Skip to main content

We need an Arms Trade Treaty now

By Djimon Hounsou, Special to CNN
updated 2:23 PM EDT, Thu March 28, 2013
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
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
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?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
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
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
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?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
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
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
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
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
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.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
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
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
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.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
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
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
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.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT