Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu has joined other religious leaders in calling on governments to bring the "global horror story" of the arms trade under control.
"The world is awash with weapons, including an estimated 640 million firearms, or one gun for every 10 people on the planet," the religious leaders say in a letter published October 3 in London's The Times newspaper ahead of a vote on an international arms trade treaty at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
"This is a global horror story, which plays itself out from the favelas of Brazil to conflict in the Middle East and to the killings in Darfur," the letter says. "And the vast majority of the victims are not fighters, but ordinary men, women and children."
As well as Tutu, signatories include the Dalai Lama; Norwegian Lutheran Bishop Gunnar Staalsett; Sheikh Musa Muhammad, the chief imam of the Abuja National Mosque in Nigeria, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center in Washington DC; and Swami Agnivesh, president of the World Council of Arya Samaj, India.
In an article published in the Cape Times newspaper in September, Tutu described the arms trade as a modern "slave trade" that is out of control.
"This continues, because of the complicity of governments, especially rich countries' governments, which turn a blind eye to the appalling suffering associated with the proliferation of weapons," said Tutu.
Citing figures from 2005, Tutu noted that Russia, the US, France, Germany and the UK accounted for an estimated 82 percent of the global arms market. The amount spent by rich countries annually on the fight to stem the HIV pandemic is equal to just 18 days' global spending on arms, he added.
"The world could eradicate poverty in only a few generations," he stated, "if a fraction of the spending on the war business were spent on peace."