The United Nations has adopted its first ever treaty aimed at controlling the trade in conventional weapons, voting it through by a large majority despite earlier being blocked by three countries.
Member states represented in the UN general assembly voted by 154 to three, with 23 abstentions, to control a trade worth an estimated £46bn a year.
Many countries already regulate their own arms exports and there are international treaties governing nuclear as well as chemical and biological weapons. But this is the first legally binding international treaty regulating the trade in conventional weapons. It says explicitly, however, that states recognise “the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial interests … in the international trade in conventional arms”.
Amnesty International and the International Red Cross praised the agreement for advancing humanitarian concerns. But others expressed reservations. “The treaty will not stop any of the arms exports of the world’s largest arms-producing countries or arms companies,” warned the UK-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CATT). “Countries such as the UK, the US, France and Russia will be able to continue selling to repressive regimes unhindered.”
The treaty prohibits states from exporting conventional weapons in violation of arms embargoes – such as the current EU embargo in force against Syria – or weapons to be used for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or terrorism. It also requires states to prevent conventional weapons reaching the black market.
Hassan Mekki, a 32-year-old Sudanese migrant, shows scars on his back in Athens on December 5, 2012. Mekki, who fled conflict in his country in hope of a better life in Europe, said he was attacked by a group of men holding Greek flags, and left with deep wounds on his back, throat and neck in August 2012, about five months after he illegally entered Greece. Black-shirted men on motorcycles, shouting “Go home black” and other racist insults, knocked him out with a blow to the head. He only later realized that his attackers had left large gashes resembling an “X” across his back.
[Credit : Yannis Behrakis/Reuters]
South Sudan’s Red Army comes of age
In a landmark transition from warfare to welfare, former child soldiers in the Red Army are establishing a foundation aimed at addressing social problems in South Sudan.
To see the entire article, click here.
In the early 1980s, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) recruited and began training boys as young as 12 to fight in its battle for independence from Sudan. The child soldiers were called the Red Army. According to a 1994 Human Rights Watch report (pdf), some of the children fought alongside the SPLA.
The use of child soldiers is one of the more horrific moments in the history of South Sudan’s creation, but the former Red Army members who gathered last weekend in Juba are not shy about remembering their experiences. Instead, they are relying on the ties formed in combat to organise a new front.
Less than a year ago, the Red Army was resurrected as the Red Army Foundation (RAF), an organisation dedicated to addressing social problems, especially among its own former members and South Sudan’s youth.
When they were originally recruited to fight, the Red Army soldiers were told they would be the “seeds of the nation” – a generation raised in the crucible of the war to be custodians of the SPLA’s vision. While their responsibilities varied, they were united by the principle that – in a future, free South Sudan – they would act as the nation’s conscience, embodying the tenets behind the liberation struggle. They see the creation of a foundation to increase job and education opportunities as part of this mission.
“We are going to fight,” said Major Abraham Majok Deng, who served with Manoah in the Zal Zal Battalion. “We’re going to take doctors, teachers to come and teach our community. To fight hunger. This war remains.”
Those problems include more than half of the country’s population living below the poverty line, according to the UN (pdf), and widespread food shortages. The World Food Programme estimates that four out of every 10 South Sudanese will not have enough to eat this year. And education levels remain low.
They also promised to plant new seeds among South Sudanese youth who were too young to remember the war, helping them to find food, education and jobs – but also training them to one day take over from the Red Army, continuing the fight to improve South Sudan.
If you look for immigrants, you won’t find us sitting on the sofa in the local mansion, on the phone to our relatives as we work out how to claim yet another benefit. You’ll find us working early cleaning leisure centres and tube stations, working late in fish and chip shops, McDonalds and strip clubs, working in the afternoons in factories and schools, on farms and building sites. Most of it is service work, the kind of jobs you don’t notice people doing, with low pay and long hours, poor conditions and little career progression. Immigrants are invisible, working hard and late for low pay, stigmatised and hated. Lots of hard work, for very little reward: that’s most immigrants’ experience of their own lives and of the lives of others in their communities.
The facts back this up. Two million immigrants have come to the UK from the eight Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004. Of those, only 13,000 have claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance. Those who have been on benefits haven’t stayed on them for long: the average time on Jobseeker’s Allowance is a mere thirteen weeks. And the cost of benefits is nothing compared to the five billion pounds that these immigrants have added to the economy.
Immigrants don’t get much of reward themselves. They cycle home six miles from a late shift at minimum wage because they can’t afford the bus, risking their life because they can’t afford lights on their bike; scrimp and save to send money home or look after elderly relatives or young children; or live in a small flat above a fish and chip shop, managing a business and looking after four children. Something for nothing? More like a lot of back breaking work for next to nothing.
Since 1945, the United States, with routine support from Britain, has conducted military interventions into more than 70 nations in the South. Many of these were conducted in the context of the Cold War, supposedly to fight off the Soviet Union, which, we were told, was intent on imminent invasion of Western Europe and possibly even the American mainland.
But in truth, the vast majority of interventions conducted had nothing to do with the Soviet Union, but were indeed fought to put down nationalist independence movements across the Third World.
William Blum, an ex-State Department official, describes the vast loss of life resulting from post-1945 military interventionism in the Third World as a full-scale “American holocaust.” [Killing Hope: CIA and US Military Interventions Since World War II (London: Zed, 2003)]
How many innocent civilians died as a consequence of these military interventions? A detailed break-down of figures can be found in Unpeople (Random House), by the British historian Mark Curtis, a former research fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Curtis’ conservative calculations confirm that Britain has been complicit in the deaths of over 10 million “unpeople”, expendable people from far-off foreign lands whose lives are worthless compared to the significance of a specific set of overriding strategic and economic interests.
Here’s another overall estimate from the American development expert, Dr J. W. Smith, director of the Institute for Economic Democracy in Arizona:
“No society will tolerate it if they knew that they… were responsible for violently killing 12 to 15 million people since WW II and causing the death of hundreds of millions more as their economies were destroyed or those countries were denied the right to restructure to care for their people. That is the record of the Western imperial centers of capital from 1945 to 1990.” [J. W. Smith, Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle of the 21st Century (Arizona: Institute for Economic Democracy, 2003)]
Dr. Smith’s figures, it should be noted, point not only to a core of up to 15 million deaths directly due to Western military interventions, but a further unknown 100 million plus who died as an indirect consequence of the destruction and reconfiguration of peripheral economies.
Christmas Appeal for women and children seeking asylum
As Christmas approaches, Legal Action from Women, based in London, is writing to ask you to contribute financially to help women and children seeking asylum. Please read this information about them and consider donating if you can.
Each year Legal Action for Women’s Christmas Appeal helps women in the All African Women’s Group (AAWG), a self-help group of women asylum seekers. We have seen from previous years that it makes a massive difference to women’s lives.
The majority of All African Women’s Group members are either completely destitute or living on National Asylum Support System income, which is £37 a week. Despite this the group has continued to thrive and grow. The well attended and lively fortnightly meetings are an occasion for women to discuss their legal cases and access life sustaining support. Women come to the group with a wide variety of problems. Some have been in detention facing imminent removal and the collective action of the group got them released.The group supports women in detention with phone calls, and supported women in Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre when they went on strike.
When we discussed doing a financial appeal this year we were upset to hear that some women were dreading Christmas and thought that it was the most unhappy time of the year:
“At Christmas everyone will be rejoicing with their family. Many of us haven’t got our loved ones with us and we think of them and miss them a lot. We have no money to even pay for phone calls or transport to visit friends.”
One mother said:
“It is a very sad moment when I realise that I don’t have money to buy even a small gift for my daughter. We mothers are providers, we are supposed to give to our children. We want to care for them and cook them a good Christmas meal. Even when our children are grown we want to treat them at least once a year. But we have no money. Some of us depend on food banks, and we are worried that they will be closed over Christmas or that the demand will be so much that there won’t be anything left.”
We hope that with your kind donations we can relieve some of that unhappiness and despondency.
Two of the women we aim to help are:
Margaret Nambi is a mother of two. She was gang raped by soldiers in Uganda and forced to leave the country for the UK leaving her children behind. She has been coming to AAWG meetings for over five years. She was often distressed but didn’t feel able to discuss all that she was going through. It was only when her circumstances changed that she revealed that when she arrived in the UK her passport had been taken from her and she had been forced to work long hours doing housework for a woman who tried to control her every move. The same women organized for men to come to the house to have sex with Margaret and took money from them for herself.
It took months for Margaret to speak about all that had happened but eventually she was able to make a fresh claim for asylum. She was immediately detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. AAWG members kept in regular contact with her and wrote letters to the Home Office pressing for her release. On 21 November we won her release. She is still without any income. More info here from Women Against Rape who has been helping Margaret with her case.
Ruth has been attending AAWG meetings for over three years. She has been without any income throughout that whole period, depending on free food handouts, living with friends and moving around frequently so as not to exhaust people’s good will. She is working with a lawyer to submit a claim for asylum as she is very fearful of being returned to her home country. From when she first came to a AAWG meeting she went quietly about trying to help other women. Serious ill health stopped Ruth from coming to our Centre for over three months. When she recovered she immediately came back and is now responsible forrecording women’s cases in the self-help meetings. She is one of the most regular and dedicated volunteers in weekly work sessions which take calls from women in detention andhas started training other women to do this work.