Richard Wilson's blog

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Why I’m supporting the #armstreaty campaign

with 3 comments

As I walked in I could see Charlotte’s body through the long rectangular window at the far side. A white sheet covered all but her face. Her eyes were closed, her eyelids blackened, her lips slightly parted. She looked as if she was frozen in time, neither peaceful nor troubled. Just an incredible, terrible stillness. As though she had died mid-sentence, or mid-gasp. Her skin was mottled brown, black lines tracing the veins across her face, dark hair pulled back from her forehead.

“Her hair looks thin – do you think she was eating properly?”, my mother asked, and somewhere I could hear Charlotte laughing.

Charlotte had been shot seven times in the back with an Eastern-European weapon, from a distance of two to three feet. She’d either have been kneeling or lying down. She would have died quickly. The only possible verdict was murder.

A lot has changed in my life since I finished the book from which the extract above is taken. It’s long enough ago now that I find it quite shocking to read back some of the things I wrote in the years following my sister’s murder.  But Charlotte’s death changed the course of my life, and for me,  the arms trade will always be a deeply personal issue.

Charlotte was shot dead in a bus massacre by Hutu-extremists in Burundi at the end of 2000. But the bullets that killed her, and the gun that fired them, were manufactured thousands of miles away. And they didn’t end up in Burundi by accident. Someone, somewhere, made a deliberate decision to transport these weapons to one of the poorest countries in the world, and put them in the hands of serial killers.

The reason I support the #armstreaty campaign is because I think it’s a good idea to try to stop serial killers getting hold of bullets and guns. According to Oxfam and Amnesty International, there are more international regulations controlling the global trade in bananas than the trade in deadly weapons. As a result, over 1,500 people die through armed violence every day, the majority of them civilians. If the international rules were more robust, it would be harder for serial killers in countries like Burundi to get hold of bullets and guns.

Now one of the big problems here is that the term “international regulation” is inherently dry and dull. I suspect this is one of the main reasons that the Arms Trade Treaty campaign (let’s face it, another quite dull term)  has had so little media coverage.

This is a shame because, dull and legalistic though these terms are, the fact that we don’t yet have a comprehensive global system for regulating the arms trade (yawn, I know) means that hundreds of thousands of people are dying each year who might have lived, if it wasn’t quite so easy for serial killers in countries like Burundi to get hold of bullets and guns.

Happily, the inherent dullness of the words we have to use to talk about this problem has not stopped the United Nations from drawing up a treaty that could, if all goes well, make it much, much harder for serial killers to get hold of bullets and guns in future.

Even more happily, Oxfam and Amnesty have hit on a great way to make this issue less dull. On Wednesday, they will be driving around London in a tank, seeking to ramp up the pressure on the governments whose support could help to swing the crucial vote taking place at the UN next month. A number of bloggers, me included, will be tweeting from inside the tank under the #armstreaty hashtag.

Despite being quite boring, international treaties can make a huge difference, even when not everyone signs up to them. The 1998 treaty banning the use of landmines reportedly helped cut deaths and injuries from 26,000 per year to less than 6,000 a decade later – even though a number of countries refused to join in, and continued producing land-mines.

This is a really boring issue. It’s also a really important one, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. If you’d like to find out more about the campaign and what you can do to support it, please visit this website.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 27, 2012 at 12:17 am

3 Responses

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  1. the well armed Burundi Hutu militia (CNDD-FDD), allegedly set up in the bushes of Rwanda in 1994, had a political lobby from some African Nations, what kind of ‘liberation movement’ kill Infants, rape Women,it is a terrorist organisation, not different from Charles Taylor’s militias, see the video of CNDD-FDD months before the ceasefire, where did they get those uniforms from, those weapons and military boots?
    Hussein Radjabu is seen singing (He is the former Party Leader,now jailed in Burundi):

    In May 2009, a Burundian Human rights researcher was assassinated, some say that he had been investigating arms trafficking in the Nation of Burundi.More recently, some of the Police officers involved in his assassination revealed that he was kidnapped from his office, tortured to death by Burundi Head of intelligence and Top Police officers:

    Arms trafficking in Burundi

    June 28, 2012 at 10:49 am

  2. grenade cost $3 each according to Aljazeera report:

    And the excellent Short Film by Burundian Photojournalist Teddy Mazina on Burundi’s experience of arms:

    Arms trafficking in Burundi

    June 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm

  3. I will pass on the last two videos and react directly to Richard’s posting

    1. Richard. it is indeed sad that Charlotte was killed in a conflict that was not meant for her. However, while it is a fact that she was shot with an Eastern-European weapon; it is also a fact that in that very region, there were and there still are thousands of weapons from other parts of the world, including but not limited to South-African R4, German G3, and Belgian FAL assault rifles, among others…

    2. It is quite understandable that a lot has changed in your life, since the loss of your dear sister and since this first book of yours. I would like to share with you the sort of changes that have taken place in my life over the same period: I have learnt to see the killers in Burundi (and Rwanda) not as Hutu’s or as Tutsi’s but as killers, serial killers, members of terrorist or genocidist organizations, etc, but definitely not as members of a given ethnic group. Because though some — if not most — of the killings are done in the name of an ethnic group, the reality is that they are planned not by this or that ethnic group, but by a given organization that pretends to work for the welfare of a given ethnicity. For example, you annot ignore th efact that PALIPEHUTU and CNDD-FDD have made thousands and thousands of victims allegedly for the sake of the hutu ethnic group; as you very well know, it is for this reason why in attacks like the one in which Charlotte was killed, they made sure they separated first and foremost hutus from tutsis, with the deliberate intention of killing members of the latter group. In this regard, rather than considering the murder of Charlotte and the other 20 unfortunate passengers as the work of Hutu-extremists, I look at it as the work of militants of an extremist organization named PALIPEHUTU-FNL.

    3. True, “Someone, somewhere, made a deliberate decision to transport these weapons” to Burundi where they ended up in the hands of serial killers. I agree also that if the international rules were more robust, it would be harder for serial killers in countries like Burundi to get hold of bullets and guns. I even believe that possibly, the shipment of the weapons that were used in the Titanic Express attack, was done in violation of “international regulation.” But, in my opinion, that such a thing took place is not only “dry and dull” but also contradictory, at least with regard to the implementation of the pertinent international treaties. For example, – there is an international convention that bans individuals and organizations that have committed genocide. Yet, as I am writing this, Burundi is governed by such an organization (CNDD-FDD), and, what is more, this is taking place with he approval and the support of the United Nations Organizations.
    – countries of the East-African Great Lakes region declared PALIPEHUTU a terrorist group in 2004, but they are the ones who brokered and undewrote a “peace agreement” between the same PALIPEHUTU and Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD in 2006. Be it noted here that in the framework of the Lusaka peace accords for the DRC in 1999, the same group of countries, together with the UN, had declared the CNDD-FDD to be a negative force to be dismantled; but this did not prevent them to hail the CNDD-FDD’s rise to power in 2005!

    4. With regard to what needs to be done in order to prevent the killers to get those guns and bullets, I only wish I understood what you mean by “if all goes well” at the United Nations”. Nonetheless, I will assume that you personally know about the 2009 Report by a UN-appointed Group of experts on DRC, which established that terrorist militias in eastern DRC receive arms supplies via Burundi’s Intelligence Services. As far as I know, until this day, there hasn’t been any UN resolution (or any recommendation by either, say UK, France, USA, to name but the most respected countries in the region), enjoining Burundi’s regime to stop this transfer of firearms to terrorist organizations that are still enjoying the same impunity as the CNDD-FDD ruling organization!

    5. I have nothing against international treaties, they can indeed make a huge difference (as you suggest yourself) provided there is a genuine will (on the part of the UN and the world powers) to implement them in a non-contradictory way. In other words, the surest way to make these treaties “save hundreds of thousands of lives” is: (a) to stop the signing in a same region contradictory treaties of the like of the Lusaka Peace Agreements for DRC, on the one hand, and the Arusha (so-called) Peace Agreements for Burundi, on the other hand (b) to have the guts to ban or, in the meantime, to maintain the pressure on terrorist organizations like PALIPEHUTU, even when they are in office (as is the case with the CNDD-FDD in Burundi).

    Emmanuel Nkurunziza

    July 23, 2012 at 4:14 am

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