The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a thematic hearing yesterday during its 185th period of sessions on "Respect and guarantee of human rights in the face of the activities of arms production and trade companies in the Americas." The public hearing was held virtually and streamed on the IACHR institutional accounts.

The debate was requested by the Mexican State as a way of contributing to the comprehensive strategy of combating illegal arms trafficking in the Americas. It was attended by various States, non-governmental organizations involved in preventing gun violence and illicit arms trafficking, and academic institutions specialized in international law.

Although the IACHR has previously addressed the issues of regulating the arms trade and gun violence in the United States, particularly school shootings, this is the first time that the Commission has analyzed the effects of gun violence on the region. Specifically, the hearing focused on two main issues: the responsibility of the private companies involved in the manufacture, distribution and sale of guns given their lack of due diligence; and the negative consequences on human rights due to their negligent practices in the hemisphere.

In his remarks on behalf of the Mexican State, Foreign Ministry Legal Advisor Alejandro Celorio emphasized the consequences that Mexico has suffered due to the negligent practices of U.S. gun companies. He also said that the immunity granted by U.S. laws prevents the victims of gun violence from having access to the courts and the opportunity to regulate these business practices.

The representatives of Bolivia and Paraguay agreed that it is impossible to ignore the relationship between the sale of guns and the increase in violence in the hemisphere. This is a contemporary human rights problem that threatens the most fundamental right of every human being, the right to the life.

Jonathan Lowy from Global Action on Gun Violence discussed the lack of gun control regulations in the U.S. and the existence of laws such as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which protect gun companies from being sued by the victims of the violence they cause and prevent access to justice, saying: “immunity leads to impunity.”

The debate also received important contributions from academic organizations such as the Asser Institute. Dr. León Castellanos-Jankiewicz explained that, under public international law, States are obliged to provide mechanisms for access to justice in the event of human rights violations, for which they have the obligation to adopt domestic measures to repeal laws such as the PLCAA, which violate the right of access to justice.

Similarly, John Lindsay-Poland, representative of the Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico Project, said that manufacturers and exporters have an important role to play in arms exports to prevent them from falling into the hands of organized crime. He concluded by saying that there must be mechanisms that identify the end users of guns.

Regarding the situation in Brazil, Bruno Langeani, from Conectas Brazil, said that the increased use of guns has had drastic effects on violence in the region (seven out of ten homicides are committed with guns). He recommended that arms sales should allow awareness of whether the guns end up in the hands of organized crime, noting that this lack of control is not only a security issue, but has also endangered democracy and elections.

Montserrat Martínez Téllez from the Global Thought organization recommended following good practices by including civil society in discussions about the role of gun manufacturers in facilitating violence and due diligence in human rights issues.  She suggested proactive transparency exercises and open processes that indicate the final destination of the weapons.

Lastly, the IACHR, including the rapporteurs for Mexico, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosamena, and for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, Rapporteur Soledad García, acknowledged the issue and the damage caused to the hemisphere by illicitly trafficked guns.  It highlighted that Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world, largely due to easy access to guns; which is why something must be done against the negligence of arms manufacturers and distributors.

By requesting and participating in this IACHR hearing, the Government of Mexico opens a new forum in which to continue its efforts aimed at changing the commercial practices of the arms industry, in order to reduce the illicit trafficking of firearms to Mexico and the region in order to protect human rights.

See Mexico's remarks: Document