Guns, gorillas and bananas*

I think that gorillas are some of the most fascinating animals ever.  When I travelled to the Kabale District in Uganda – a beautiful mountainous region in the south which borders Rwanda – a few years ago, I was so excited to learn that the film Gorillas in the Mist was most likely filmed within (or close to) the place we were driving past but on the Rwanda side of the border. I immediately wanted to divert from my intended destination to run to the hills to see what I could discover.  

So when I heard today that fighting groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to allow a search for critically endangered mountain gorillas to go ahead, I was delighted.  I’d known for a while, after speaking to Amnesty’s DRC Researchers that the gorillas in the Virunga National Park were at risk of being caught in the crossfire between Congolese government troops and armed opposition groups - because fighting had spilled into the Park region.

Worrying news for gorillas. Also for ordinary people trying to go about their daily business. As we’ve seen time and time again at Amnesty – in particular in the eastern part of the DRC – more often than not, it’s the ordinary child, woman or man who have suffered in bitter warfare.

Just last month we detailed how arms supplies to the DRC continue to fuel unlawful killings, rape, lootings and abduction, in our report "If you resist, we'll shoot you".  Small arms, ammunition, tear gas, armoured vehicle, artillery guns and mortars among others have been supplied to the DRC government by China, Egypt, France, South Africa, Ukraine and USA. In the majority of cases, transfers have been allowed despite a substantial risk that the weapons will be used to carry out serious human rights abuses.

Those kinds of arms transfers are the ones which a strong UN Arms Trade Treaty may be able to prevent. The draft text of the Arms Trade Treaty was released late yesterday afternoon, and both government delegates and arms experts from Amnesty and others within the Control Arms Coalition, pored over the document for hours to see how it was shaping up. To find out more about that, read our campaigner’s blog.

With just three days to go before the world gets to have its first ever international Arms Trade Treaty, London 2012 Olympic cyclist Emma Pooley has written about why she’s counting on the UK Government to deliver gold at Arms Trade Treaty talks this week, and we're continuing to call on all governments – in particular the world’s largest arms exporter, the USA – to close the major loopholes which are contained within the Draft Treaty, and to set strong rules for international transfers of arms. Help us to tell the UK government it's time to deliver.

There are some parts of the draft Treaty which we welcome, such as rules requiring governments to make a rigorous risk assessment before deciding whether an arms transfer can take place. At the moment the Treaty text states that if there is a substantial risk of the arms being used to commit serious human rights violations, even after mitigation measures have been taken, then the transfer “shall not take place”.  But there are many loopholes, particularly within the scope of the Treaty. Read here for more. Three days, and still – a lot to play for…

*Oh yes, I couldn’t resist adding bananas into my title because although bananas are more tightly regulated than the transfer of guns, I think that gorillas would definitely prefer a couple of bananas thrown their way, more so than grenades anyway.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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