, women and children who have endured a deep psychological crisis to overcome the impact of unregulated arms trade on their lives.

Disarm Domestic Violence was the first international campaign to protect women from gun violence in the home. It was launched by International Action Network(IANSA) on Small Arms based in London,UK when the realisation dawned that “the greatest risk of gun violence to women around the world is not on the streets, or the battlefield, but in their own homes. Women are three times more likely to die violently if there is a gun in the house”. The main goal of this campaign, according to IANSA is to ensure that anyone with a history of domestic abuse is denied access to a firearm, and has their license revoked.

The monetary value of international authorised exports of arms is relatively small in global terms, amounting to around US$ 51.1 billion per year – representing less than half of the value of the global coffee market.But this completely belies the international significance of the arms trade. The arms industry manufactures products and provides services, which maim and kill.

One would expect, therefore, a strong degree of control commensurate with this responsibility – governments and industry working together to ensure that these weapons are used and sold responsibly.

Yet the arms trade is like no other, operating outside the jurisdiction of the World Trade Organization, the parameters of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and the bounds of the arms non-proliferation regime. The control is left to individual governments, which may be unwilling or unable to ensure responsible practices.

Recent research has identified 1,135 companies manufacturing arms and ammunition in at least 98 countries; and these numbers are increasing only.

The profusion of arms-producing companies and nations presents a clear challenge to those who advocate strong controls.

One country alone cannot tackle the problem and it is time that we recognise this. Governments thus need to work together to be more accountable to their citizens in their provision of protection from armed violence.

Governments and civil society need to work together to improve safety at the community level and to help men, women and children who have survived the violence. In Manipur, we started women’s gun survivor network to help women survivors of armed violence.We must turn off the irresponsible supply of arms… and drain the pool of existing uncontrolled weapons.

All governments must take responsible and concerted action to control the proliferation, possession, and misuse of arms, in line with international law.

The time for action is now. I call upon countries to take leadership in the important process. To end with words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.”

Binalakshmi Nepram is the  founder of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network and Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India.

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