Thursday, May 13, 2010

Global: Putting a stop to armed violence

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By Indira Srivastava

Republished courtesy of IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GENEVA (IDN) – Armed violence destroys lives and livelihoods, breeds insecurity, and hampers prospects for human development. According to the most recent estimates, the total cost of armed violence in non-conflict countries amounts to $163 billion – more than the total annual spending on official development assistance.

In El Salvador, firearm violence costs the state and its citizens 11.5 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – more than twice the budget for education and health (4.8 percent of GDP), according to the most recently available figures that relate to 2003.

Years of civil war and sustained levels of armed violence in conflict states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Sri Lanka have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and to a massive loss of livelihood for millions, greatly increasing the number of people living in poverty and inhibiting the achievement of MDG 1, the first of eight millennium development goals agreed by the international community in 2000.

About 875 million small arms and light weapons (SALW) are in circulation today, three-quarters of them in the hands of civilians. Globally, 60 percent of homicides involve the use of SALW.

An estimated 50 to 60 percent of the global small arms trade is legal – but legally exported weapons often find their way into the illicit market, destabilizing already fragile states in conflict.

These facts were highlighted on the occasion of a global meeting on armed violence in Geneva on May 12, 2010, aimed at making the reduction of armed violence a top issue on the international development agenda.

The conference, co-hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was attended by delegates from international organizations, civil society, and some 60 states.

Stressing the importance of the conference, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said: “Armed violence has a devastating effect on development progress. Life as normal is severely disrupted – affecting citizens’ safety and security and access to basic services and livelihoods. The international community can mobilise to deter the proliferation and use of the weapons which fuel this violence.”

According to latest estimates, each year more than 740,000 people – over 2,000 per day – die as a result of the violence associated with armed conflicts and large- and small-scale criminal violence. The majority of these deaths – 490,000 – occur in non-conflict settings.

States suffering from conflicts or persistently high levels of criminality are furthest from reaching MDG targets: 22 of the 34 countries furthest from reaching the MDGs are in, or are emerging from, conflict.

The World Bank has pointed out that efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger are at 10 percent of target; efforts to extend universal primary education are at 45 percent of target; and the extension of maternal health are at 14 percent of target in conflict-affected and fragile states.

The conference agreed on a declaration which describes armed violence – whether it occurs in contexts of conflict or crime – is “a fundamental challenge to our common humanitarian and developmental goals, often violating human rights, exacerbating gender inequality, and undermining security, justice, education and public health”.

Armed violence and development are closely linked, explains the declaration. “An environment of fear and insecurity can undermine human, social and economic development. At the same time, persistent inequality and a lack of development are among the underlying causes of armed violence.”

Determined to achieve measurable reductions in armed violence and to realise the existing Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the conference assures support, where appropriate, for the inclusion of armed violence reduction and prevention in the Outcome Document of the High Level Plenary Meeting at the UN headquarters in September on the MDGs and in subsequent MDG achievement strategies through to 2015.

The declaration commits governments to:

Measure and monitor the incidence and impact of armed violence at national and sub-national levels in a transparent way, and develop a set of targets and indicators to assess progress in efforts to achieve measurable reductions in armed violence;

Recognise the rights of victims of armed violence in a non-discriminatory manner, including provision for their adequate care and rehabilitation, as well as their social and economic inclusion, in accordance with national laws and applicable international obligations;

Enhance the potential of development to reduce and prevent armed violence by integrating armed violence prevention and reduction strategies into international, regional, national and sub-national development plans, programmes and assistance strategies; and

Strengthen international cooperation and assistance, including South-South cooperation, to develop national and sub-national capacities for armed violence prevention and reduction and achievement of the MDGs.

The May 12 conference followed in the footsteps of a summit in June 2006, which was co-hosted by UNDP and the Government of Switzerland. It resulted in 42 states endorsing the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, an initiative designed to achieve measureable reductions in armed violence by 2015.

As of March 2010, 108 states had signed the declaration. Building on the work of the Geneva Declaration, UNDP and the Government of Norway have been working with Member States to ensure that commitments to armed violence reduction and prevention are included in the September 2010 meeting at the UN headquarters.

UNDP currently supports 27 countries worldwide to address the proliferation of weapons and related violence.

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