"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
ACA Deputy Director Addresses CIFTA Consultative Committee
Share this

Improving CIFTA: A Nongovernmental Perspective

Remarks by Jeff Abramson, Deputy Director, Arms Control Association, to the Consultative Committee of the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Material (CIFTA)

April 15, 2011, OAS Headquarters, Washington DC


Estimado representantes,

Es un honor y un placer de estar aqui y presentar algunos comentarios en nombre de organizaciones de la sociedad civil de todo el continento americano. Muchas gracias por la invitacion.

Lo siento, pero mi espanol no es perfecto. Entonces, voy a hablar ya en ingles.

I’m Jeff Abramson, Deputy Director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington DC-based nongovernmental organization that promotes effective arms control agreements to address the dangers posed by nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons.

Last year, we added our name to a letter on behalf of organizations throughout the region that was delivered at the 11th regular meeting of this consultative committee. The number of organizations endorsing this year’s letter has nearly doubled, comprised of 14 groups and regional coalitions that represent citizens throughout the hemisphere (see attached). This is indicative of the wide-ranging support from civil society for CIFTA, and the importance we place on seeing that it be a strong and useful agreement in reducing the human and security costs of the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms, ammunitions, explosives, and other related materials.

In my presentation, I’d like to do three things.

First, share a sample of the work that civil society is doing.

Second, reiterate a number of the main points you’ll find in our letter.

And third, address some of the core issues of this meeting: marking and tracing, as well as stockpile management.

Turning initially to some of the work civil society is doing, many of you are familiar with CLAVE (La Coalición Latinoamericana para la Prevención de la Violencia Armada) comprised of dozens of nongovernmental organizations who are working to prevent and reduce the impact of armed violence.

More recently, a new network has formed that is particularly focused on measuring the impact of violence on development and the millennium goals, and supporting the rights of and assistance to victims of armed violence, named SEHLAC Seguridad Humana en Latinoamerica y el Caribe.

Additionally, regional nongovernmental organizations are very active in supporting a robust Arms Trade Treaty and the global Control Arms coalition. In fact, organizations from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica and the United States currently serve on the coalition’s steering board.

Turning now to our letter… In it, we highlight that CIFTA faces two major challenges: one is the ratification by all members of the Organization of American States, and another is the need for real progress in its implementation. Concern about gun violence is at the heart of civil society interest in CIFTA and in the letter we underscore the need to recognize this issue. We also stress that effective control of firearms and ammunition is an international issue that therefore demands coordinated regional and international action.

Flowing from these observations, our recommendations include that all countries ratify the agreement, that initiatives be undertaken to examine how information is shared in order to improve the agreement’s implementation, that OAS members states make a strong positive statement in support of global Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, that states carry out initiatives to increase understanding and measure the problem of gun violence in the region, in particular focusing on victims and survivors of gun violence, and that mechanisms be created for official participation of civil society within the OAS and CIFTA committee.

Turning to the core topics of today’s meeting, let me first talk about marking and tracing.

On marking, states should continue to develop methods for the proper and reasonable marking of ammunition, so as to improve their control. In Brazil, use of laser technology to mark bullets, not with individual numbers but with lot numbers, provides proof of possibilities and cost effectiveness of new approaches.

Like CIFTA, we believe that a broader, global Arms Trade Treaty should take into account ammunition. Most OAS member states have stessed the necessity of including ammunition in any global norm-setting agreement because it is the supply of bullets that is essential to controlling armed violence, while the United States has argued against ammunition’s inclusion primarily citing logistical barriers. We encourage OAS members to use their experience to improve the debate on ammunition and work to overcome any disagreements so that the eventual ATT includes the bullets that are used for the majority of the violence perpetrated with conventional weapons.

Next, the registration of the various transactions related to weapons, particularly for transfers, is one of the pillars of traceability. However, even when records are available, they often contain errors. Among others, the Asociacion para Politicas Publicas (APP) in Argentina has found this to be a particular problem, in part through exploring customs data using the COMTRADE system. Therefore, we recommend that you conduct a joint exercise to compare transfer records within and across borders and determine the reliability of those records.

For tracing to work, cooperation and exchange of information within national agencies and between countries is essential. But civil society members see that capacity problems, jealousies and bureaucratic inertia conspire against the actual implementation of such cooperation. Therefore, we recommend an evaluation first to determine the real scope of cooperation and exchange of information, and second to identify obstacles and areas for improvement.

Of course, there are also successes and at times large volumes of weapons are seized as part of efforts to combat their illicit trade. Those instances should be better publicized as well as used to measure how well marking, tracing and broader communication efforts are working. Each such incident could provide a data point into how well information was shared, how quickly cooperation occurred, and how existing records aided in understanding and stopping illicit trade routes and practices.

Turning to stockpile management, states parties need to continue to work to improve mechanisms for accountability, which are essential for identifying and preventing the leakage of weapons into the illicit market.

For example, we encourage all countries to examine problems, accidents, and safety failures that occur with their military and police stockpiles, and private security firms, and to concentrate on improving accountability systems. Parliaments and civil society members will need to be involved in this effort because in democracies they provide the ultimate oversight to the internal operations of government bodies.

We also recommend that a mechanism be created for sharing information about stockpile losses and lapses. We recommend that this be done in a transparent manner, but at a minimum this sharing should occur at some level between governments. Lapses in stockpile security are not local problems, but regional ones, especially if large quantities of weapons and ammunition enter into illicit use.

At times, states have argued that such transparency would affect national security and secrecy concerns, but such arguments simply provide cover for government inefficiency or corruption. Reasonable systems can and should be put in place that do not compromise national security goals.

Speaking personally, as a citizen of and someone who works in the United States, I know that my country provides support to the CIFTA process, and has signed but has not ratified it. States parties should continue to make the case and press the United States to ratify the accord. I am also keenly aware that U.S. laws allow for loopholes that make it easy to obtain weapons near the Mexican border and illegally traffic them into that country, often in exchange for drugs. This only exacerbates the problems of illicit trafficking. While we are here today talking about CIFTA, we must not be afraid to point out where actions undermine the basic goals of the agreement.

Finally, as highlighted at the start of today’s meeting, CIFTA member states are engaged in a questionnaire about the implementation and effectiveness of the agreement. We encourage all countries to engage in this exercise. But that exercise should not result in a document that lists the number of countries that are filing reports and perhaps some details about what they are doing at a national level. We have seen the limits of those reports, for example, in official evaluations of the UN Program of Action and the UN Register of Conventional Arms. The real measures of effectiveness, however, have to be related back to the problems the agreements are meant to address. In CIFTA’s case, that’s the illicit trafficking of weapons and ammunition. We must ask the basic questions of how do we measure that problem? Is trafficking now more rampant, or is it declining? Is CIFTA truly working to address those issues?

We encourage all states to use the CIFTA agreement as a mechanism that holds every nation accountable and raises everyone’s efforts to fight the illicit trafficking of firearms, ammunition, explosives and other related material, because ultimately, doing so is essential to saving and improving the lives of all us living together, here, in the American states.

Muchas gracias por su atencion.