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Armed violence and development

07-06-2006 Statement

The ease of access to small arms and light weapons continues to pose serious obstacles to social and economic development in countries where the ICRC is active. Text of a speech delivered by the ICRC President, Jakob Kellenberger, to the Geneva Summit on Armed Violence and Development.

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At the outset I would like to thank the government of Switzerland and the United Nations Development Program for associating the ICRC to this high level meeting on one of the great moral and political issues of our day: the unending stream of armed violence affecting civilian populations in communities across the globe. This violence destroys lives, perpetuates poverty and undermines development. It makes the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the victims of violence dangerous, costly and sometimes impossible.
If I were to show you a map of the world where the International Committee of the Red Cross is active in its mandate to assist and protect the victims of armed conflict there would be no surprises for you. These would include all the countries in which armed conflicts are raging and many in which conflicts have ended but where civilians are still at high risk from armed violence. These are nearly all the countries of concern to this conference, countries where armed violence is undermining economic and social development.
Since 1995 the ICRC has worked actively to document and raise awareness of the high human costs of inadequate regulation of arms availability. This has included work with States and regional organisations to promote stricter arms transfer controls and to ensure that such controls include rules to prevent easy access to weapons by those likely to violate international humanitarian law. The ICRC has recently hosted discussions with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in cou ntries with high levels of armed violence about strengthening their role in violence prevention activities.
"The Declaration challenges the notion that high levels of armed violence are either inevitable or morally tolerable" 
It is now clear that the impact extends far beyond the terrible suffering inflicted on civilians during conflicts. When arms remain readily available in post-conflict settings they fuel continued tensions and insecurity, jeopardize efforts at reconciliation and hinder reconstruction. The indirect results are high levels of poverty and unemployment. In such a setting many are reluctant to give up arms which they see as their only assurance of personal and economic security, making the collection of weapons from ex-combatants a major challenge.
Relief action by the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations seeks to save lives and help people to keep or restore their dignity and self-sustainability. It helps bring stability in transitional periods. But the inherent insecurity can delay the provision of both humanitarian and development aid and make it impossible to establish longer-term, sustainable development activities. This can create a vicious cycle. A fragile peace may collapse unless its benefits are felt through measurable improvements in people's well-being. The relationship between armed violence and development is clearly one that goes both ways.
It is heartening that in the past decade international efforts to control arms have broadened beyond major strategic weapons and have begun addressing the effects of landmines, munitions which become explosive remnants of war and small arms.
It is the lack of control and the widespread misuse of these which causes terrible human suffering and undermines socioeconomic development each and every day. The Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, which convenes in New York later this month, is an important opportunity to advance both humanitarian and development objectives.
The Review Conference must strengthen the UN Program of Action by converting general commitments into specific tools to guide national and international action.
For example the commitment to review arms exports at national level needs to be supplemented by internationally agreed transfer control criteria which include respect by the recipient for international humanitarian law. The commitment to oversee arms brokering activities at a national level needs to be reinforced through a commitment to negotiate an international agreement which will ensure consistency in national regulations. Without this, unscrupulous brokers will continue to take advantage of loopholes or operate from countries with no regulation. And the commitment to enact stricter controls on arms needs to be matched by an equal commitment to regulate the transfer and availability of ammunition.

However, to reduce the devastating effects of armed violence, it is not sufficient to focus only on the arms themselves. A comprehensive approach must also focus on reducing the vulnerability of the victims, influencing the behaviour of those bearing weapons and implementing violence-prevention strategies that address the causes of armed violence in specific settings. These are areas where humanitarian and development activities can play a key role.
To reduce the misuse of weapons, we must increase the capacity and the will of those who bear weapons to act in accordance with the international norms, in particular with international humanitarian law. Military, security and police forces, as well as non-state armed groups and other weapons bearers, must be instructed in th e practical application of international humanitarian law and human rights law and sanctioned if found responsible for violations. Without such discipline such forces can become a source of insecurity for civilian populations and this insecurity in turn a reason for civilians to arm themselves. In recent years the ICRC has provided practical training and assistance in this field for military and police forces in some 140 countries.
The ICRC's field experience has taught us that reducing the vulnerability of civilians from the effects of armed violence must also include practical preventive actions such as supporting children at risk of becoming child soldiers, providing alternative sources of safe water and fuel in communities where traditional sources of such supplies have become too dangerous to approach due to armed violence and teaching children about the risks of playing with abandoned arms or ammunition.
Finally, those who have already become victims of armed violence must not be forgotten. To overcome the physical and psychological traumas they have suffered, victims require adequate medical care as well as long-term support for their physical rehabilitation and social reintegration. In conflict and post-conflict settings where health structures are inadequate or have collapsed entirely the ICRC provides assistance to fulfil these needs. Currently we are providing medical assistance to some 250 health facilities around the world and supporting more than seventy physical rehabilitation projects in 23 countries which benefit victims of armed violence. However, in the longer term, the sustainable improvement of health infrastructure can only be achieved if it is a national development priority.
The International Committee of the Red Cross commends the many governments which have come prepared to associate themselves with the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development. This Declaration builds on the recognition by the 2005 World Summit of the links between development, peace, security and human rights and of the importance of efforts to better control the availability of small arms. The Declaration challenges the notion that high levels of armed violence are either inevitable or morally tolerable. It provides a clear and integrated vision of how such violence can be prevented. We urge you to ensure that the vision and commitments contained in the Geneva Declaration are used to guide national policy, to promote violence prevention work in the variety of regional and international fora in which your governments participate and to inspire a more comprehensive approach to the small arms issue by the upcoming Review Conference. The ICRC is committed to working with you towards the objectives of this important Conference.