The Toll of Small Arms

By Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, a journalist, recently traveled in Congo on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the World Security Institute’s Center for Defense Information. Mgmt. design is a graphic design studio. For more information on small arms, see www.cdi.org. Photographs, interviews and related material from Mvemba Dizolele’s reporting from Congo are available on the Congo project page of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting site (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 05/09/06):

Despite the presence of the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, the Democratic Republic of Congo remains in the grip of civil war. The reason is clear. A flood of small arms and light weapons undermines the 17,000 United Nations troops’ mandate to protect civilians.

In this country where war has raged since 1998, the results of the uncontrolled small arms trade have been brutish, but they have not been unique. Similar devastation from small arms occurs worldwide. Though the United Nations held a conference this summer to review efforts to control the trade, nothing was accomplished. To their shame, governments could not agree even on possible steps forward.

Suffering will continue until governments recognize the obvious — that the vast majority of illicitly traded arms begin as legally produced weapons. They must agree to control legal transfers of arms by adopting specific global guidelines to ensure that those who buy weapons use them in compliance with international law and human rights standards.

No such international agreement exists today, which is one reason imported weapons swamp countries like Congo, jeopardizing the genuine efforts of their people to find stability and build lasting peace.

Correction: The chart accompanying this article, about the proliferation of small arms, originally referred imprecisely to the value of countries’ arms exports. The figures are in millions of dollars, not dollars.