By Bishop Elias Taban, President of the South Sudan Evangelical Alliance
We all know the massive damage that a tank or fighter jet can do. When people visualize the devastation of violent conflict, our minds go to the big guns and bombs. But I have spent over 40 years of my life at war. I became a child soldier at the age of 12, and I know firsthand that the weapons that can do the most harm – small arms such as AK47s and handguns – are often considered the least. That is why I strongly believe that the Arms Trade Treaty being negotiated by the U.N. must include small arms if it is to have any hope of stemming the threat of violence in regions across the globe, including my home country of Southern Sudan.
Sudan has become a dumping ground for small arms. Much of the tragic loss of life we witness isn’t just caused by large military-weapons, but arms that any man, woman, or child can carry. The Arms Trade Treaty would stop the flow of these weapons onto black and grey markets and would help keep them out of the hands of war lords, terrorists, drug dealers, and thugs. We need to regulate tanks and jets, but it is not enough if we stop there. Entire genocides have been carried out with just machetes, so no treaty can end all violence. But an Arms Trade Treaty that doesn’t include small arms is like a gun without a bullet; it won’t accomplish very much.
Right now, we have international laws regulating the sale of iPods and bananas, but no treaty regulating the transfer of weapons being used to kill people the world over. As a result, states are left to self-regulate, creating a patchwork of laws and loop holes that can be exploited by arms smugglers. The Arms Trade Treaty would do nothing to inhibit the sale of weapons, including small arms, between legitimate state actors. What it would do is help keep those weapons out of the hands of those bent on doing evil. What it would do is save lives.
Now is the time when my country needs to be beating our swords into ploughshares. We need to be burying our guns, and building schools, hospitals, and homes on the graves of guns instead. But we cannot do this alone. We need the international community to help stop the flow of weapons into our country. The Arms Trade Treaty is an answer to my prayers, and the prayers of my people.