Bosnia & Herzegovina: Arms meltdown movement forces firepower from the streets


A worker cutting weapons prior to melting them in furnaces in Jelsingrad Steel Mill in Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Photo: Irfan Redzovic

In the small, peaceful town of Modrica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, two teenagers recently caused quite a commotion. After finding hand grenades lying in the open in a former battlefield, they decided to bring them to school.

Highlights

  • As many as 1 in 5 citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina may possess an illegal firearm
  • On average, more than 10 acts of violence involving illegal weapons occur every week
  • There are still over 16,000 tonnes of ammunition in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Since 2006, UNDP has helped dispose of over 11,000 tonnes of ammunition and 130,000 small arms and light weapons
  • Partners: UNDP, UNICEF, UK, EU, SEESAC, ICRC, World Future Council, OSCE
  • Budget: US $406,000
  • Duration: September 2013 – December 2014

But the event was not that unusual. Several violent incidents have occurred in the region in recent months. Almost 20 years since the end of the devastating 1992 – 1995 Bosnian conflict, the country is still littered with war leftovers. There are as many as 750,000 illegal firearms and 16,000 tonnes of ammunition in public circulation, which have played a role in more than 10,000 deaths in the past two decades through accidents, suicides and murders. And on average, these weapons are involved in more than 10 acts of violence per week in the country.

"The recent event where students brought a hand grenade in a school environment suggests that we need to work more intensely in education to raise awareness among youth of the risks of handling unexploded ordnance," says Zeljko Terzic, a member of the Civil Protection, an organization that works on improving the safety of citizens.

To help give new impetus to this goal, in 2013, UNDP and its partners launched 'Choose Life Without Weapons,' a campaign that encourages people in Bosnia and Herzegovina to take advantage of an amnesty law, which allows them to hand in illegally held weapons and explosive devices to the police – without fear of legal repercussions. The metal in the weapons is then melted and recycled to make spare parts for trains and other public infrastructure.

So far, over 100,000 munitions and explosive devices have been surrendered since the campaign began in September 2013, along with over 4,500 illegally possessed firearms. The dangerous haul includes rifles, handguns, machine guns, hand grenades, artillery munitions and even the occasional mortar round. This adds to the 11,000 tonnes of ammunition and 130,000 weapons that UNDP has helped the government to dispose of since 2006.

“This is the first arms collection campaign of such magnitude in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” says Yuri Afanasiev, UNDP Resident Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “According to UN estimates, since the end of the war, almost 4,000 ex-combatants alone have committed suicide using illegal weapons, frequently taking friends and family with them. So the importance of this campaign for the country cannot be overestimated.”

"This action is very important to ensure a safe and secure environment for all citizens of the country," says Radislav Jovicic, Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republika Srpska, one of two political entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina. "Most of the collected weapons will be destroyed and will not be accessible to those who should not have access to them--mainly children and some criminal groups."

"For the future, we want our children to be able to walk down the street without fear,” says a local high school teacher. "This project may only be the beginning, but every piece of illegal weaponry collected is potentially a saved life and a step towards freedom from danger and insecurity."