ICJ makes submission to Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the human rights impacts of the firearms industry

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) recently submitted  written legal comments to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in relation to the Advisory Opinion requested by Mexico on “the activities of private companies engaged in the firearms industry and their effects in human rights”.

The organizations consider that the unregulated manufacture, sale and ultimate use of firearms by States and private persons have carried devasting human rights consequences globally, particularly unlawful deaths.  These could be addressed if the States were to comply with their existing legal human rights obligations.

Mexico, in its request for the Advisory Opinion, had specifically requested the Court to clarify the scope of States’ obligations under Articles 1, 2 4, 5, 8 and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) and Articles 2 and 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in accordance with its mandate under article 64 of the American Convention.

In their submission, the ICJ and DPLF set out some main tenets of international law and jurisprudence as developed by Inter-American human rights Court and Commission and the UN human rights treaty bodies. In response to the questions posed by Mexico in its request, the written opinion posits:

  • International global standards require all business enterprises to respect internationally recognized human rights and therefore to carry out a range of human rights due diligence measures in respect of their own operations and those of their business partners.
  • States must adequately regulate firearm manufacturers, distributors, and sellers to prevent and mitigate the risk of interference with the enjoyment of the rights to life and physical integrity arising from their activities.
  • International human rights law contains an obligation for States to take effective measures to protect human rights also outside their territory,
  • States have an obligation to regulate the business activities and business relationships of companies, within their jurisdiction, particularly where the company has its centre of activity, is registered or domiciled, or has its main place of business or substantial business activities in that State, to address the human rights violations and abuses resulting from the illicit flow of firearms across state borders and throughout the Americas region.
  • Under international law, including under the ICCPR and the American Convention, States also have an obligation to investigate violations and abuses of protected human rights, including when such conduct are perpetrated by private actors. Such investigation must be undertaken with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.
  • The duty to investigate allegations and punish perpetrators encompasses the conduct of all individuals and companies bearing responsibility for the violations and abuses constituting crimes under international law, including the direct perpetrator, accomplices, those who acquiesced, and any accessory after the fact.
  • States should also provide for access to justice and effective remedies and reparations for the victims, including in the context where the conduct of firearms companies have contributed to the violation or impairment of human rights in other countries. To that end, States must eliminate any legal or procedural impediment to accountability and legal responsibility.
  • In this light, legislation that bars persons from bringing allegations of rights violations to investigation and justice is inconsistent with State obligations under Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention and Articles 2(3) and 6 and 7 of the ICCPR, and Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture to ensure protection of rights and guarantee access to remedy.

The Written Opinion was submitted in response to the IACtHR’s invitation to all interested parties to submit their opinion on the issues covered by the request for an Advisory Opinion, in accordance with Article 73(3) of the Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Court. The Court is expected to adopt its advisory opinion on this matter some time in 2024.

Download the written opinion in English here.

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