The Call for Tough Arms Control: Voices from the Democratic Republic of the Congo | Democratic Republic Of The Congo

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The war in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has cost millions of lives. Hundreds of thousands of people have been shot dead. Millions have died from the indirect consequences of war. What the figures do not reveal is the personal suffering of individual people, families, and villages. That is why in November 2005 the Control Arms campaign interviewed some of those who have suffered. The proliferation of conventional arms is too severe to be ignored any longer. Arms transfers still fuel atrocities in the DRC and many other countries. Responsible arms exporters and arms-affected states must not be held back by the few states that want to impede progress. In 2006, they must begin negotiations to agree an Arms Trade Treaty.
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  *++- EMBARGOED UNTIL 00:01 HRS GMT MONDAY 9 JANUARY 2006 The call for tough arms controls Voices from the Democratic Republic of the Congo    Amelia Bookstein    Summary ‘There are so many weapons here that each person makes his own law. There is practically complete impunity. Anyone who holds a weapon has authority over anyone and can threaten anyone.’  — Jean-Charles, humanitarian officer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2001, Bukavu, South Kivu The war in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has cost millions of lives. Hundreds of thousands of people have been shot dead. Millions have died from the indirect consequences of war. What the figures do not reveal is the personal suffering of individual people, families, and villages. That is why in November 2005 the Control Arms campaign interviewed some of those who have suffered. In 2006, beginning in January, a series of debates on disarmament are due to take place at the United Nations. There will be technical arguments and diplomatic negotiations. The purpose of this report is to add to these discussions the voices of at least some of the people who bear the cost of the world’s continuing failure to control the arms trade. These stories from the DRC reveal the human cost of the arms trade over the past few years, including a brutal killing that took place as recently as 12 November 2005. Beatrice and Claire 1  were traumatised by witnessing the murder of their parents. Benjamin’s experience as a child soldier with blood on his hands has left him scarcely able to bear the sound of gunshots. Nathalie, maimed by bullet wounds, faces an uncertain future. Their experiences are not rare. Between January 2003 and April 2004, it is estimated that almost 400,000 people died in the eastern DRC where the war has raged. 2  Since 1998, as many as 85 per cent of those living near the front lines have been affected by violence. 3  The four testimonies in this report offer a glimpse into the fate of hundreds of thousands of Congolese civilians whose lives have been devastated by the influx of guns. There is also another story: that of the states that allow the continuing supply of arms to the DRC. This report also explains how the weapons arrived there, and why they were able to enter the country so easily. The creation of a new national army, and efforts to disarm and demobilise former fighters in the DRC, are parts of the solution. But without more concerted international action, there is no end in sight to the suffering of the Congolese people, or to the supply of the small arms and ammunition that are used to inflict it. As in crises everywhere, the rest of the world must take responsibility for the The call for tough arms controls: voices from the DRC , Control Arms Campaign, January 2006 2    arms that it supplies. To do that, governments should agree a new international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The year 2006 presents a major political opportunity to begin to do this. ã The Review Conference for the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, to be held in June and July 2006, must agree clear principles for the international transfer of these arms, based on existing international law, to prevent them getting into the wrong hands. ã The Conference’s Preparatory Committee, taking place in New York in January 2006, must set the stage for this. ã Then, the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, meeting in October 2006, must finally start a process to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty. The proliferation of conventional arms is too severe to be ignored any longer. Arms transfers still fuel atrocities in the DRC and many other countries. Responsible arms exporters and arms-affected states must not be held back by the few states that want to impede progress. In 2006, they must begin negotiations to agree an Arms Trade Treaty. The call for tough arms controls: voices from the DRC, Control Arms Campaign, January 2006   3    1 The real impact of irresponsible arms sales ‘I don’t know how to explain it. When I see a soldier or a gun, when I see their pants and I remember what they did to me… my soul leaves me.’  — Nabintu, rape survivor, Ikoma, South Kivu Because of the scale of suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over the past ten years, its conflict has widely been described as the worst humanitarian disaster since the Second World War. Unlike that war, however, the primary tools of violent death in the DRC have been small arms and light weapons. Over 200,000 Congolese met violent deaths between 2000 and 2003,  4  up to 90 per cent of them from gunshots. 5  Since 1998, hundreds of thousands have died; between 1998 and 2000 roughly half of these were women and children. 6  Even more people have died as an indirect result of the conflict. Since 1998, nearly  four million  people have died due to its overall effects, most of them as a result of easily preventable and treatable diseases. 7  In eastern DRC, where arms are concentrated, mortality rates are 80 per cent higher than in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, and even one-third higher than in the rest of the DRC. 8  In November 2005, a Control Arms researcher conducted focus group meetings in eastern DRC to report the human suffering behind these figures. In one group in the village of Mulamba, Walungu, more than half of the 12 participants raised their hands to signify the shooting of an immediate family member. 9  In another group of women from the village of Kaniola, nearly all of the 17 women said that a member of their immediate family had been violently killed, and more than half of those deaths were attributable to small arms. 10   Beatrice , aged 20, would have raised her hand if this question had been asked in her community in South Kivu. On 13 January 2005, she witnessed her mother’s murder. At around 8 o’clock at night, Beatrice was with her family when armed men entered her house. She thought they were from a Rwandan rebel group but their motive, like that of other local violence, was to loot. ‘Three of them came with guns to steal the cows and goats. Then, they went into the house and stabbed my mother all over her body, even on her head. But she didn’t die then. I saw them killing her with my own eyes. The call for tough arms controls: voices from the DRC , Control Arms Campaign, January 2006 4
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