Libyans are in danger. Millions of small arms and light weapons are in circulation, posing huge threats to the population, which isn't trained to use them.
The result is an upsurge in accidents. Two hospitals in Tripoli have tallied 1,000 victims, half of them under the age of 25, since the start of 2012, according to Shane Brady, Handicap International's small arms risk education manager.
Victims arrive in the city's hospitals with injuries from fighting, family disputes, demonstrations and even celebrations. The weapons became commonplace when forces loyal to Mouammar Gaddafi opened weapons stockpiles, and various states delivered arms at the start of the conflict in 2011.
These accidents are avoidable. Handicap International has been raising awareness of the dangers that weapons pose among civilians and local organizations.
A Victory Against Violence
To coincide with the first anniversary of the August 9 liberation of Tripoli, Handicap International distributed hundreds of leaflets, awareness posters and t-shirts printed with the slogan “I'm a Libyan, I'm against weapons” in Tripoli's Martyrs Square. Tripoli is Libya's worst-affected city by access to small arms and light weapons.
At the same time, on the same square, tensions broke out between some 40 armed rebels, initially leading to fist fights. The militiamen then waved their weapons around and pointed them at their opponents. Civilians started to flee the area, fearing a gun battle. Several people who had visited Handicap International's stand shouted out to the insurgents to condemn their behavior, asking them to respect the organization's recommendations.
“The fact that these civilians intervened shows that they had taken our message on board and that we directly prevented a number of accidents,” Brady said. “As calm returned to the square, Handicap International was able to explain to the militiamen the disastrous consequences of this score-settling. No shots were fired and the worst was avoided. We scored a victory against violence, thanks to the support of civilians. It's a first step towards a more general realization of the damage weapons can do.
“This campaign requires the support of people across the country — civilians, local organizations and national institutions. We are currently working in close cooperation with the Ministry for Education to train school teachers to explain the dangers posed by these weapons to their students. They will act as key intermediaries in limiting accidents among teenagers, the group worst affected in Libya.”