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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 20, November 1997

OAS Convention on Illicit Arms Trafficking

Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, signed by 29 members of the Organization of American States (OAS), Washington, 14 November 1997

Signing of the Convention

'Presidents of the United States and Mexico support OAS agreement to stem arms trafficking,' OAS Press Release, 14 November

Full text

"A new inter-American agreement to combat arms trafficking signals that the region's democracies 'are speaking with one voice, acting with one conviction and leading toward one goal: to stem the illegal flow of guns, ammunition and explosives in our hemisphere,' President Bill Clinton said today at the Organization of American States (OAS).

President Clinton and his Mexican counterpart, President Ernesto Zedillo, attended the convention signing ceremony - part of a special session of the OAS General Assembly - in the grand Hall of the Americas at OAS headquarters. Twenty-nine members of the OAS signed the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials.

'Gun trafficking is an issue of national security for our governments - and a matter of neighborhood security for all of us in the Americas,' President Clinton said, adding that the new convention will not affect the lawful sale, ownership or use of guns.

President Zedillo, who proposed the creation of a regional arms trafficking treaty last year at a meeting of the Rio Group, praised the United States and the other OAS members for supporting the initiative and helping to conclude the convention in record time.

'The most promising approach to confronting drug trafficking and organized crime is an integrated strategy designed to respect the sovereignty of each country and capable of taking full advantage of the multilateral mechanisms that the international community has at its disposal,' he said. OAS Secretary General César Gaviria called the agreement a 'powerful tool' that will help governments protect 'the people who walk down our streets and the children who play in our parks.'

'This convention is about them and about one of their most deeply felt concerns: their security, their life, their physical integrity and their ability to go home at night without anxiety or the fear of risking their lives,' he said.

The 30-article treaty commits its signatories to cooperate in combating illegal arms trafficking by strengthening export controls, sharing law enforcement information, requiring appropriate markings on firearms, improving security measures for confiscated weapons and establishing a licensing system for exports and imports, among other measures. It also establishes a legal framework to confront the problem of arms trafficking and creates a Consultative Committee to address the issue. The treaty, which enters into effect 30 days after it is ratified by the legislative bodies in two countries, applies only to nations that have signed and ratified it."

Adoption of the Convention

'Across the hemisphere, illegal firearms come under fire,' OAS Press Release, 13 November


"Caribbean countries are prominent among the hemisphere's nations that moved firmly today to outlaw guns, explosives and related materials made and circulated illegally.

Representatives from the member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the Draft Inter-American Convention...when the hemispheric organization began the twenty-fourth special session of its General Assembly this afternoon.

The session was called specifically to approve the document... Declaring support for the treaty, Jamaica's legal affairs minister, A.J. Nicholson, attributed the alarming incidence of violent crimes largely to firearms. The alarm over firearms can be appreciated all the more, he stressed, when it is considered that his country 'does not manufacture a single firearm.'

Mr. Nicholson, who is also attorney general, went on to link illegal guns with the drug enterprise. He explained: 'The factors that militate against the success of the struggle is the illicit traffic in firearms across national borders,' a point further supported by the Antigua and Barbuda justice and legal affairs minister, Radford Hill.

Mr. Hill, attorney general himself, explained that drug traffickers succeed in their illegal trade because of guns. 'Their success, as merchants of death, can only be achieved by the use of firearms,' he stated. He vowed everything would be done to make sure gun runners 'will find no haven in the countries of this hemisphere.'

The Antigua and Barbuda minister turned to the multi-dimensional nature of security for small States, identifying more than military elements: it embraces political, economic and environmental elements, he said, 'involving both State and non-State actors.'

For his part, Mr. Fritz Longchamp, the Haitian foreign minister, welcomed the regional legal instrument, saying that through it, States will put in place internal mechanisms to tackle the crime engendered by illegally-obtained firearms, exchange information, and cooperate against the scourge of illegally made guns and their components.

Another important element of the war on illegal firearms was brought into focus by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, Guyana's permanent representative to the OAS. He made reference to a serious factor for many countries - criminals deported from developed countries where they acquired sophisticated weapon technology which they take back to the countries to continue their 'parasitic occupation.'

Ambassador Ishmael said such criminals can destroy national security by undermining institutions and democracy in those countries. ..."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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