Feature Story

by Sophie Bodegon

Latin Americans push for International Day of Arms Destruction

New York -- As peace efforts make gains in Central and South America, urban violence and crime are threatening to grow beyond measure with tens of thousands being killed by firearms in the last decade. Rubem Cesar Fernandes, member of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and the World Council of Churches delegation to the UN Conference on small arms, appealed for governments to declare 9 July as the day to destroy firearms.

Speaking on the floor of the UN Conference, Fernandes of Viva Rio and Peace to the City Network partner said that in his native Brazil alone, 300,000 persons were killed in the last ten years not because of war but because of the spread of small arms and light weapons. "The ultimate aim of this Conference must be a reduction in the number of human lives lost as a result of small arms proliferation," Fernandes stressed.

He forwarded an NGO proposal to adopt as an indicator of success a 35 percent reduction in the number of deaths due to firearms. At this rate, a million lives will be spared by 2006, he said.

As a model for consideration by the UN Conference, Fernandes said that the Rio de Janeiro state government in cooperation with the non-governmental organization Viva Rio, organized a massive gun destruction ceremony in June. Nearly 100,000 guns occupying 400 square meters of a concrete road were crushed by a bulldozer. Twenty thousand people witnessed the event.

"Every act of destruction leaves behind a detailed data base so that we can trace back the negligent trade practices that made it so easy for criminals to flood our communities with deadly weapons," Fernandes said.

Earlier in 13 May, Mother's Day, Viva Rio launched the campaign "Choose Gun Free: Your Weapon or me!" A regional appeal to increase women's participation in the anti-gun violence movement, the Mother's Day activity seeks to empower women as agents of social change to increase pressure for stricter gun control legislation. This is only one in a series of peace and disarmament campaigns Viva Rio organizes yearly. At least 13 Brazilian states have been involved in disarmament efforts.

More stringent measures are needed to curb the flux of arms from the legal to the illicit market, Fernandes said. He observed that although the United States government has suspended the licensing of small arms exports to private dealers in Paraguay, these weapons continue to be displayed for sale in both Paraguay and Brazil.

Approximately 500,000 people around the world die every year from wounds caused by small arms used in conflict, crime and other forms of violence. Of those, 300,000 are said to have died in armed conflict, and 200,000 in homicide, crime, suicide and accidents. On the average one person dies per minute because of small arms.

The armed conflicts in Central and South America that ended in the late 1980s left a large number of loose firearms. These guns together with poverty, unemployment and displacement became combined to fuel the rise in crime and violence. In many areas governments could not guarantee personal security, making the acquisition of firearms an option for many. Fernandes pointed out that this threatens the rule of law, undermines democracy and jeopardizes local development.

Exactly a year ago this month, the WCC, in cooperation with the Council of Churches in Latin America and Viva Rio, organized the first Latin American ecumenical meeting on small arms and light weapons. The churches participating in the conference from Central, Southern and the Andean sub-regions, were determined that in order to reduce armed violence, it is essential to cut the demand for guns through real social and economic transformation. But at the same time, they recognized the need to pursue gun control measures including collection and destruction programmes. The participants called for the Latin American churches to take a firm position, saying, "Its time for the churches to say NO TO GUNS."

Press releases and stories on WCC participation at the UN Conference:

WCC participates in international rally at the UN against gun violence
Disappointed at small arms agreement, WCC also sees hope for a stronger platform for common action

Wait for the homework, Mozambican bishop tells NGOs - Press Update

Oral intervention on reduction of demand for small arms and the role
of faith communities
- CCIA/WCC message at the UN Conference

'We do mind the dying' -- press statement from the newly launched Humanitarian Coalition.

Churches use story, symbol and dance to protest the use of and
trade in small arms
- WCC Press Release

Devastating human costs of small arms and light weapons: WCC team at UN small arms prepcom - WCC Press Update

Churches prepare for UN conference on Illicit Trade in Small Arms - WCC Feature Story

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