Guns don't kill people, bullets do -
06-18-2006, 12:10 PM
UNITED NATIONS: The National Rifle Assocation, one of the most influential pro-gun lobbies in the United States, has philosophically argued that "guns don't kill people, only people kill people".
But Oxfam, the international relief organisation based in London, raises that argument to a more realistic level: it's bullets that kill people. "The bullet trade is out of control," says Oxfam, and "it is fuelling conflict and human rights abuses worldwide."
Oxfam Director Barbara Stocking points out that in June 2003, during the height of the civil war in Liberia, one of the warring factions ran out of bullets and was forced to retreat.
"But once a new shipment arrived, they attacked again, this time ferociously, killing many innocent people," Stocking said.
In the Central African Republic, Oxfam said, fighters have been known to throw away weapons because they could not buy the right bullets for them. Still, bullets are frequently left out of national and international arms regulations.
At the upcoming U.N. Review Conference on Small Arms scheduled to take place in New York Jun. 26 to Jul. 7 Oxfam is backing a proposal for new global principles governing both the trade in small arms and ammunition.
In a new study released Thursday, Oxfam said that up to 14 billion bullets are manufactured globally every year. "But there is no reliable data on how billions of those bullets are used or to whom they may be sold."
Titled "Ammunition: the Fuel of Conflict", the report indicates that several big ammunition producers including China, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Bulgaria, Romania and Israel provide no data at all on their ammunition exports, the only exception being shotgun cartridges.
Anna MacDonald, Oxfam's conflict campaign manager, told IPS: "The (upcoming) review conference needs to discuss principles on arms sales, including ammunition, as well as small arms and light weapons." "If these global principles were in place," she said, "it would prevent many of the ammunition transfers we highlight in this report."
Every year, says the Oxfam report, lax controls mean millions of bullets end up in war zones and fall into the hands of human rights abusers. As a result, illicit ammunition has flooded most conflict-ridden countries, including Somalia, Sierra Leone and Liberia, in the last five years.
At least 76 countries manufacture ammunition, and the number is increasing, as more countries acquire bullet-making equipment. Kenya and Turkey have both become producers in the last 10 years.
Ukraine alone is estimated to have about 2.5 million tonnes of ammunition stocks, including several hundred million rounds of small arms ammunition.
Oxfam says that unscrupulous brokers, who buy these bullets and sell them to conflict zones, are making huge profits. In one case, a broker's profit margin was over 500 percent. Bullets last at least 20 years, more if properly stored, the study said.
The report also focuses on insurgent-ravaged Iraq, where Oxfam's research shows that new ammunition is widely available on Baghdad's black market.
There are two likely explanations for this: either it was smuggled in from neighbouring countries or it has leaked from coalition or Iraqi military forces supplies. In either case, weak controls mean lives lost on the streets of Baghdad, said Oxfam's Stocking.
According to the Oxfam study, some of the bullets on sale in Baghdad were manufactured between 1999 and 2004 and in factories in the Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania and Russia. The average cost of an AK-47 assault rifle bullet on the black market in Iraq is 30 cents.
As most gun violence victims are killed by between four and 12 bullets, the price of taking away a human life in Baghdad is currently 2.40 dollars. Doctors for Iraq, a non-governmental organisation based in Baghdad, has reported "a massive increase" in the number of patients with bullet wounds.
It says the victims are usually men between 18 and 45 years old, and most are killed or injured by automatic weapons fired at close range. The Iraqi health ministry believes that 61 doctors have been assassinated since 2003.
Meanwhile, the review conference is expected to discuss the political, economic and military impact of some 600 million small arms currently in circulation worldwide, both in open and black markets.
The United Nations argues that small arms - including assault rifles, grenade launchers, anti-personnel landmines, sub-machine guns and pistols - are primarily responsible for much of the death and destruction in conflicts throughout the world.
They are described as the real weapons of mass destruction, not nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. In 2005, small arms alone were responsible for the deaths of over half a million people.