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First global Arms Trade Treaty would particularly benefit Africa, experts say

Cumulative GDP loss for Burundi.
(Oxfam)

The creation of a global Arms Trade Treaty currently being debated by the United Nations’ first committee would particularly benefit Africa according to various arms control experts.

“Arms don’t necessarily cause conflicts in Africa but they do fuel them and make them bloodier and more costly,” Oxfam’s Debbie Hillier, a policy advisor on small arms who spoke to IRIN.

She is the lead author of a study released on 11 October titled ‘Africa's Missing Billions’ which claims to be the first report to estimate the overall effects of conflict on the Gross Domestic Product of economies across the continent.

It found the cost of the armed conflicts across Africa between 1990 and 2005 was around $300 billion, which is roughly equal to the amount of money all African countries received in international aid. “On average a war, civil war or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 percent,” the report said.

Hillier said that 95 percent of Kalashnikov rifles, the most common weapon used in African conflicts, come from outside Africa.  “And incredibly there are currently no international controls of those arms,” Hillier said.

“There are international controls for diamonds and other goods but not for the instruments of war.”

She added, “There are occasionally arms embargo but what we needed are some universal rules on when countries can and cannot export arms based on such criteria as whether they are likely to used them to commit human rights abuses. We want to see a robust international law applied robustly.”

In 2006, 153 states voted in favour of the Arms Trade Treaty at the UN General Assembly, but 24 states abstained and the US voted against it.

The US is the world’s largest arms exporter, and has national rules governing arms exports, as do many arms exporting nations. But experts say the rules are too often applied selectively.  

“[For the US] arms exports and other types of military assistance [have] became primary tools for securing the cooperation of other governments with the US counter-terrorism agenda,” said Scott Stedjan, an expert who sits on the Arms Trade Treaty’s steering committee.

But for Irungu Houghton, Oxfam's African policy advisor, “The government whose factory produces the rifle is as responsible as the government who permits its ships to transport them.”

Hillier’s study, which was produced by the non-governmental organisations Oxfam International, International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Saferworld, details the economic impact of the poorly regulated international arms trade.

It compares 23 African nations that have been involved in conflict between 1990 and 2005 with countries that had been peaceful but have similar economies.

For example in Guinea-Bissau the projected growth rate without conflict in 1998/99 would have been 5.24 percent, whereas the actual growth rate was minus 10.15 percent.

"The costs are shocking,” Houghton said. The money for arms could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent, tuberculosis and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education, he said.

The study did not include the economic impact of armed conflicts on neighbouring countries. Also the study only covers periods of actual combat, even though some costs of war continue long after the fighting stops, such as inflation, debt and high unemployment.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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