The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
The OAS Convention was the first legally binding multilateral instrument on small arms and light weapons. It extends to firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related material. The Convention is also noteworthy for the extensive set of model laws associated with it on transfers, brokering, marking and tracing, and criminalization, to name a few.
Latin America has been plagued by armed violence since the 1970s, with non-international armed conflicts in Central America and brutal military dictatorships in South America. Although, by the mid-1990s, many of the Central American conflicts had been resolved through peace processes, and democratic transitions had occurred in South America, history left behind a legacy of firearms and a culture of violence that resulted in uneven but sometimes strikingly high levels of violence, often in the form of gangs or organized crime.
The OAS Convention was spearheaded by the Governments of Mexico and Colombia. The idea was first raised in September 1996 by the President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, at the Tenth Summit of the Rio Group, a group of Latin American and some Caribbean states. L. A. De Alba Góngora, ‘Las negociaciones sobre armas pequeñas y ligeras: una visión multidimensional’, Revista Mexicana de Política exterior, No. 75, July–October 2005, pp. 109–11. President Zedillo suggested a common agenda to combat the illicit trade in firearms. His initiative was supported by other heads of states, and a group of governmental experts was established to prepare a draft convention. The group completed its task in March 1997.
Almost immediately, the Rio Group presented the Permanent Council of the OAS with a proposal to negotiate an instrument that would facilitate cooperation of member states on this issue. The decision to bring up the matter within the OAS reflected the desire of the initiators to also include Canada and the United States of America (USA), as well as other Central American and Caribbean states.
The Permanent Council of the OAS established a special committee to negotiate the convention, under the leadership of Ambassador Carmen Moreno (Mexico). Despite initial concerns from Canada and the USA, which expressed doubts as to the viability of the initiative, the committee completed its work in record time in November 1997.
President Zedillo took advantage of a visit by US President Bill Clinton to Mexico to raise the issue of the Convention, emphasizing the links between the illicit trade in firearms and efforts to combat drug trafficking. The visit resulted in a joint statement where the USA announced their active involvement in the negotiations. A signing ceremony was held in Washington DC on 14 November 1997. In his address, President Clinton said the Convention 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.’ Acronym Institute, ‘OAS Convention on Illicit Arms Trafficking’, Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 20, November 1997.
The Convention entered into force in January 1998. It was the first legally binding international instrument on this issue. Canada, the USA, and Jamaica are the only three OAS members that have so far failed to ratify it.
The OAS Convention seeks to eradicate the illicit manufacturing and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related material. The explicit mention of ammunition, explosives, and other related materials distinguishes it from many other instruments on this topic. It commits states to:
The OAS Convention was the first instrument to be complemented by a series of model laws, elaborated under the auspices of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). The instruments it developed include:
See also the OAS Department of Public Security Website on Firearms.
The First Conference of States Parties was held in Bogota, Colombia, on 8 and 9 March 2004. See Resulting Documents on the OAS Department of Public Security Website. Instructions were given to the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) to create a single group of experts to prepare additional model legislation (see above). Parties also agreed to include a Mexican proposal on harmonization of national practices for export, import, and transit authorizations and licensing; and reaffirmed their commitment, set out in the preamble of the Convention, to identify and destroy excess stockpiles.
The Second Conference of States Parties was held in Mexico on 20 and 21 February 2007. See Resulting Documents on the OAS Department of Public Security Website. Member states adopted the 'Commitment of Tlatelolco', which commended CICAD for its work on model legislation, encouraged it to continue, and called on member states to adopt and enforce these model laws. It also called for consultations to begin on a possible hemispheric register of confiscated, stolen, or lost firearms.
The Third Conference of State Parties was held in Washington DC on 14 and 15 May 2012. It resulted in a 'Course of Action 2012–2016' for the operation and implementation of the Convention, which suggests inter alia more stringent measures at regional level to strengthen marking and tracing; and for adoption of uniform export, import, and transit certificates. The document also strengthens commitments on stockpile management and border controls.
The last conference of state parties was due to be held in 2016.
Last updated on: 03 August 2017