Workshop: Case Study - Control Arms persuades Straw to act

Francois Le Goff

Summary

Launched a year ago, the Control Arms campaign has received support from 220,000 people worldwide through the collaboration of Oxfam, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).

As a result, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced last month his support for an international arms-trade treaty.

Background

Cambodian farmer Yem Para is one of many victims of the global arms trade in the developing world. Her story is displayed on the Control Arms campaign website. Following an argument, she was shot several times while she was planting vegetables. She never fully recovered from her injuries and can no longer work as effectively as before.

Organisations such as overseas aid charity Oxfam, which comes across scenarios such as this every day in the course of its work, argues that the arms trade disrupts the progress of international development. "The arms trade diverts resources that poor countries could otherwise use to tackle Aids or promote education," said Anna MacDonald, Oxfam's Control Arms campaign manager.

The Control Arms campaign was launched in October 2003 by Oxfam, Amnesty International and the IANSA to campaign for an international arms-trade treaty, and to demand that governments control their arms exports.

The three partners aim to have the treaty supported and signed by the summer of 2006 when the UN is to hold its international conference on the global arms crisis. In order to create a sense of urgency, they argue that 1 million people will die before then, basing their estimate on annual figures from the Small Arms Survey in Geneva.

How it worked

The campaign was launched simultaneously in 70 countries through the organisations' regional offices. In London, campaigners created a graveyard scene on Trafalgar Square with the slogan "One person dies every minute from the arms trade", while in Cambodia a pile of weapons was set on fire with the support of the Government's weapons collection programme.

People from all over the world were asked to send a photo or a drawing of themselves in support of Million Faces, a global visual petition that will be presented to the world's leaders at the UN conference in 2006.

So far, 220,000 pictures have been collected.

Campaigners pulled off an imaginative stunt at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January, when they used an elephant to advertise a seminar on arms control, commanding massive attention.

In February, Oxfam published Lock, Stock and Barrel, which exposed loopholes in British arms-export guidelines. These have allowed the export of weapons components to increase eleven-fold since 1998, despite stricter controls on the export of fully assembled weapons. This embarrassment led the Government to disclose more details on the nature and the destination of components exported.

More recently, campaigners took part in the European Social Forum in London where 2,000 pictures were added to the Million Faces petition.

Results

Jack Straw took campaigners by surprise when he announced his support for an international treaty on the arms trade at the Labour Party conference on 30 September. "In Europe we now have a comprehensive arms control code of practice, but this is not the same across the world," he said. "I am pleased to tell this conference that we will start work soon with international partners to build support for an international arms trade treaty."

Oxfam's policy director Justin Forsyth said: "Straw's support brings tough international arms control much closer. People we work with whose lives have been ruined by the unregulated trade in weapons will at last be able to see light at the end of the tunnel."

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