Spotlight Interview At Small Arms Monitor
In a spotlight interview at the Small Arms Monitor, Widad said:
"One of the biggest challenges I've faced is the strict, one-dimensional, non-negotiable opposition to the idea of civil society engagement in issues of small arms programmes, in particular if the activist is a female human rights defender. Other challenges include ... our inability to bring armed conflicts to an end."
Dr. Widad Akreyi was the subject of a spotlight interview at the Small Arms Monitor, which is produced by the Reaching Critical Will programme of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom during meetings related to the UN Programme of Action.
1. What made you begin your work on small arms issues?
Things that happened around me made me work on small arms issues. In my youth I began focusing on the use of excessive force by elements of the Iraqi government forces and the military, which often resulted in civilian deaths. Afterwards, while documenting the Anfal campaign and the use of chemical weapons against civilians, I realized how the use of conventional arms was an integral part of the campaign.
In fact, each phase of the operation was conducted as a combined armed assault. By the end of the campaign, I initiated a diagnosis about toxic remnants of wars and their effects on human health and the environment, in both conflict and peace. After becoming a health professional, we also identified several patterns of the association between violence against women and the availability of arms and access to guns in homes and in society. Furthermore, I have seen how women and children are abducted, raped, and enslaved.
The common denominator for all the above cases was the overuse and misuse of small arms and light weapons (SALW). Therefore, I worked on identifying their severe implications in terms of health, education, development and the gen- eral well-being of individuals and communities. These experiences provided knowledge of local contexts, of cultural differences and sensitivities, and I decided to increase public awareness through advocacy to ensure justice, accountability and respect for human rights.
2. Please tell me more about your organization, and the work that you do.
Having been in this field for over 30 years, I wear different hats at any given point of time, depending on the organization I represent and its receptivity to my style. Different organizations have different leadership styles.
When I chaired the first regional conference on arms control in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA), organised in Cairo in 2006, just a handful of participants were aware of the importance of effective measures to regulate small arms and light weapons.
We observed very little interest in matters concerning efforts to control the proliferation of SALW at the national, regional and sub-regional levels. Since then I have been trying to stress and facilitate civil society actors' understanding of the significant role they can play in addressing the major aspects related to the illicit and uncontrolled proliferation of small arms. We have raised awareness of the international tools aimed at preventing and eradicating the illicit trade in SALW. The good news is that things have changed now. Civil society activists across the MENA region recognize the importance of reducing the number of small arms. They have realized how the illicitly traded SALW fuel conflicts. Their communication skills are developing to a level where they can contribute in the fight against the illegal arms trade. This was possible, mostly because of the remarkable ability of our civil society to thrive, not just survive, but partly also because of our ability to understand the context in which our colleagues worked and the nature of their problems.
“My goals for the third review conference of the UN Programme of Action are to give the extra push needed for the inclusion of SDGs and women in the implementation of the UNPoA and a better involvement of civil society in discussions on finding solutions to the illicit global trade in small arms and light weapons. I will voice the concerns and needs of groups who would otherwise not be heard. I will be there to advocate on their behalf.” ~ Dr. Widad Akreyi
3. What are some of the biggest challenges and successes you have experienced in your civil society work?
Some of the biggest successes I have experienced in my civil society work are the adoption of an effective and a legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty, the historic Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the ground-breaking UN Security Council Resolution 2117. One of the biggest challenges I have faced is the strict, one-dimensional, non-negotiable opposition to the idea of civil society engagement in issues of small arms programmes, in particular if the activist is a female human rights defender. Other challenges include intimidation and harassment against members of non-governmental organisations for their peaceful activities, the lack of adequate funds for civil society, and our inability to bring the armed conflicts to an end.
4. What are your goals for the Third Review Conference of the UNPoA?
To give the extra push needed for the inclusion of SDGs and women in the implementation of the UNPoA and a better involvement of civil society in discussions on finding solutions to the illicit global trade in SALW. I will voice the concerns and needs of groups who would otherwise not be heard. I will be there to advocate on their behalf.
Small Arms Monitor
Vol. 10, No. 1
June 18, 2018