World Evangelical Alliance Peace and Reconciliation Initiative (WEAPRI) Director Steve Tollestrup has returned from the Asia Pacific Forum on small arms and light weapons hosted in Bangkok. The Conference organised by the Christian Council of Asia brought together 30 faith-based leaders from the region to discuss the problem of small arms proliferation and advocacy strategies to ensure that the upcoming ATT or Arms Trade Treaty due for international ratification in July is passed without being compromised or provisions weakened.
The arms trade is big business and billions of dollars that could otherwise be used in productive developing world social and community services gets diverted to weapons. Each year, thousands of civilians around the world are slaughtered by weapons sold to unscrupulous regimes and transferred to illegal militias and criminals. In addition to the human toll, this cycle of violence undermines economic development and political stability in often fragile regions.
The international corruption watch dog Transparency International claims that 40% of all legitimate, legal and formal small arms transactions have some level of corruption present. Likewise once in country many of those weapons eventually make their way into the black market. There they form part of an elaborate network of illegal trade that includes drugs, sex trafficking and stolen or fraudulent car par parts.
“Part of the problem too,” says Mr Tollestrup, “is that guns are made up of many parts and require multiple suppliers, each of whom says things such as ‘I don’t make guns, I only provide the weapon s grade steel’, thus washing their hands. This can only be addressed if we take an integrated approach and see every part of the gun as the gun itself; the idea of a gun part is a fiction that obscures the truth”.
Weapons proliferate in unstable and insecure contexts; and conflict and violence become the leading drivers of poverty and national economic under-development. That makes peace-building a priority for economic well being and human development, a strategy WEAPRI is increasingly committed to through its partners.
While predominantly Christian, the forum had a strong inter-faith presence of both Buddhist and Islamic leaders in Asia. “Much of the conflict internationally that creates the market for small arms is of a religious character. Inter-faith dialogue is indisputably required at this level and through mutually proclaimed virtue of peace, each faith working together shares a common responsibility for peace-building”.