Media Center



March 8, 2004 - Bogotá, Colombia

It is an honor for me to take the floor at the inaugural session of this First Conference of the States Party to the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials, better known as the CIFTA Convention.

On behalf of the OAS and all those present, my thanks go out to my country, Colombia, and to the Government of President Uribe for their warm welcome. We are especially grateful to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolina Barco, and the entire Foreign Ministry team for their sense of responsibility and professionalism in the difficult task of keeping international public opinion informed of the highly complex situation in Colombia and of providing Colombia’s international policy with opportunities for dialogue, cooperation, and international solidarity. I would especially like to point to the role played by Ambassador Horacio Serpa, who, as Secretary pro tempore of the CIFTA, showed enormous dedication in conducting the full set of preparatory discussions for this Conference. He too, owing to his reliability, his belief in Colombia, and his persuasiveness and political tact, was able to elicit the support and solidarity of all governments and civil society in the Americas.

It is therefore hardly a coincidence that the first conference to be held after the signing of the Convention should take place in Colombia. It is a tribute to the thousands of Colombian compatriots who died at the hands of violence. It is yet another demonstration of the solidarity and support of the states of the Americas for the people of this country and for the Government of President Uribe, who has courageously been confronting all forces seeking to prevent him from performing his duty and honoring his commitment to restore peace and security to his compatriots.

This new act of solidarity complements the large number of signs of support from the international and the hemispheric community, such as the resolution condemning terrorist acts in Colombia and the declarations adopted by the General Assembly and by the Special Conference on Security, held in October 2003. Of special note is the resolution adopted a month ago by our Permanent Council, which reiterated its unequivocal support for the efforts of the Government of President Uribe, in the quest for a firm and lasting peace in this country, in the framework of the rule of law and full respect for human rights.

The resolution expresses OAS willingness to monitor those efforts and authorizes the establishment of a Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia. It is intended to support demobilization of all outlaw armed groups, their reinsertion, verification of the process, and support for the communities affected by violence.

It is also a specific acknowledgement that the OAS can and is prepared to offer its assistance and services in monitoring the peace process in this country, given its singular experience in verification and advisory work in the demobilization and reinsertion processes of outlaw armed groups, in particular the experience it gained in Central America in the 1990s.

It must be recognized that official reports issued by international organizations are producing encouraging data on the democratic security policy of the Government of Colombia, especially with regard to the decline in the rate of murders, massacres, and the displacement of Colombian citizens.

I for one am convinced that there has not been a complete cease-fire and cessation of hostilities because the outlaw armed groups were not concentrated in specific areas, which made their effective verification impossible. And the strengthening of a unified dialogue with the self-defense troops could channel and facilitate definitive agreements on dismantling these illegal structures. The OAS assumes that that a consolidated peace process, with the participation of the international community, can help to diminish violence, drug trafficking, terrorist acts, and human rights violations and to restore an institutional framework in broad areas of the country, although there are uncertainties that leave many questions unanswered.

These processes, as we all know, are very complex and difficult. They always generate doubts, reservations, and uncertainties. However, that is not a reason for us to elude our responsibility to cooperate with Colombia. What is more, Colombia is a constitutional state, with sound, democratic institutions. And we must have trust in the good judgment of the Government, the Congress, and the Constitutional Court. I am certain that any reservations, doubts, and fears, including those of the international community, will be taken into account there and that solutions will be found to make it possible to reconcile the diverse values that need to be reconciled it at this time.

What is at stake in the specific case of Colombia is a problem that has taken or destroyed the lives of thousands of people, most of them innocent children and women, in the clash between our military troops, and guerrilla and paramilitary forces, and the lives of thousands of innocent Colombians who are continuing to die as a result of killer bullets from the illicit light weapons acquired and used by the self-defense and guerilla groups and by common criminals. But this is clearly a problem experienced by all states of the Hemisphere and other regions.

One of the main problems here is the diversion of firearms from licit to illicit markets. According to the United Nations, approximately 500 million light weapons are in circulation in the world and, by more conservative estimates, fewer than 40% of illicit light arms have been diverted from licit trade.

The CIFTA Convention and today’s Conference are a sign of changes on the hemispheric agenda in recent years. The CIFTA was a pioneering instrument throughout the world. Thanks to Mexico’s leadership, roundly supported by the countries of the Rio Group, the OAS took on the topic and shaped it into a vigorous instrument for cooperation. Being the first of its kind, the Convention was a basic reference for the Protocol, in this same area, to the Palermo Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and for the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

The CIFTA Convention is a valuable, relevant, and innovative instrument. First of all, because it is a matter of priority and urgency. The production, flow, and illicit use of firearms are not only linked to major national and international criminal and terrorist organizations. Their impact is also apparent in day-to-day violence and crime in our cities and rural areas.

Second, because it has helped to forge conceptual definitions of the firearms the illicit manufacturing of which and trafficking in which it seeks to eliminate. Indeed, the states agreed, for the first time ever, on a broad definition of the term, thanks to which the Convention can provide maximum coverage, allowing for the broadest possible assistance to states and reciprocal cooperation among them.

Third, the CIFTA makes it mandatory for the States Party to establish as criminal offenses, in the event they have not already done so, the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms. Moreover, it includes those offenses among those that are extraditable among the States Party. These two legal provisions are of special importance to legal and judicial cooperation in this area.

Fourth, the CIFTA contains highly important provisions for preventing originally licit operations from being diverted to illicit markets. This is made possible, among other things, by standards that provide for the establishment of import, export, and transit licenses for any item covered by the Convention. Of special relevance is the obligation to refrain from permitting transit without an authorization from the receiving country. Along the same lines, the States Party have undertaken to strengthen controls at export points.

In addition, the Convention requires the appropriate marking and identification of both the firearms produced in each country and those imported and confiscated or forfeited that are retained for official use. Indeed, the establishment of common licensing standards, regulations, and markings are prerequisites for cooperation in the definition of offenses in criminal codes.

Fifth, cooperation is the very essence of the Convention, which is in line with the spirit prevailing in the Hemisphere today of resorting to cooperative and multilateral approaches to problems that, by their nature, affect more than one country. The CIFTA includes mechanisms for cooperation in training and the sharing of experiences, technical and judicial assistance when required, and the exchange of relevant information among competent authorities. This exchange is broad and comprehensive, ranging as it does from legitimate producers and vendors, through relevant experiences and pertinent measures, to the monitoring and tracking of firearms.

Cooperation also covers operational aspects, such as controlled delivery and the confiscation or forfeiture of firearms that have been subject to illicit manufacturing or trafficking and the adoption of the necessary measures to prevent such firearms from falling into the hands of individuals or traders through auction, sale, or other means.

Sixth—and this is one of the most important and innovative features—the CIFTA established a Consultative Committee, made up of States Party thereto, to follow up on the implementation of the measures under the Convention and strengthen cooperation among the States Party.

The CIFTA Consultative Committee began to function in March 2000 and has been meeting periodically. Since then, considerable progress has been made within its framework to learn about the measures taken by the States Party to implement the Convention and to assess the problems or difficulties we still have in this area, as well as to share information and strengthen cooperation among the States Party themselves and with non-party States and international and civil society organizations active in this field. We thank the OAS ambassadors to Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia for their work as secretaries pro tempore during the early years of the Consultative Committee’s operations.

Ladies and gentlemen:

We are in Bogotá, pursuant to the CIFTA Convention itself, which provided that five years after its entry into force the first conference of the States Party would be held. The Draft Declaration reaffirms the unshakeable resolve of the States Party to ensure the effective implementation and application of the measures envisaged under the Convention. Thus, specific, concrete commitments are made therein to further cooperation and the exchange of information and experiences; legislative implementation; export, import, and transit licenses or authorizations; mutual legal and judicial assistance; security and cooperation measures for the identification and destruction of excess stocks; training; cooperation with international organizations or entities and with civil society organizations; follow-up of the measures adopted; and universal adherence to the Convention.

Individuals participating in the import, export, and transit of firearms as brokers, agents, or shippers must be registered with national governments to be able to do business in each country in which they have an office or carry out a transaction. It is also suggested that member states should not do business with any unregistered agent.

The examination of national laws and related administrative practices governing arms export and the establishment of a corresponding legal system allowing for significant control over firearms stocks and export is also a task incumbent on our countries.

Also suggested in the Report and underscored in the Draft Declaration is that the States Party use standardized import certificates, that they draw them up in electronic format to facilitate information exchange among the countries participating in a transaction, that export and transit documents be standardized; and that special emphasis be placed on the provisions requiring evidence of the prior issuance of the necessary import licenses or authorizations for clearing firearms shipments intended for export.

We would like to draw attention to the CICAD Model Regulations to control international trafficking in firearms and on brokering in small arms, which have contributed significantly to implementation of the Convention.

We should not forget that arms trafficking and its ties to other threats should also be viewed in the context of the hemispheric commitments that emerged from the Special Conference on Security, held in Mexico in October, a country that has also spearheaded the work of the CIFTA.

In addition, I should that to refer to something that is unprecedented in the OAS and has been reflected in the absolute readiness of our governments to combat all criminal groups. When Colombia, Nicaragua, and Panama were prey to the criminal activity of arms traffickers, none of the presidents of those countries questioned the gravity of what had occurred and, acting in concert, they asked the OAS Secretary General to conduct an investigation on the diversion of firearms from Nicaragua to the Colombian paramilitary forces. The decisiveness and transparency demonstrated by Presidents Bolaños, Moscoso, and Uribe and their foreign ministers were critical to the success of the mission entrusted to the OAS.

The research conducted by Ambassador Morris Busby, the results of which were presented in January 2003, was a definitive step forward in the practical aspects of the commitment of the OAS and our member states to combat arms trafficking five years after the entry into force of the Convention.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Each and every person in the Americas is entitled to hope that the commitments made by the States Party to the Convention will be fully and thoroughly implemented.

I am convinced that it is the will of all States signatories to the Convention that the results of this Conference will enable us to consolidate and strengthen, through commitments and actions, our cooperation and mutual assistance to ensure the full and effective application of this treaty throughout the Americas in the briefest time possible.

I wish you much success in your deliberations.

Thank you.