ARC Public Meeting asserts need for awareness of role of conflict in underdevelopment.

ARC NGO Liaison Officer Fidel Asante reports on ARCs 2005 White Band Day 3 Meeting.

On Thursday 8th December 2005, ARC held its first public meeting for many months: 'Securing Trade Justice : How can we end poverty amidst the current trade in arms?', at Friends Meeting House, Euston, London. The meeting was planned to coincide with White Band Day 3 (Dec 10), an international day of solidarity where Global Call for Action against Poverty, (GCAP,-of which Make Poverty History Coalition was the UK wing) campaigners across the world sent a clear call for a fairer foreign policies on aid, trade and debt to the G8 delegates attending the World Trade Organisation talks in Hong Kong. Our meeting differed from many similar gatherings taking place, as we decided to make the focus of our meeting the role the arms trade plays in maintaining poverty.

Long time peace campaigner, Bruce Kent chaired the meeting and speakers invited were : Sheila Triggs and Katherine Ronderos of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom(WILPF), James O'Nions of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Explo Nani-Kofi of African Liberation Support Campaign, (ALISC), Oliver Cummings of Saferworld, Karl Miller of ARC and Laura Cheeseman of International Network on Small Arms (INSA). Unfortunately none of the major Make Poverty History (MPH) development NGO's were represented in the speaker line-up as they had declined offers to speak.

Attendance was capacity and the speakers could be heard adequately. The first speaker Sheila Triggs of WILPF, spoke of the admirable aims of the MPH coalition in the way they had clarified to the UK public the way trade, aid and debt policies of the G8 countries daily consigned thousands of people to death and dire poverty and saluted the way MPH "attempted to hold our (UK) government to account on these issues". Sheila went on to highlight the disproportionate power of the global military industrial complex. .

Sheila Triggs then passed the floor to her colleague Katherine Ronderos who had just returned from her native Columbia where she had been researching Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Katherine gave testimony of how the violent struggles in Columbia between paramilitaries, guerrillas and army had crippled the peaceful functioning of society, and how few economic opportunities in the country meant taking up arms with one or other of the warring factions simply "Becomes a strategy of surviving, especially for young men and women".

Next James O'Nions of CAAT focused on the discrepancy of the G8's trade policy aspirations and their actual trade practises. He gave details of how the G8 countries arms exporters make up 89% of arms sales to the developing countries. In discussing the UK's arms trade practises, James confirmed that UK arms exports subsidies vary annualy but have been as high as 900 million pounds a year. He also spoke of how such sales to poor countries were usually loans which were then clawed back through stealth.

Explo Nani-Kofi of (ALISC), spoke passionately and eloquently about the proxy wars in Africa and how if poverty is to be made history, the wealthy northern countries-whose way of life is underpinned in large part by profits from arms sales to African countries have to stop meddling in African affairs. Explo expressed happiness to those attending the meeting and affirmed that ALISC has, does, and will support any and all organisations that want to organise a true 'African Unity'. He also stressed that wealthy western nations must cut off banking relations with greedy African politicians.

After these speakers there was a half hour intermission, where the panel took questions from the audience.

At the resumption Oliver Cummings of Saferworld discussed the role conflict plays in curtailing development in South Asia. He spoke about the work Saferworld is doing in Sri Lanka involving facilitating relations between civil society, rebel combatants, and national security forces. He described Sri Lankas challenges in detail; a country where 39% of the people live below the poverty line and in ongoing clashes between the LTTE (Hindu 'Tamil Tigers') and the Sri Lankan government (Sinhalese Buddhists) 60,000 people have died, 2/3rds of them civilians.

Next, Karl Miller of ARC spoke of the more than 9 million Africans who have died over the last 10 years as a result of wars fought with foreign weapons. He asserted that the wealthier nations could not give aid with one hand and sell arms with the other and earnestly expect to see any progress in the plight of the lives of the poor. Karl's speech articulated the dismay with which much of the audience had listened to the previous speakers when they had used statistics to refer to the depth of poverty within war-torn countries. He capped it by referring to a 1998 UNDP Human Development Report that stated just 50 billion dollars a year would be needed to meet the worlds basic needs.

The last speaker was Laura Cheeseman of IANSA Laura spoke on the direct link between conflict and underdevelopment, and how strategies to fight poverty cannot succeed without taking into account the trade in small arms. Laura outlined the effects of war on a nations public services and how armed groups purposefully target schools and hospitals. She outlined the way war burdened developing countries economic resources by drawing from World Health Organisation and the World Bank figures showing that injury and violence contribute almost 15% to the burden of disease in the developing world. Laura's presentation was followed by another half hour of questions to the speakers, before the meeting drew to a close.

Fidel Asante 2005