Human Rights and the Arms Trade

Monday, March 31, 2008 - 20:00
Central America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
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This year celebrates the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to which most of the nations of the world subscribe.

Although this important document has been praised and copied throughout its history, it remains basically a piece of paper. Abuses toward humanity abound and the biggest threat to human rights, wars and threats of war, continues to be viable in the politics of most countries because governments will not give up arms as a means of controlling populations and resources, and the arms industry will not give up such a lucrative business.

There are at this minute wars in Iraq, the Middle East, Colombia, and Afghanistan, and threatening situations in the Congo, Burma and Darfur. These conflicts have gone on for years without resolving the crucial problems that created them. All have caused deaths of military and civilians, the destruction of homes, food, water supplies, the infrastructure, the environment, and have exhausted funds that are needed for maintaining a decent life, and in the end, all will be settled by negotiation. Military solutions do not solve problems. They create more.

Wars also affect neighboring countries prompting them to increase their military in their own defense as is happening in Venezuela, Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan.

The United States led incursion to topple Saddam Hussein and find the weapons of mass destruction has led to five years of war which has killed an estimated 650,000 civilians, injured many more, forced millions to abandon their homes and even their country, and has caused threatening diseases from shortages of food, potable water and medicines, and increases of cancer, leukemia and birth defects as a result of depleted uranium used in weapons. Damage to the environment from bombing, burning, and the destruction of resources is insurmountable.

Even after truces are signed it takes years for a country to recuperate and return to a normal civil society. This is obvious here in Central America which is still trying to ‘rebuild' twenty years after the civil wars ended.

Yet military budgets go up every year. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which monitors military spending, 2006 was a record year with $1204 billion to beef up the arms trade and provide overloaded arsenals for the nations of the world, and the biggest arms dealers of all are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council!

What about the buyers? Many are countries that have critical needs in basic services such as schools, water and electricity, or are not involved in conflicts with other countries. Some of the countries that increased their military spending, according to SIPRI are Mexico with $3.1 billion, Canada with $3,401 million, Venezuela with $1,924 million, Kenya with $315 million, Pakistan with $4,572 million, Indonesia with $3,695 million, Senegal with $145 million and Saudi Arabia with $29,032 million. And the biggest spender of all, the United States which spent $528,692 million. This year's military budgets promise to be even higher.

Unfortunately, with all the arms trading around the world and the upgrading of weaponry, the availability of arms, new or used, for non-governmental groups, private security forces, rebel groups, narcotrafficers, terrorists and criminals is also more widespread. Anyone with dollars to spend will find a seller.

Costa Rica as a new member on the UN Security Council wants to use its position to call for disarmament, or at least, more control over the buying and selling of arms. The Arias government, recognized for its peace position, will push for a Treaty on Arms Transfers that would oblige countries to monitor arms sales and prohibit sales to countries with gross human rights abuses. The adoption of such a treaty could be a start toward international disarmament and a saner way for the world to live.