With just a few days before governments meet in New York to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty that could bring the uncontrolled trade of arms and ammunition to heel, I met with a long-time friend of the campaign, Julius Arile, in his home of West Pokot, in the Rift Valley province of North-West Kenya.
As a young man, Julius was involved in armed violence. He would rustle cattle armed with an AK47. He describes life then:
“[Life] was very difficult. We didn’t know what was ahead of us, so we used to fight and we used guns.
“One day, the Karamojong [an ethnic group from across the border in Uganda] came to us, to attack our place. Then we were fighting. My friend was killed beside me. When I saw him die, I ran. And that’s when I realised ‘this is not good’. Next time it could have been me. So I took off my gun.”
That was when Julius decided to tell others to do the same; lay down their weapons and move away from violence and fighting. He gave up his AK47 to become a peace activist and leader in his community, as well as embarking on an exciting new life for himself, as a marathon runner. In 2006, Julius came to the United Nations in New York to ask the then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders to start work on an arms trade treaty.
Like Julius, others have put down their guns to join the Control Arms campaign since 2006. But the efforts of individuals can only be successful in putting an end to gun-related human rights abuses if governments act to stop the flood of weapons into the world’s poorest communities and the worst conflict zones, by signing a strong and affective Arms Trade Treaty.
In his plea to leaders at the UN, Julius calls governments to give one unified message: to support an Arms Trade Treaty that really makes a difference to lives and communities like his.