Next week, from March 18th to 28th, negotiators should finalize text for the Arms Trade Treaty to set uniform standards for international arms sales that will bring foreign governments up to U.S. export standards. This international treaty is years in the making-the lack of accountability for the global sale and trade of arms is appalling. War lords, terrorists, and those who commit haneous human rights violations benefit from the current system -- it is simply too easy for these people to obtain weapons. Worldwide, one person dies every minute of armed violence. That's 500,000 people a year. But don't let the statistics sway you. Here are some personal stories of women who have experienced violence at the hands of those with illegal arms.1
Marren Akatsa-Bukachi: "One man with a gun can rape a whole village"
Marren Akatsa-Bukachi is the Executive Director of the Eastern African sub Regional Support Initiative for Advancement of Women (EASSI). They work with women survivors of violence.
"Men and women are affected differently by arms.
"In Africa, guns are used to rape women, disempower them. Women are also affected when their husbands die or become incapacitated by small arms as they become head of the household.
"I myself, have been affected by the misuse of small arms. I'm from Kenya and twice, people came into my home with guns and robbed my family. It was four hours each time. They tied us up, face on the carpet, terrorized us, threatened us with their guns. They took everything I had ever worked for.
"I was lucky because I was not sexually molested but I'm still traumatized. Now I live in Uganda and even though it is very hot, every night before I go to sleep, I lock all the doors and windows, even the bedroom door. Who wants to live like that?
"We really need to control the flow of arms. In Africa, we don't even know where the arms come from.
"We really need to prevent countries where there's real potential of sexual violence from accessing small arms.
"You don't need a hundred guns to abuse women's rights. One man with a gun can rape a whole village.
"We are now conducting training in the great lakes region on gender issues. It is a very slow process. We train people but we don't have the capacity to see if they are implementing this. In most countries in Africa, we take two steps forward and one step back.
"This is the last opportunity that we have. The gender aspect must be included in all sections of the Arms Trade Treaty."
Mariame: "People were being killed everywhere"
Two years after the end of the post-electoral crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, which resulted in almost 3,000 deaths, Cote d'Ivoire continues to be home to serious human rights violations, including extra-judicial executions, illegal detention and torture, committed against known or suspected supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo. These violations are primarily committed by the national army (FRCI), military police and local militias receiving state support, such as the Dozos. Mariame lives in Côte d'Ivoire and has survived gun violence. All names have been changed to protect the family's identity.
"When the local Dozo militia arrived on 30 March 2011 (armed with Kalashnikovs) everyone fled to the bush. We knew they were Dozos as they were wearing their traditional clothing. At that time, me and my husband had six children and we all fled together. But we got split up and I ended up with three of my children. We eventually arrived at a camp where my husband's cousin was staying.
"Then they started to shoot. We didn't know where it was coming from. People were being killed everywhere. My four-year old son was lost and the moment he shouted out to try and find us, they shot him. But to save my other two children's lives, we had to flee.
"We then came across two men. One of them had a gun, the other had a machete. The one with the machete caught hold of me but the man with the gun said, don't kill her, we're going to rape her. They did what they were able to do. I was very weak as I hadn't eaten for three days.
"My children were crying the whole time. The men then let me go and they left.
"I eventually found my husband and he went to the place where I had been raped. That's where he found my son's dead body. That day, they killed at least 10 people from my village, including a woman who was nine months pregnant.
"And they shot my 12-year old daughter. She now has two bullets lodged in her head. There was also one in her arm but doctors were able to remove it. If she takes a knock she has a nosebleed. She even gets nosebleeds if she takes too much sunshine, for example. And she has very bad headaches. We don't have the means to send her to a big hospital to get the treatment she needs.
"When the war started, everything finished for us. Armed groups invaded all the villages. They have machetes and guns, others have axes. Once they know that you're Guere (ethnic group considered pro-Gbagbo), they kill you."
These stories are not just stories -- they are experiences of two women who suffered because of the lack of accountability in the global arms trade. Women and girls are subjected to unspeakable sexual and physical violence. Men are killed. Children are forced to be soldiers and kill their own families. The United States -- and the entire global community -- has a responsibility to protect those who are subject to human rights violations.
1: Courtesy of Amnesty Internaitonal.