Darío Kosovski

Ashoka Fellow
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Argentina
Fellow since 2007
INECIP

Darío fue seleccionado como emprendedor de Ashoka  por llevar adelante un programa que tiene como objetivo disminuir el nivel de violencia y la inseguridad en la sociedad reemplazando el paradigma del orden por el la de gestión de la conflictividad.

Su estrategia se base en tres ejes: el desarme como emblema para lograr la disminución de la violencia, la influencia en políticas públicas para mejorar la gestión, y la concientización social acerca de la necesidad de vivir en una cultura de paz.

This description of Darío Kosovski's work was prepared when Darío Kosovski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007 .

Introduction

Dario Kosovski is improving public security by promoting nonviolent conflict resolution. He is displacing a system that promotes violence and arms proliferation through advocacy and campaigns to raise public awareness about the need for a peaceful culture, reducing the weapons supply and improving arms regulation by influencing public policy.

The New Idea

Piece by piece, Dario is breaking down a social, economic, and legal system that fosters the proliferation of violence and weapons. In its place, he is laying the foundation for peaceful, nonviolent resolution to conflict. Though Dario’s concern is with violence and conflict in general, he is focusing on arms reform as a starting point because he saw that the issue was not being systematically addressed by anyone else in Argentina. He will fill this gap.

Dario is addressing the societal forces that enable arms proliferation; he is focused on reducing the demand for arms, decreasing the supply of arms, and improving arms control and regulation. He reduces demand through striking symbolic media messages and public awareness campaigns—such as his campaign to eliminate the over-abundance of violent/war toys for children.

Dario understands that one of the reasons the current state-sponsored system of increasingly punitive measures against criminals has not been effective in reducing violence is that there are societal—and particularly, economic—forces at work to keep the system in place. Dario has successfully campaigned to move the office dealing with arms registration from the control of the Ministry of Defense, where it was outsourced to a private company financed largely by arms manufacturers, to the Ministry of the Interior. Many of Dario’s other activities similarly target public policy and legal reform to promote disarmament and increase arms regulation. He has, for example, instigated a state-sponsored call to hand over weapons to the state.

Beyond Argentina, Dario is leading a coalition of Latin American organizations to share best practices and generate policies to promote public security and disarmament throughout the entire region.

The Problem

Security is a relatively new problem for democracies. Historically this role has been filled by the military and police forces. However, with the return of democracy to Latin America, and the enormous increase in poverty and inequality, the problems of violence and insecurity have become far more serious and difficult to resolve.

Reliable studies show that the number of crimes in Argentina has increased by more than 180 percent in the last two decades. In a country which used to be considered safe, the levels of juvenile criminality and violence against vulnerable groups such as the elderly have increased notably. According to an international survey of forty nations, Argentina has one of the highest levels of public insecurity in the world. Yet, Argentine society is divided about how to deal with increasing criminality. The conservative right demands harsher measures (mano dura—stricter actions and penalties against delinquents), while the left advocates addressing the underlying social problems that cause violence.

In Argentina, those most affected by the use of firearms are the poor and unemployed youth. Among people killed by firearms, 90 percent are male, and between the ages of 15 and 39. Fifty-two percent of the registered deaths are caused by bullet wounds. Within Buenos Aires, the neighborhoods with the highest homicide rates correspond with the highest poverty levels in the city. Nationwide, one person dies from a bullet wound every three hours.

One million and two hundred thousand firearms are legally registered in the Argentina National Arms Registry (Registro Nacional de Armas—RENAR). Of those, 990,000 are in the hands of almost 625,000 individual users. But these figures only cover the “legal market” i.e. approved, legally owned firearms. However, the National Survey on Risk Factors conducted by the National Ministry of Health determined that 10 percent of homes in Argentina have a firearm, a statistic that dwarfs the registered firearm market. All the firearms are originally legal but, with time, the State loses track of them and they become illegal. The RENAR sells registration forms, but any firearms salesperson can act as a solicitor, and for a larger amount of money, can take care of this process. In other words, firearms vendors control who carries firearms instead of the government. Arms proliferation in Argentina is due to several factors. Fifty percent of people consulted by the National Office of Criminal Policy said they owned firearms for “prevention or protection”; and only twenty-five percent owned arms for sporting reasons, to hunt, or because they were collectors.

This sustained demand for firearms due to insecurity is exacerbated by the media, as they sensationalize violence and reduce very complex problems into simplistic theories that stigmatize large groups of people. This situation is worsened by the lack of action from the State and the growing need for a security policy (for the short, medium and long-term).

In fact, the ubiquity of firearms means that conflicts among neighbors or friends—even those involving simple disagreements—which would normally be resolved through dialogue or even a fist fight, now often lead to the death of one or more involved. Guns are used as a legitimate means of dealing with conflict and lead to devastating consequences for the community.

The Strategy

Dario promotes disarmament by reducing the demand for weapons, reducing weapons supply, and improving arms control and regulation. He generates media attention to raise public consciousness about arms proliferation (reducing demand) largely through high-impact symbolic campaigns around specific actions. Dario also campaigns for critical changes in law and public policy, kick-starting public efforts to reduce weapons supply and improve arms control.

In 2004, Darío created the Latin American Institute for Security and Democracy. Darío and his team of five professionals and five volunteers work at the national level to create campaigns and influence public policy. At the same time he strengthened his work with the creation of the Argentine Network for Disarmament, which brings together 15 organizations in Argentina that deal with the issue of safety. The network is an effective means of disseminating his activities and efforts throughout the country.

In one of Dario’s most important awareness-raising campaigns, he brought together families of the victims of violence to propose several peaceful alternatives to the current punitive approach to reduce societal violence (rather then simply increasing sentences and decreasing the age at which minors can be convicted). Darío and these families held two public rallies in front of the house of government. The personal stories of these families and their losses garnered much public attention for the events, attracting significant press coverage. Eventually, the group succeeded in presenting two proposals to the Argentine government that were adopted by the President and will be put into practice in 2007.

Another strikingly symbolic awareness-raising campaign has been Dario’s attempt to get rid of war toys for children. Darío’s campaign, “Cambiemos por la Paz” or “Let’s Change for Peace”, developed in partnership with UNICEF and UNESCO, resulted in 30,000 war toys collected and destroyed in front of the Ministry of Education, with tremendous press coverage. Part of this campaign (involving a partnership between Dario’s organization and Ashoka Fellow Juan Carr’s Red Solidaria) is a toy exchange—trading educational toys for war toys turned in by children in schools across the country. Dario sees working with children as critical to fight a culture in which children are raised to think violence is normal. He has plans for teacher-training programs and curriculum changes to this end.

Other important awareness-raising campaigns include convincing the River Plate Football Team to enter the field carrying a banner with messages against the use of fire arms. Darío also launched the slogan “You have a Fire Arm, You have a Problem”, for which he developed an advertising spot. This phrase was then adopted by the Argentine President as the slogan for the official campaign. All of Dario’s awareness-raising activities have generated national press coverage. Finally, Dario used the scenarios of several violent events involving firearms in schools to develop workshops and discussions in schools throughout the country. These events are run by his organization or one of the fifteen organizations in his network. Dario himself speaks often at conferences and seminars on disarmament in Argentina.

To reduce arms supply and tighten control and regulation, Dario concentrates his efforts on influencing public policy. Because of his reputation as an expert on the issue of disarmament, he was able to speak at a Congressional meeting on the issue of security. With plenty of accompanying media coverage, Dario spoke of the problems caused by firearms in Argentina, and called on the deputies and senators of the Defense and Safety Commission to reform the relevant legislation. In this way, Dario publically held these elected officials accountable for their roles in regulating the activities of the Executive Branch in relation to firearms. Darío followed this up by introducing in Congress (through a politician who supports his work) a proposal for a new law: The National Plan for Disarmament. This law has been approved and was put into practice on March 15, 2007. The law declares “a national emergency” in terms of possession of arms and ammunitions, registered and unregistered, with the objective of disarming citizens in order to diminish crime and accidents. According to the same law, those who turn in their arms voluntarily will receive a monetary reward and those who turn in unregistered firearms will not be penalized. The disarmament plan also declares a prohibition on the replication of arms, and encourages national authorities to generate campaigns aimed at persuading the population to abandon the use of war toys.

Dario is currently advocating for a proposal he has developed to improve the system of arms control at a national level, so that all firearms will be monitored by the state from the moment they are created until they are destroyed. One of Dario’s goals is to introduce legislation to destroy the deposit of arms collected by the government from the public, thereby preventing this supply of arms from ever returning to the market.

One of Dario’s most important insights has been to understand the forces in society that promote arms proliferation—including economic forces. Darío successfully campaigned for the transfer of RENAR from the control of the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of the Interior. This step has been crucial in order to de-militarize the issue of arms ownership, approaching the issue of firearms under the framework of interior security as opposed to defense. It has also been crucial in removing RENAR from the influence of arms manufacturers, who largely financed the agency when it was controlled by the Ministry of Defense. Darío continues to push for reform of the administrative and financial control of the RENAR. He was consulted on this by the Argentine President, who personally adopted his proposals in the government’s 2007 plan.

In 2005 Dario began to form close partnerships with other Latin American citizen organizations (COs) to strengthen his work and expand across Latin America. He helped to create the Latin American Coalition for the Prevention of Violence (CLAVE), formally formed in Mexico City in 2006. This network is led by an organization created by Darío and Ashoka Fellow Denis Mizne. Thus, a regional actor was created with the capacity to develop a common platform between Latin American governments with regard to firearms and citizen disarmament. As a member of CLAVE, Darío has co-authored, Framework Law as a tool for other countries lacking or wanting to improve legislation regarding firearms control. Darío presented the law before the Latin American Parliament, who committed to address the issue in the next few months.

Knowing that improving public safety is more complex than simply battling arms proliferation, Darío is also addressing police reform and the control on private security. He is currently in conversations with the Congress and the Executive Branch on this issue.

The Person

Darío spent his childhood and most of his adolescence taking part in activities at a religious country club, forming bonds with like-minded people. This allowed Darío to realize the human need for feeling safe and maintaining a sense of order; he learned this need should not be threatened.

His last year of high school, participating in an education program through Junior Achievement, he became familiar with the software firm Oracle, and worked with them for over four and a half years. Despite the fact that his job provided him with a good salary, benefits, and growth opportunities, he considered Oracle to be a “virtual and artificial” world based that seemed fictitious. He decided to dedicate himself full-time to law, a career he began three years prior.

During his years in Law School at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), Darío led several extra-curricular activities. In 2001, he started an independent group whose goal was to transform the uncritical legal education system to develop a new type of lawyer—one that was in touch with societal realities and not devoted exclusively to financial gain.

At the same time, he participated in ENLACE, a group of lawyers from UBA who developed activities relating to Access to Justice in low-income neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. While working in these neighborhoods, Darío realized the social fabric was deeply frayed and there was a great need to reconstruct social bonds based on a culture of dialogue and not gunfire.

As a result, Darío started to think about the need to create a new security paradigm, with the problem of firearm proliferation at the corner stone of the situation. Given the importance of the issue region-wide, Darío began to attend regional and global meetings to create bonds and establish partnerships with other Latin American COs, particularly those which have more experience such as Sou Da Paz and Viva Rio from Brazil. In 2004 he wrote The Citizen Sheriff: Arms and Violence in Argentina, to highlight the issue of firearms in the Argentine consciousness. Given the increasing rates of violence in recent years, publication of the book made Darío an expert to the media—he took advantage of this to press the issue and persuade the government to address it.