On July 9, Libya became the 78th country to sign the Arms Trade Treaty and the first in North Africa. Handicap International, which has been working in Libya since 2011, welcomes this strong commitment, which will help tackle the serious problems caused by the arms trade in this challenging region.
The Arms Trade Treaty regulates the international trade of conventional weapons—which includes widely used weapons ranging from hand guns to tanks. The major intent of the treaty is to curb the illicit trade of weapons, particularly small arms, which endanger civilians in many parts of the world. Small arms are weapons capable of being transported and used by a single individual without support, such as hand guns and submachine guns.
With the fall of the Mouammar Kadhafi regime in Libya in 2011, weapons stockpiles formerly used by forces loyal to Kadhafi were opened, leading to a massive proliferation of small arms among the civilian population. In 2012, there were more than 1,600 recorded victims of small arms in the capital of Tripoli alone, an average of four a day. More than three quarters of these victims were under 25. These weapons have also found their way to neighboring countries, such as Mali, where they have been used by insurgent groups against civilians.
Under the conditions of the treaty, Libya has agreed to set up a national weapons transfer control mechanism and to ban the export of arms which risk being used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings. Before any future arms sales, Libya must assess whether the weapons violate international embargoes or promote acts of genocide, terrorism, or other “serious violations” of human rights laws.
“Although the treaty contains several flaws, such as the list of regulated weapons, it will help prevent the sort of humanitarian crises Handicap International witnesses every day in the field,” says Frederic Maio, manager of Handicap International’s program in Libya. “Thousands of lives could be saved every year.”
For the last two years Handicap International has been educating the public in Libya about the risks posed by these weapons and how to handle guns correctly to limit the number of accidents. This includes keeping weapons out of the reach of children, not firing into the air during demonstrations or celebrations, and engaging the safety when weapons are not in use. The organization has also distributed more than 15,000 risk awareness information packets and runs educational sessions in schools and hospitals in Tripoli.