Save Children’s Lives by Stopping Illicit Weapons Worldwide

Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.

Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.

Below is an open letter from hip-hop artist, activist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, urging President Barack Obama to push for a strong Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. conference this month. This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In Sudan and around the world, children are forced into warfare. Many end up as child soldiers, forced to take lives and continue the cycle of violence that they have been born into. Child soldiers are found today in as many as 20 countries.

I was one of them. I was fortunate enough to have escaped to Kenya and found another life through music. But the lives of many children are cut short before they can escape. The most difficult part of this situation is that these children do not have a choice when they are introduced, often after they have been orphaned, to a perpetual war zone and raised by the harsh reality of the violence around them.

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The World’s Biggest Gun Show

National Resistance Army child soldier poses with his kalashnikov.  (Photo credit: Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images)

National Resistance Army child soldier poses with his kalashnikov. (Photo credit: Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), which concluded last week in Abu Dhabi, bills itself as one of the biggest arms bazaars in the world. However, among the more than 1,100 companies exhibiting at IDEX were manufacturers whose products have made it a lot easier for bad guys to wreak havoc. There are currently no global checks in place to keep guns out of the wrong hands

From March 18-28, states will convene at the United Nations in New York to finalize a historic Arms Trade Treaty. We must make it clear that no more weapons can fall through gaping loopholes and into dangerous hands.

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Israel/Gaza: International Monitors and Arms Embargo Needed NOW

A doctor checks vital signs of haneen Tafish by light of his mobile phone in Al Shifa hospital, Gaza City, November 15, 2012. Haneen Tafish eventually died from her injuries. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Amnesty International is calling for the  prompt deployment of international monitors and an arms embargo on both Israel and armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, to offer more civilian protections immediately and monitor and document violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Since the assassination by Israel of Hamas leader Ahmad al-Ja’abari on November 14 in Gaza City, there has been an escalation of violence between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in Gaza that has left scores dead and injured.  The conflict shows no signs of abating and looks to be repeating the same mistakes made during operation ‘Cast Lead’ four years ago.

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New Amnesty report calls for comprehensive arms embargo on Israel and Hamas

Amnesty International released a report today ‘Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza’ calling for a comprehensive arms embargo on both Israel and Hamas.  Amnesty researchers during their fact finding mission in Gaza found both Israel and Hamas used weapons supplied from abroad to carry out attacks on civilians.

The report states that Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Their attacks resulted in the death of hundreds of children and other civilians and destoyed homes on a massive scale while Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets that had been smuggled in or made of components from abroad at civilian areas in Israel. The report points out that although far less lethal than the weaponry used by Israel, such rocket firing also constitutes a war crime and caused several civilian deaths.

Bomb shelter in Sderot, Israel in Dec. 2008. www.activestills.org

Of course the the Gov’t of Israel and Hamas have both rejected the findings of the report with their own justifications for their actions and wide, sweeping statements against Amnesty International methodology.  [Watch for future blogs addressing the responses.]

The report takes a closer look at white phosphorous but also documents how US made shell fragments were found throughout Gaza including by the American School in Gaza, homes, playgrounds, hospitals.   The misuse of flechettes, artillery and mortars, DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives) and tank ammunition is also included. The report documents the use of US made missiles in the killing of civilians, including an incident where an AGM 114 Hellfire missile produced by Hellfire Systems of Orlando, killed three paramedics and a child.

The team also documented the use of a new type of missile, apparently launched from unmanned drones, which explodes tiny sharp-edged metal cubes which can penetrate thick metal doors and maximize injury.  These missiles have killed a 13 year old girl asleep in her bed, three primary school-age boys carrying sugar cane, two young women on their way to a shelter, a 13 year old boy on his bicycle, eight secondary school students waiting for the school bus, and entire family sitting in the courtyard of their home and many others.

The report points out that for many years the USA has been the major supplier of conventional arms to Israel and has a 10-year agreement (to 2017) in which the USA is due to provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel, a 25 percent increase compared to the period preceding the Bush administration. Based on the US being the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights. And based on the evidence gathered showing a direct link to US made weaponry used against civilians, the Obama Administration should immediately suspend US military aid to Israel.

There’s too much information in the report to include in one blog post.  The report has also gained a lot of attention overseas in such non-English publications as El Pais, Le Monde , Diario Portugal, El Mundo as well as responses from the Government of Israel and Hamas officials.  Look for more posts on this subject to come.

Weapons in Iraq Still at Risk of Loss or Theft

Tens of thousands of arms captured from insurgent armed groups in Iraq have yet to be recorded by Iraqi or U.S. authorities making it easier for the weapons to be lost or stolen, according to a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General’s issued just before the Christmas holiday last year. Poor accountability of night vision devices (NVD) remains a problem.

In the last few years, several reports have revealed the dangers of failing to properly secure and manage weapons in Iraq. For example, described in a November 2008 Amnesty report, some members of Iraqi insurgent groups have infiltrated the Iraqi police force and used police arms to carry out serious human rights abuses. U.S. military officials have also accused Iraqi security guards of stealing hundreds of weapons in 2006 at arms depots such as Taji National Army Depot (NAD).

While there have been significant strides in improving the accountability of U.S. provided weapons in Iraq as well as helping Iraqi authorities properly manage arms and ammunition under their control, a few areas such as the accountability for captured weapons and NVDs still need focused attention.

According to the DoD Inspector General’s report, only around 20,000 of the estimated 80,000 captured weapons stored at various depot locations throughout Iraq had been processed. Processing includes having the weapon’s serial number recorded and inspecting the quality of the weapon. Some of the unprocessed arms are at the Taji NAD and Kirkush Military Training Base among others.

In addition, the DoD Inspector General raised concerns about the accountability of U.S. issued night vision devices (NVD) to the Iraqi security forces. NVD receive extra scrutiny under DoD regulations because they significantly increase a fighting forces’ tactical ability. A DoD investigation showed 26,000 NVDs lacked proper documentation, raising the risk of loss or theft similar to captured weapons.