Dunblane father PM must not betray victims of armed violence

Posted by Jamie Livingstone Head of Oxfam Scotland

13th Feb 2012

Dr Mick North has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to show international leadership as the campaign for a historic Arms Trade Treaty reaches its final stages.

Dr North's five-year-old daughter Sophie, 15 of her classmates and their teacher were killed in their Dunblane primary school by a gunman in March 1996. He has campaigned for tighter international gun controls ever since. Around the world one person dies every minute because of armed violence. Every year, millions more are injured.

The governments of 153 countries have been working towards a global arms trade treaty since 2006 - the final negotiations will be at the United Nations in July. This week (from Monday 13 Feb) a preliminary UN meeting will set the agenda for those final talks. It comes as Oxfam and Amnesty International launch the final phase of their campaign for a bulletproof treaty.

Dr Mick North said: "The UK has a proud record of reacting with aid in times of famine or flood. We should be equally proud of our role to date in securing effective control over the trade in arms. Over the next few months the UK's voice must remain strong, consistent and direct.

"We've come too far to weaken our stance and I want Prime Minister David Cameron to ensure that the UK remains fully committed to securing a strong treaty. Any weakening of our stance will be seen as a betrayal to those hundreds of thousands of victims who suffer armed violence every day."

Judith Robertson, the Head of Oxfam Scotland, will join Amnesty International at an event in Glasgow today (Monday) to mark the UN meeting. Among the speakers will be David Grimason, whose two-year-old son Alistair was shot dead in a Turkish cafe in July 2003.

Oxfam have also launched a public e-action to demand the UK plays its part in securing the strongest possible treaty.

Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: "Now is the time for the UK Government to push for a truly bulletproof treaty.

"The next few months represent an unprecedented opportunity to bring this deadly trade under control. Other countries look to the UK for leadership on this issue, and the Government must deliver. If the sales of bananas and dinosaur bones can be regulated by global treaties so should the sale of arms.

"We are also urging Scots to sign our online campaign to ensure the UK Government recognises the strength of feeling on this issue in Scotland, and act upon it."

Shabnum Mustapha, Programme Director for Amnesty in Scotland, said: "The human cost of an irresponsible, unregulated arms trade is truly shocking - every year 750,000 are killed through armed violence, with so many more plunged even deeper into poverty. We need a bulletproof Arms Trade Treaty and we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make it happen.

"Now is the time for the UK government to show leadership and ensure that a treaty governing the sale and transfer of arms is comprehensive, is enforced and puts human rights right at its very heart. We have one shot to make an incredible difference to so many, we cannot squander it."

The launch event is on Monday 13 February, 10-11am at Glasgow University's Lecture Theatre D, Boyd Orr Building, University Gardens, Glasgow G12 8QQ. The event is open to the media and public. Head of Oxfam Scotland Judith Robertson is available for interview on the day, along with David Grimason and Amnesty International. Dr Mick North is not available for interview. The photograph attached shows Dr Mick North during an Oxfam trip to Northern Uganda in 2001.

From 2009 to 2011 Dr Mick North was the Chair of IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms), an NGO which has also had a major role in the Arms Trade Treaty process. The following was originally posted in The Sunday Mail -

"Next month marks the 16th anniversary of my daughter's death. Sophie was just five when a gunman walked into her Dunblane primary school and opened fire. Within three minutes Sophie, 15 of her classmates and their teacher were dead.

"The loss of my only daughter was a personal tragedy but the massacre shocked the nation. The subsequent Snowdrop Campaign - which demanded tighter firearms legislation in the UK - proved one of the most successful single-issue campaigns ever seen. But gun violence is a concern beyond Scotland and the UK, it is a global problem.

"Around the world at least 1,500 people die each day from armed violence. The majority are not soldiers, they are civilians, many of them women and children. Right now there are no comprehensive, legally binding rules governing the global arms trade - that includes everything from warships, battle tanks and fighter jets, to machine guns and other firearms. The opportunity to change that is fast approaching. Six years ago some 153 governments were persuaded to begin work on a global Arms Trade Treaty.

"The cogs of international law turn excruciatingly slowly - much progress has been made but we're now entering the crucial final phase. Today the last preparatory talks begin ahead of the final United Nations negotiations in July. It comes as Oxfam and Amnesty International kick-start their final push at an event in Glasgow. They - like me - are determined to secure the strong treaty we all know is needed.

"During this long campaign I have been honoured to stand alongside David Grimason. We share an unwanted common bond. He too knows what it feels like to lose a child due to arms. David - and his wife Ozlem - lost their two-year-old son Alistair - when he was shot dead in a Turkish cafe in July 2003. Alistair was sleeping when a stray bullet hit his pram.

"We both recognise this is an issue that transcends borders. In 2001 I travelled with Oxfam to Northern Uganda. It was a disturbing experience. I met mothers, fathers and children who were living in fear of armed killers every day. Their message was always the same: 'Get the guns out and we will have stable lives again'.

"In one primary school class 95% of the children had witnessed armed raids. The availability of weapons was fuelling the violence. Many had been shipped there by arms dealers who cared little for the human cost of their trade. An automatic rifle could be bought for as little as £15. Bullets cost just 20p. An international arms trade treaty won't stop the killing overnight, but over time it will reduce the global flow of arms. And crucially, we in Britain can help do something about it.

"The UK has a proud record of reacting with aid in times of famine or flood. We should be equally proud of our role to date in securing effective control over the trade in arms. But over the next few months the UK's voice must remain strong, consistent and direct. We've come too far to weaken our stance, and I want Prime Minister David Cameron to ensure that the UK remains fully committed to securing a strong treaty. Any weakening of our stance will be seen as a betrayal to those hundreds of thousands of victims who suffer armed violence every year."

Blog post written by Jamie Livingstone

Head of Oxfam Scotland

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