In the 1990s, conflicts with conventional arms killed one person every minute. In the Congo, over 3.3 million people – slightly less than Costa Rica’s entire population – died between 1998 and 2002 because of civil war.
In Colombia, 4,000 people were killed in political violence in 2002 alone.
While these statistics may be alarming, as are regular news stories that the weapons used in armed conflicts in the developing world often stem from developed nations, they haven’t been enough to move people to action.
This week, the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, founded by ex-President and President-elect Oscar Arias, turned to U.S. actors Nicholas Cage and Ethan Hawke to show the brutal reality of arms trafficking.
The foundation showed Tuesday the Cage-Hawke movie Lord of War, which, although fiction, has been acclaimed by nonprofit organizations as one of the most accurate film depictions of the global trafficking of illegal arms.
This trafficking perpetuates armed conflicts and poverty in underdeveloped nations, according to Arias.
“Everything we saw in that movie is true,” said Arias, pointing out specific armed conflicts in developing nations that were perpetuated because of this trafficking.
“Central America has never been far from this experience. One can ask oneself today, how many Nicaraguan, Salvadoran and Guatemalan children died in the Central American wars… instead of having toys, they had machine guns,” he continued.
Arias started the foundation with the money he was awarded when he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his help during his first administration (1986-1990) in resolving the civil wars that were tearing apart Central America. Arias is also one of the drafters of the Arms Trade Treaty, which would essentially prohibit governments from selling weapons to known human-rights violators.
The treaty, which Arias said “could change the face of the world,” so far has the support of 40 nations, but must get much more if it can move forward in the United Nations.
Organizations such as the Arias Foundation are using Lord of War to muster popular support for the treaty. In addition to Arias, an impressive audience attending the movie premiere in Costa Rica included government ministers, foreign ambassadors and Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese.
“There are 550 million guns in circulation, or one for every 12 people. The question is: how do we win over the other 11?” says unscrupulous arms dealer Yuri Orlov, played by Cage, to open the movie.
The Cold War left behind an enormous arsenal of arms that could be sold to countries at war, which Orlov explains are mainly in Africa, where 11 major conflicts involving 32 different nations happened in less than a decade.
While the movie has several violent scenes depicting the weapons’ final purpose, the ending reveals the cruelest reality. After being arrested and facing mounds of evidence against him, Orlov is released.
Where Cage and Hawke left off, Arias may be up to pick up.
Though he and the Arias Foundation’s executive director Luis Alberto Cordero recognize that the Arms Trade Treaty has a long way to go, they are also confident it will move forward, starting with a discussion in July in the United Nations.
“Those of us who know the perseverance of Oscar Arias, those who know his power of persuasion, those who know the global prestige he has, I am sure that this treaty will begun to be studied with much more force as soon as he announces it as part of his foreign policy,” Cordero said.