Press Releases

Senators Feinstein and Durbin Request Senate Committee to Take up Inter-American Convention Against Illegal Arms Trafficking

-Inter-American Convention submitted to Senate in 1998 but no action has been taken-

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) have asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take up and pass the Inter-American Convention against illegal arms trafficking as a way to help stem a recent escalation in violence amid Mexican drug cartels. In addition, Senator Feinstein also sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to support ratification of the Inter-American Convention against illegal arms trafficking. 
           
The Convention helps members of the Organization of American States to combat the illicit trade in firearms that fuels drug violence, terrorism and organized crime. It requires signatories to criminalize the illegal manufacture and sale of weapons and establishes a marking and licensing system for the export and import of firearms.

The Convention was negotiated in 1997 and entered into force in July 1998. Twenty-nine members of the Organization of the American States, including Mexico, have ratified the Convention. Five others, including the United States, have signed but not yet ratified the Convention. It was submitted to the Senate in June 1999 but no action was taken.

In 2008, 5,376 people died due to drug-related violence in Mexico, including 505 military and law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty. According to the Mexican Government, about 90 percent of the weapons they seize from Mexican drug cartels came into the country illegally from the United States.

Following is the text of the letter to Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:

February 26, 2009

The Honorable John Kerry                                  The Honorable Richard Lugar    
Chairman                                                                Ranking Member
Committee on Foreign Relations                       Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate                                            United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510                                      Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman and Senator Lugar:

We are writing to urge you to consider and report favorably to the full Senate for consideration the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (also known by its Spanish acronym CIFTA).

The illicit trafficking of arms from the United States has helped to exacerbate recent violence amid drug cartels in Mexico.

In testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano stated that 6,000 people were killed in Mexico last year due to drug-related violence. Another 1,000 people were killed in January 2009 alone.

Approximately 90 percent of weapons used by cartels come from the United States. A recent Mexican government study found that 2,000 guns per day cross the border from the United States into Mexico. 

We strongly believe that the United States should act promptly to take up and ratify this Convention.

The Convention was negotiated in 1997 and entered into force in July 1998.  To date, 29 members of the OAS, including Mexico, have ratified the Convention. Five others, including the United States, have signed but not yet ratified the Convention.  It was submitted to the Senate in June 1998 but no action has been taken.

The Convention requires signatories to:

  • Establish or maintain an effective licensing or authorization system for the export, import, and transit of firearms, ammunition, explosives and other related materials;
  • Establish a system to, at the time of manufacture, mark firearms with the name, place of manufacture, and serial number;
  • Adopt laws and regulations criminalizing the illicit manufacture of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives, and related materials;
  • Share information, consistent with their national laws, on legislative practices and other national measures to combat illicit trafficking;
  • Establish a single point of contact that will act as the formal liaison among member state;
  • Agree to cooperate to better ensure adequate training in such areas as identification and tracing; intelligence gathering; and detection methods and search protocols at the border.

In June 2008, the United States and Mexico signed the Merida Initiative, a multi-year, billion dollar program to combat the threat of narcotics trafficking and illegal arms transfers in Mexico and Central America.  But this program will only begin the task of training and equipping law enforcement and military units in Mexico and Central America.  The ratification of CIFTA will help enhance the United States investment in Mexico and Central America under the Merida Initiative and provide an unequivocal statement that the United States is serious about stemming the tide of weapons flowing to Mexico. 

We appreciate your attention to this request and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein                                         Richard Durbin                              
United States Senator                               United States Senator 

Following is the text of the letter sent by Senator Feinstein to President Obama:                                                                        

March 9, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama                          
President of the United States                                                   
The White House                                                               
Washington, D.C. 20500                                    

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to urge you to support ratification of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (also known by its Spanish acronym CIFTA). 

I have attached a letter from Mexico’s ambassador to the United States which explains how the illicit trafficking of arms from the United States has helped to exacerbate recent violence amid drug cartels in Mexico:

  • In 2008, there were 5,376 deaths due to drug related violence in Mexico, including 505 military and law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty.
  • Approximately 90 percent of weapons seized by the Mexican Government from Mexican drug cartels came into the country illegally from the United States.
  • In 2007, there were 7,600 Federal firearms licensed dealers along the U.S.-Mexican border, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is only able to inspect 5% of the 50,000 dealers nationwide.  
  • In November 2008, the Mexican Government seized 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 288 assault rifles, 14 Herstal (“cop-killers”) caliber 5.7x28, 7 Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles, 2.50 caliber rifles, 2 grenade launchers, 1 LAW rocket launcher, and 287 grenades from a single shipment in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.
  • In the first two years of President Felipe Calderon’s term, Mexican authorities have seized 30,231 weapons (including 16,401 assault weapons), more than 3.5 million rounds of ammunition, and 2,196 grenades.

The bottom line is this: Mexican drug cartels are spewing death and destruction across large swaths of territory along the U.S.-Mexican border which will inevitably spill over to the American side and threaten American lives.

As a senator from a border state, I have recently been named chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and I plan an aggressive agenda of hearings and reports on how best to combat this threat.  I strongly believe that the United States can take a significant step forward in this effort by promptly ratifying the Organization of American States Convention.

The Convention was negotiated in 1997 and entered into force in July 1998.  To date, 29 members of the Organization of American States, including Mexico, have ratified the Convention. Five others, including the United States, have signed but not yet ratified the Convention.  It was submitted to the Senate in June 1998 but no action has been taken.

The Convention helps member states of the Organization of American States to shut down the illicit trade in firearms that fuels drug violence, terrorism, and organized crime by requiring signatories to:

  • establish an effective licensing system for the export and import of firearms;
  • establish a marking system for firearms; and
  • criminalize the illicit manufacture of and trafficking in firearms; and

In June 2008, the United States and Mexico signed the Merida Initiative, a multi-year, billion dollar program to combat the threat of narcotics trafficking and illegal arms transfers in Mexico and Central America.  But this program will only begin the task of training and equipping law enforcement and military units in Mexico and Central America. 

The ratification of the Convention will help enhance the United States investment in Mexico and Central America under the Merida Initiative and provide an unequivocal statement that the United States is serious about stemming the tide of weapons flowing to Mexico. 

I appreciate your attention to this request and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

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