In 1996, the 49th World Health Assembly declared violence a leading public health problem worldwide and urged states to assess its extent (Resolution WHA49.25). Subsequently, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed the landmark document Small Arms and Global Health prepared for the first UN Conference on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in 2001. In it, the WHO states that “Violence is…..an important health problem – and one that is largely preventable. Public health approaches have much to contribute to solving it.” In its landmark 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, the WHO made seeking “practical, internationally agreed responses to the global drugs trade and the global arms trade” one of its nine priority recommendations to mobilize action in response to violence.”[i]
Although it is only one of many risk factors, the evidence shows that regions with more restrictive firearms policies tend to experience lower levels of firearm violence, thus helping to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce costs to society. The health cost of treating firearm injuries is a huge drain on health budgets. National and international investment in combating armed violence also diverts monetary and human capital from other vital needs.
A strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) would create a framework for regulating trade in weapons. Public health has an important role to play in helping to pass, implement and monitor such a treaty. Physicians deal first-hand with the human consequences of armed violence and they can help in building the capacity of states to comply with a strong and humanitarian-based ATT.
By recognizing the interconnectedness of the unregulated arms trade, armed violence and the undermining of human rights, including implicitly the right to health, a robust ATT would help prevent the misuse of arms and thus reduce resultant deaths and injuries. An ATT also has the potential of helping to reduce the diversion of resources from vital services such as public health and social development that currently flow to arms management, security, defense and fighting criminality. Simply put, a robust ATT will help to achieve better health, as it is impossible to maintain and promote health in the midst of armed violence. To meet this goal, we have created the Medical Alert for a Strong Arms Trade Treaty, a petition open to signature by all medical professionals.
The Medical Alert for a Strong Arms Trade Treaty
Firearm violence is a humanitarian crisis and a threat to development. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed each year with firearms, with millions more maimed or traumatized. The health cost of treating armed violence is a huge drain on health budgets. National and international investment in combating it also diverts monetary and human capital from other vital needs. Evidence supports that limiting access to firearms saves lives, prevents injuries and reduces costs to society.
Yet there are currently no legally binding, global rules regulating the trade in conventional arms.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in its landmark 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, made seeking “practical, internationally agreed responses to the global drugs trade and the global arms trade” one of its nine priority recommendations to mobilize action in response to violence.
We, as medical professionals who dedicate ourselves to preserving life and promoting health, are deeply concerned that the international trade in arms, when undertaken irresponsibly, contributes to armed conflict and firearm violence. This in turn undermines health, human rights, safety, security, stability and sustainable social and economic development. Therefore, we support a strong and humanitarian-focused ATT to prevent misuse of arms.
The world’s governments will convene in 2012 at the United Nations to finalize negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty. We, the international health community, strongly endorse and support this process as vitally necessary to prevent arms misuse, save lives and promote health worldwide. We support the goal of a rigorous and legally binding instrument that effectively prevents or reduces the devastating consequences of firearm violence and armed conflict around the globe.
The ATT must establish common international standards for the responsible transfer of all conventional weapons and their ammunition, including small arms and light weapons. For the ATT to have proper impact, its scope must be comprehensive and its transfer criteria must be strict to ensure that conventional weapons do not end up in the hands of those who use them irresponsibly or may be expected to misuse them.
As medical professionals we support the passage and implementation of an effective and legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). We pledge to mobilize the medical community worldwide to help implement and monitor a robust ATT, and to lessen demand for firearms and thus promote safer societies.