Controlling arms, preventing violence

police officers
Drniš: Croatian police officers explain voluntary weapons surrender, part of a UNDP-supported awareness campaign.

"When I was 10 years old, two of my friends and I headed to a schoolyard to play football, but on our way there we stopped at an abandoned house full of weapons.  One of my friends called us to show us what he had just found.  While we were approaching, he activated the wasp and it exploded.  I was injured the most, other friend was slightly injured and the one who found the wasp was killed.  We were the best friends... What do children know...  We were only 10...“ Nikola Petrović tells the story of a children's play with a dumped wasp in March 1996. He became 100 % disabled after this episode.

Of 49 major conflicts in the 1990s, 47 were waged with small arms as the weapons of choice. Small arms have been responsible for, on average, over a quarter of a million deaths per year, with an everincreasing number taking place in nonconflict settings.

Highlights

  • Of 49 major conflicts in the 1990s, 47 were waged with small arms as the weapons of choice
  • Between September 2007 and the end of 2009, an arms collection campaign organized by UNDP and the Ministry of the Interior resulted in the collection of more than 39,000 firearms, mines and other explosive weapons; one million pieces of ammunition; and over 1,000 kilogrammes of explosives
  • UNDP designed the arms collection campaign by drawing on best practices from collection programmes in the region and from around the world but the approach was tailored to the distinct needs of Croatia

Years of full-scale conflict in Croatia dating as far back as World War II and as recently as the 1990s have left behind a dangerous legacy, including the widespread, illegal possession of weapons. As a result, parts of Croatia are experiencing rising levels of armed violence and crime, putting human development gains at risk in a country still scarred by the effects of war. Indeed, armed violence in Croatia has risen over the past six years, and the great majority of the public believes their communities are less safe now than they were 20 years ago.

„Two and a half years ago I was at a friend's party.  I was having a great time there, we were playing with a ball and at one point somebody shot the ball a bit further away.  I went to get it and as I bent down I felt pain in my chest - I got shot.  There was a football match that day, the Dinamo and the Hajduk played, and  I think it happened at about the same time as the Dinamo scored a goal.“ tells his story Mato Boroša, who was hit in the chest by a bullet fired during the Dinamo-Hajduk football match in 2005.

Zdenko Kantolić lost his son in 2002 due to a leftover illegal rifle at his neighbor's house. „My two sons, Petar and Matija, who were 10 and 12 years old, went to play in a neighbor's yard.  Unfortunately, their son was holding his father's rifle in his hands.  He fired once, but the gun didn't activate.  My older son warned him: 'Don't shoot, the rifle is maybe loaded’, but he didn't listen to him, he fired one more time and shot Matija.  The first words my older son said were: 'Dad, I can't live without Matija.'  He said it then, and after that he has never spoken again. “

The continuing availability of firearms means that disputes can rapidly escalate into armed incidents. Between September 2007 and the end of 2009, an arms collection campaign organized by UNDP and the Ministry of the Interior resulted in the collection of more than 39,000 firearms, mines and other explosive weapons; one million pieces of ammunition; and over 1,000 kilogrammes of explosives. During the initial nine months of the campaign alone, more than 16,000 weapons were voluntarily surrendered.

UNDP designed the arms collection campaign by drawing on best practices from collection programmes in the region and from around the world but the approach was tailored to the distinct needs of Croatia. In addition to the voluntary collection of arms, the programme also conducted evidence-based improvement of the Croatian police force and provided an analysis of armed violence and crime in Croatian society. Finally, UNDP assisted the Government in the destruction and recycling of surplus weapons.

The arms collection campaign mobilized a number of public figures, including athletes, musicians and artists to participate in awareness-raising activities. A famous Croatian pop group produced a song about the campaign. At the same time, both local and national media actively covered the campaign and broadcast public service announcements on television and radio for free. A free telephone hotline was established providing information on the surrender. From the beginning, public messaging stressed that weapon owners were surrendering their arms to contribute to economic development, human security and to protect their families from accidents.

In 2009, UNDP focused on raising awareness of the dangers of illegal firearms in regions of Croatia that were heavily affected by the 1990s war. The regions are experiencing rising levels of armed violence and are still experiencing acute pressures as they transition to a post-conflict society. The campaign is continuing in these places through 2011, and is relying heavily on support from war veteran associations, women and youth NGOs, representing the three groups most affected by the rise in armed violence. In September 2009, the Government adopted a new weapons control strategy specifying the arms collection campaign initiated by UNDP and the Ministry of the Interior as a main tool for going forward.