Bosnia and Herzegovina chooses life without weapons
Dubica is a small city on the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. In the past six months, this seemingly peaceful municipality was shaken by several serious and violent incidents committed with illegal weapons.
Two and a half hours away, in the town of Modriča, teenagers recently brought hand grenades to their classrooms. They found them in a field on the outskirts of the city, where the frontlines of war used to be.
In 2013, after a number of consultations, UNDP and domestic partners announced the launch of Choose Life Without Weapons - a nationwide campaign to collect illegally possessed small arms and light weapons. As of 1 September 2013, with the introduction of an amnesty law for those carrying illegal firearms - citizens were able to hand over weapons and explosive devices freely and without fear of punishment.
A great deal of work remains. Estimates reveal that 750,000 firearms are held illegally by civilians throughout the country and that, since the end of the conflict in 1995, they have played a role in more than 10,000 deaths.
Transforming a public enemy into a public good
The Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted legislation to enable this large-scale arms collection campaign. Collected weapons are melted and recycled to make spare parts for trains and other public infrastructure.
“This is the first arms collection campaign of such magnitude in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Yuri Afanasiev, UNDP Resident Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “According to UN estimates, since the end of the war almost 4,000 demobilized soldiers have committed suicide using illegal weapons, frequently taking friends and family with them. The damage this issue is making on society is enormous and we had to act jointly and immediately.”
Crucial for the campaign’s success is the ongoing outreach on the devastating impact of these weapons. The campaign is designed to reach everyone. Every weapon surrendered can make a difference.
Since December 2013, national authorities have collected and destroyed 1,750 illegally possessed weapons. On 20 March 2014, 2,000 more will be melted down. It’s a small start but an important one.
As Colonel Rob Tomlinson, military attaché of the British Embassy to Bosnia and Herzegovina, said at the campaign’s launch last September:
“Each collected piece of illegal weaponry means potentially a saved life.”