- Awash in arms, Burundi struggles under the burden of armed violence and other forms of violence, which in turn undermine states’ economies and their ability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
- India faces down corruption and squandered resources associated with arms deals leaving limited government funds available for development.
- Colombia’s citizens are deprived of basic human rights by well-armed militias and paramilitary units marginalizing and impoverishing communities.
Burundi experienced a long civil war beginning in 1993 in which 300,000 people were killed and at least 1 million were displaced. A ceasefire was finally signed in 2006. Research in 2007 by Oxfam, IANSA, and Saferworld put the total economic cost of the conflict at $5.7bn. Criminal and political armed violence continues in Burundi, and at least 100,000 small arms are still in illegal circulation.
The areas of Bujumbura Rural, Bubanza, and Cibitoke, which border the Democratic Republic of Cong, have had schools and medical facilities destroyed, and thousands of school-aged children have been forced to fight as child soldiers. Many more have fled with their families. According to the 2006 Report of Burundi’s Minister for Education, 10,000 children were forced out of school in areas where the FNL rebel group was active.
Burundi’s health statistics are among the worst in the world. More than one in every 100 babies and one in every 200 mothers dies in childbirth. A significant factor has been the virtual destruction of health services during the war, and the continuing armed violence is a significant drain on what little health-care infrastructure remains. Since the 2006 ceasefire, 75% of the costs of treating violent injuries have been spent on treating gunshot wounds. On average, each firearm injury costs the health system $163.28 in a country where the government spends only $5 per person per year on health.
Burundi is not on track to meet any of the MDGs, but recent commitments to free primary education and health care for childbirth and for children under five offer some prospect of improvement.
However, these commitments will only be effective if Burundi is able to reduce the levels of armed violence and prevent a return to war.
Between 2000 and 2007, India was the world’s second largest arms importer, accounting for 7.5 per cent of all major weapons transfers. In 2005, the country’s Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) was investigating 47 separate arms deals for possible corruption.
Since coming to power in 2004, the United Progressive Alliance government has sought to tighten up procurement procedures. Defense Minister A.K. Anthony is seeking to enforce anti-corruption rules, independent monitors have been appointed to vet all major defense deals, and ‘Integrity Pacts’ are being implemented to ensure good practice in procurement processes. Some deals with companies implicated in corruption cases have been cancelled, while others – such as a potential air defense deal with Israel – have been put on hold.
Such action by the Indian government is crucial. India is the second biggest spender on arms transfers in the world, and yet continues to experience significant levels of poverty and is not yet on track to meet any of the MDGs unless significant changes are made. These changes can happen if a constituency demands development become a priority over arms spending.
It is no coincidence that many of the countries furthest from meeting their MDGs are also the countries most likely to have high levels of serious human rights abuses.
Colombia’s 4 million displaced people have fled guerrilla, state, and paramilitary violence during decades of fighting. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has, on numerous occasions, linked actions of the Colombian armed forces and paramilitary groups to displacement and the loss of land, livestock, and possessions by different communities. The threat of kidnapping has hampered investment, and displaced populations fall victim to armed factions competing for territorial control. Human Rights groups have documented numerous massacres throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, using both small arms and advanced weaponry.
Firearms are smuggled into Colombia illicitly. Historic black market exchanges in contraband goods support the trade, while the relatively porous and unregulated borders make controlling illegal arms flows more difficult. In some cases, paramilitaries reportedly possess weapons identical to government stocks, raising questions about whether they had originated from state sources.
Colombia is also significant importer of weapons, with US$47 million worth of ‘military weapons’ being imported in 2006. Colombia produces weapons as well, mainly under license from overseas, such as the Galil assault rifle from Israel.
Development, including achieving the MDGs, is not a matter of simply reaching national targets. It is about fulfilling individuals’ and communities’ development, including their economic, social, and cultural rights to health care, education, and security. When arms are used to kill, maim, or control a population through fear, they undermine whole communities’ prospects of obtaining these rights. Armed militias and paramilitary groups destroy communities and hamper develop at a grassroots level. Every murder is stumbling block on the path to successful economic and social development.