Media Center



November 13, 1997 - Washington, DC

As Secretary General of the Organization of American States, I am very proud to be here today with you at this Special Assembly, for the important purpose of approving and opening for signature the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials.

I am proud not only because this instrument represents a significant contribution to international law, but also because of what it means to tackle questions of this kind in our organization. It is yet another demonstration of the kind of multilateral response that we are capable to offering to deal with the serious problems confronting the hemisphere today.

It is barely one year since President Ernesto Zedillo proposed to the Rio Group that firm and united action was needed to combat the alarming growth of the illegal arms trade in our region, and yet, a few days ago, here in the OAS, we were able to put the finishing touches on the text of a new Convention, which is now about to receive its final stamp of approval.

It has been an intense and productive year. It began when the Heads of State of the Rio Group gave their unreserved support to the Mexican proposal at their meeting in Cochabamba in September 1996. As of that moment, a working group started to prepare a draft of a Convention. This was discussed subsequently in a special OAS Working Group set up for that purpose, where many countries offered concrete suggestions that led to a deeper analysis of the issue. The text of the instrument was then negotiated, to everyone's satisfaction, by duly empowered government representatives over a period of six months.

I want to take advantage of this occasion to express special recognition for the work of Ambassador Carmen de Del Cueto of Mexico, who chaired the Working Group. The wealth of experience, leadership and intellectual vigor that she brought to this cause was decisive in achieving the results that we are celebrating today. She managed to be a faithful interpreter not only of her own Government's interest, but of the collective interest of the entire Organization, and for that service we reiterate today our profound admiration and respect.

Similarly, I want to point to the leadership played in this issue by the President of the United States and the Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean nations who took part in the Barbados Summit last May. In their final declaration from that meeting, the leaders issued a resounding public commitment to strive together against arms trafficking in the Caribbean region.

In my opinion, as I said at the opening of the final round of the Working Group's meetings, this Convention was negotiated in record time, a fact that demonstrates the political will of governments in this hemisphere to press forward with strategies to combat crime and public insecurity, and to enlist international cooperation as a central weapon in that struggle.

The process also shows - let me say so aloud - that the OAS is a flexible and dynamic organization, and that it has the institutional strength to provide effective support for government initiatives and to respond promptly to the needs of its member states. This is an aspect of particular importance at a time when the Organization of American States is preparing to assume new mandates from the Presidential Summit to be held in Santiago, Chile, next April.

Such was the spirit of the document that I delivered, as Secretary General of the Organization, to the Tenth Meeting of the Summit Implementation Review Group, in Washington on October first. That document, which is in fact a first draft, contains a series of proposals that will require analysis and ultimate decisions by our member countries to identify the OAS role in the follow-up process to the Santiago Summit. I believe, as I have said earlier, that our experience with the Convention that is about to be approved by this Assembly is a splendid example of what we can accomplish together as an organization.

This is a major challenge, but also a great opportunity: an opportunity to strengthen our Organization and its structure; to continue adapting it to the new pace of inter-American integration; to make it, as they say in the business world, more competitive and more flexible. And here I mean competitive and flexible not only in the administrative and technical senses, which are of course important objectives in themselves, but even more fundamentally in the political sense.

The strength of the OAS at this time lies in its ability to strike a proper balance between political and technical considerations, between its capacity to address or provide occasion to address specialized subjects and its capacity to provide responses and decisions of a political nature on all issues on the regional agenda

We are now confronted with a tremendous and historic challenge to design a new inter-American architecture that will not only facilitate the various integration processes now underway, but will also create a degree of harmony among them in the differing stages they have reached. That work is well suited to being carried out within our Organization.

We must also bear in mind that our Convention is a pioneering effort in this field and it places the countries of the Americas squarely in the forefront of world-wide discussion of the issue. While many countries have signed bilateral agreements that call for some form of cooperation against the illicit arms traffic, and while several resolutions have been adopted in the United Nations to this end, our Convention is the first agreement of a regional nature that sets out clear responsibilities for States in combating these crimes through the courts, through the police and through legislation.

I would also like to draw your attention to a fact that makes this Convention even more valuable, namely that its signatories will include all those states that are involved with the problem. Or to put it another way, all those states whose collective efforts are needed to produce solutions in short order.

Let us look at the Convention's components. It recognizes, in the first place, that the illicit manufacture and trafficking of arms is essentially a transnational issue, and that it must be tackled in the same manner, through multilateral cooperation and mutual technical and legal assistance.

In my view, it is a great achievement to have agreed that all the countries of the Americas will pass legislation making it a crime to engage in the illicit manufacture and trafficking of arms, ammunition and explosives, or to have any involvement in those acts. From this time on, no state can be victimized by activities that may be legal in another state, and against which there is no sanction or recourse.

Similarly, the Convention provides that each state shares the duty to apply this new legislation whenever criminal acts related to the illicit manufacture or trafficking of arms are committed on its territory. It imposes the principle of territoriality, but it also imposes on the states the duty to establish the rules that will facilitate the determination of jurisdiction for any given case. It is clear that once all countries have qualified these actions as crimes, violators will be able to find no safe haven from prosecution anywhere in the hemisphere.

In the second place, it will now be very important to establish a system for licensing the export, import and international transit of firearms, ammunition, explosives and related materials. International trade today is an extremely dynamic business: tons of goods flow into and out of our countries every day. Only to the extent that we can equip our police and our customs authorities with the proper control tools can we hope to be more effective in countering illegal shipments. A licensing system, combined with the obligation on manufacturers and importers to keep suitable records of arms that pass through their hands in one form or another, should prove an effective mechanism for keeping better track of illegal arms, and ultimately confiscating them.

Exchanging intelligence and creating information networks is vital today, with the existence of truly transnational criminal organizations. These groups can make use of knowledge and technological progress just as surely as do governments, and it is only by compiling and exchanging information that our intelligence services will be able to track down criminals and their networks beyond our own borders.

The Convention, then, is an instrument whereby states are creating a framework to harmonize their activities through cooperation and mutual assistance. This assistance, as has now been agreed, will cover not only technical questions, for which states are agreed to cooperate in training and equipping specialized personnel, but also juridical issues, where the states commit themselves to take measures that will facilitate criminal investigations and prosecutions.

The Convention also deals with the issue of extradition. Among other points, it stipulates that states parties are committed to include these crimes as grounds for extradition in any existing or future treaty among themselves. Similarly, it provides that states may choose to consider this Inter-American Convention as the legal basis for extradition, in cases where they wish to apply it with another state with which they have no formal extradition treaty.

As such, there can be no doubt that we are dealing with an agreement that is procedurally innovative, broad in scope, and witness to the firm resolve of governments to pursue these criminals without respite.

Finally, I think the establishment in Article 20 of an Advisory Committee is an important accomplishment. It will be the body charged with making the Convention a tangible and concrete reality and giving shape to its purposes, as well as providing a channel of communication among the state parties.

Honored Delegates to this Assembly, Ambassadors, friends of the Organization's General Secretariat:

The time has come in the Americas to place on the inter-American agenda, as we are doing today, a new set of problems that demand international cooperation. Our goal is none other than to secure not only democratic societies, but also peaceful and safe ones as well.

As Secretary General I am convinced that it is necessary to consider, within the inter-American discussion, issues dealing with public safety and crime. The fight against the ever more frequent reality of transnational crimes requires multilateral strategies that are thoughtful and systematic.

I will not burden you with statistics. Let us just remember that murder rates in some parts of the hemisphere, including Latin America, are six times the world average. Hundreds of families throughout the Americas fall victim every day to this shameful bloodbath. It is clear that there are plans and programs, within the scope of international cooperation, that can deal with this scourge.

For these reasons, the General Secretariat has been working on a series of initiatives along these lines, in coordination with other institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. These are initiatives to which I would like to draw the attention of the delegations that here today, and seek your support for their review, improvement and eventually their adoption with the framework of this organization.

As we have seen with this convention, the secret is to secure agreements that permit, without infringing on the sovereignty of nations and their internal policies, the formulation of joint plans that complement them.

Today, what is necessary is a pro-active stance, such as the one taken by President Ernesto Zedillo in proposing this initiative. Today, we must unite efforts to combat common enemies. Our Hemisphere needs collective actions and responses to new and old problems.

By approving this Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials, the American nations are taking a step forward in their fight against the different forms of violence and in their responsibility to seek better living conditions for the peoples of the Americas.

Thank you.