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British Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren backs the Arms Trade Treaty

In these days of giant bank bail-outs and financial calamity, involving sums in the billions, a thousand seems like a small number. Helen Mirren listens to stories from a former child soldier of the Lords Resistance Army

Except it is the average number of people killed by small arms every day – and to me that thousand is devastating. Many of those deaths are avoidable. They happen because weapons are too easy to buy and sell.

There are at least 640 million firearms in existence in the world today and up to 14 billion bullets are manufactured every year. The vast majority are shipped across borders and oceans with practically no regulation.

There is a human side to these dry numbers. In my seven years of campaigning for greater arms control I’ve met many families whose loved ones have been killed by small arms.

Travelling with Oxfam to South Africa and northern Uganda, two places both suffering the effects of an unregulated arms trade, I met children who had been raped at gunpoint or seen their parents shot. In Uganda over 25,000 children were kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to become child soldiers. There were camps full of youngsters who have escaped from the rebels, many too traumatised to talk about their experiences.

There is hope, however. This month the United Nations holds a crucial vote on an Arms Trade Treaty which would finally control the flow of weapons around the globe.

If an effective treaty is agreed then for the first time arms exporters, and countries who transfer arms to third parties, would be legally required to examine whether the weapons would be used for human rights abuses. The Treaty would also force exporters to stop arms transfers that might undermine development.

So far the idea of an Arms Trade Treaty has been well-received at the United Nations. In 2006 a majority of governments voted to start work on the Treaty, and since then they have been discussing how a Treaty could work.

Now it is a make-or-break moment. Countries are voting on the crucial next step for an arms trade treaty, which states need to negotiate as quickly as possible.

The financial world is facing calls for new regulations designed to keep us all safe. With a thousand people a day killed by small arms it’s time for some new regulations for the arms trade too.

Article type: 
Press release