The Pacific speaks out

With the Third Session of the Arms Trade Treaty PrepCom well underway, we continue to take a look at one of the most positive developments this week – a record high turnout of both government and civil society representatives from the Pacific region. Previously the least represented region at the ATT PrepComs, the Pacific delegates have been playing a visible role articulating what they want to see from an ATT and meeting with other delegations from Africa and the Caribbean to discuss areas of common interest.

This week two inspiring individuals from Pacific Islands are at the United Nations, working closely with representatives from their governments to ensure the strongest possible Arms Trade Treaty for the Pacific. The Pacific hasn’t suffered from the ‘AK47 plague’ that some regions have, but a small number of arms in the region has been shown to have a disproportionate impact, reversing development efforts and disrupting local communities. In Papua New Guinea Oxfam has partnered with Kup Women for Peace, Young Ambassadors for Peace and Community Development Agency to create a peaceful society in the wake of conflict in the Highlands region. We also responded to the aftermath of the decade long civil war that ravaged the island of Bougainville in the 1990s.

Today we talked to John ToGuata from Papua New Guinea and Ema Tagicakibau from Fiji about what a strong ATT would mean for them and why it is critical for our region:

John ToGuata from Papua New Guinea the Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations in New York.
“The success of the ATT is critical to the security and development of Pacific states," says John ToGuata from Papua New Guinea.

 

John ToGuata, Papua New Guinea

“I’m a former police officer from New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea. I spent over 28 years on the force and was a Police Commander during the 10-year long Bougainville crisis, which tragically transformed Bougainville from the richest province in PNG into one of its poorest. Following the war, I was heavily involved in disarmament efforts to remove weapons left over from the conflict. I then worked as an officer in the Ombudsman Commission. I now work as an anti-corruption advisor in the PNG-Australia Law and Justice Partnership, which seeks to strengthen PNG’s police, courts and corrections. “

Why does the problem of small arms and arms control matter to you? How did you get involved in the issue?

“It matters so much to PNG because for many years now, we have had a very serious problem with the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

“I got involved because in my past role as a police officer, I witnessed the evil that comes with the illicit use of guns. Later, in the mid 2000s, I became a member of the Guns Control Committee that produced a comprehensive range of recommendations to the PNG Government aimed at addressing the small arms problem in my country. However this report has not yet been fully addressed by the Government, so we need to keep working on this issue until real change can be achieved. “

What would an effective ATT mean for the Pacific region?

“For an ATT to be truly effective in our region, it would need to make it far more difficult for small arms, light weapons and ammunition to get into the hands of unauthorised users. Ammunition is particularly important within the ATT, as in my country, continued irresponsible flows of ammunition make it easy for the same illicit guns to be used over and over again for years to commit murders, armed robbery, sexual violence and kidnappings. Homemade guns, crafted to match the calibres of ammunition available in the community, are also a problem.

"A strong ATT will also help protect the Pacific from being exploited by irresponsible arms dealers who might take advantage of weaker controls or gaps in capacity.”

What role must the Pacific play?

“The success of the ATT is critical to the security and development of Pacific states. Pacific states have an important role to play in joining all states to negotiate and effectively implement the ATT. Our voices of are the voices of communities who have been affected by armed violence and must be carefully heeded by the international community.”

 

John ToGuata from Papua New Guinea the Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations in New York.
"I have seen the harm and destruction that the misuse of arms has done to my country," says Ema Tagicakibau from Fiji.

 

Ema Tagicakibau, Fiji

“I’m a wife, mother, activist and campaigner for peace, security and disarmament in the Pacific. I’ve been an active member of the NGO and women’s rights movement in Fiji for many years. I was also a former Member of Parliament in the Peoples Coalition government, elected in 1999, and served as Assistant Minister in the Prime Minister’s office. I now live with my family in Auckland, New Zealand, where I’m currently utilising my time to begin a doctoral study focusing on gender and militarization in Fiji and its implications on human security in the Pacific region.

"This is important change in direction for me because I believe that advocacy by civil society must be backed up by strong research and data, so we are coming from a more informed and strengthened position.”

Why does the problem of small arms and arms control matter to you? How did you get involved in this issue?

“Arms control is very critical in my personal life and professional career. I have seen the harm and destruction that the misuse of arms has done to my country Fiji, now into the fifth year of its third coup d’etat. When I was an MP back in 2000, the civilian coup led by George Speight happened. I was held at gunpoint with my colleagues and witnessed the attitude of the soldiers and boys carrying guns.

“So to me, it is both a personal and professional commitment to ensure that an effective and strong ATT takes account of the abuse of power and human rights violations by those legally entrusted to carry arms and respect for the rule of law.”

What would an effective ATT mean for the Pacific region?

“It would ensure uniformity of laws to ensure there are no loopholes that allow unscrupulous arms traders to manipulate or exploit gaps that currently exist. An effective ATT would create control mechanisms where they don’t exist, and strengthen existing ones. It would also create transparency and accountability in the regional arms trade and address humanitarian and human rights concerns.”

What role must the Pacific play?

“This week’s negotiations have proven exciting for our region. Governments in the Pacific are getting more and more involved in the negotiations and have sent more experts from their capitals than ever before. This is in no small part thanks to the efforts of local civil society organisations and individuals that have worked for years to raise the profile of the small arms problem in the political arena. To ensure that this work translates into a meaningful treaty that makes a difference in our region, we must continue to work closely with our governments to ensure that this commitment to the ATT is sustained up to and beyond next year’s negotiating conference.”