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 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 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 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?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT