Skip to main content

We need an Arms Trade Treaty now

By Djimon Hounsou, Special to CNN
March 28, 2013 -- Updated 1823 GMT (0223 HKT)
Djimon Hounsou, right, in South Sudan on his recent trip.
Djimon Hounsou, right, in South Sudan on his recent trip.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Djimon Hounsou: South Sudan faces many challenges, including overflow of weapons
  • Hounsou: Arms Trade Treaty will help restrict flow of weapons in conflict-ridden regions
  • He says international governments should support treaty, help stop bloodshed
  • Hounsou: Without widely accessible weapons, people of South Sudan will be safer

Editor's note: Djimon Hounsou, an Oscar-nominated actor and Oxfam global ambassador, recently returned from a trip to South Sudan with the humanitarian organization.

(CNN) -- During a recent trip to South Sudan, I was reminded of my childhood and the challenges I have had to overcome. I grew up in western Africa, in the Republic of Benin, where I distinctly remember the atmosphere of unrest that came with two coups d'etats. In flashbacks, I remember my mother carrying me on her back as we fled Cotonou, the capital of Benin, while gunshots and screams filled the air.

South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, is facing many challenges. After three generations that have known only violence, the country still has unresolved conflicts with its northern neighbor Sudan. But the internal conflicts and civil unrest fueled by readily available weapons are raging at the borders of this young and largely ignored nation.

Basic needs the developed world takes for granted are hard to come by in South Sudan. Too many kids can't afford to go to school -- especially the girls -- and there are not enough trained teachers for the few kids who are able to get an education. Clean water and food are hard to obtain. On top of that, the lack of security and protection makes it a struggle for families to fend for themselves.

I visited villages where cows are like money in the bank, an indication of status and wealth. They are offered as the price for marriage when men are looking for a wife. This has led to a cultural tradition of cattle raiding by men who want to increase their herd.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Cattle raids have been going on for generations between communities, but now, with an ever-expanding and unchecked arms trade, the men are using guns instead of spears for their raids. With not enough police, and inadequate or nonexistent medical facilities, you can imagine the devastation.

It felt like a Hollywood movie set to see young boys carrying AK-47's, and girls not much older than my own daughters nursing their own babies. I heard stories of young girls who were raped and then forced to marry their rapist. How can this be real?

If my family had not exhausted their limited finances to send me to Europe to receive an education, would I have also picked up an AK-47?

There are no easy solutions, and ultimately, the government of South Sudan has to take responsibility to protect its people. But there is something we all can do right now.

A strong Arms Trade Treaty will help restrict the flow of weapons and bullets to conflict-riddled countries like South Sudan. Negotiations are taking place right now at the United Nations to bring such a treaty to fruition.

Such a treaty would make it harder for cattle raiders to attack communities like the ones I visited, and harder for small disputes between villages and tribes to end in bloodshed.

The government of South Sudan has been conducting campaigns to disarm civilians, but this will not be effective if weapons are still easily accessible. Weapons have been flooding into nations like South Sudan for decades.

Although the situation might seem hopeless, there is hope. I saw unbelievable strength and dignity in the eyes of the people I met in South Sudan. I was surprised by this in every village I visited. After all they have endured, they press on for a future they fought and bled for. A future that they believe in. A future that all of us can help support. A future that we have an inherent obligation to support.

It's time for governments around the world to stand up for what¹s right and make the world a safer place by agreeing to a robust Arms Trade Treaty.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Djimon Hounsou.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT