The illicit trafficking of weapons is a growing concern in Latin America as the region grapples with the world’s highest murder rates involving firearms. The unregulated proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) undermines human security protected by the American Convention on Human Rights, which is legally binding for OAS Member States which have ratified it, like Suriname. Drug trafficking and gang violence have increased as SALW are becoming the standard currency for such activities. Suriname’s recent Cooperative Agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS) furthering the implementation of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA), a multilateral treaty implemented with the conscious aim to secure the lives of persons and their social and economic development by eradicating illicit arms trade, has the potential to reduce drug trafficking and gang violence—which undercut basic human rights protections—by allowing Suriname to effectively combat the illicit arms trade.
Under Article VI of the CIFTA, which Suriname ratified in 2008, States Parties are required to record the name, place of manufacture, and serial number of firearms that are imported or have been confiscated by or forfeited to authorities. Suriname has one of the largest stockpile surpluses of small arms in South America and approximately 30,000 unregistered weapons, many of which are frequently lost or stolen. Such lack of control violates Article VI of the CIFTA as well as Articles VII and VIII, requiring member states to confiscate illegal weapons and ensure their security by establishing effective procedures. It further results in the most basic human rights violations—high homicide rates due to drug and gang wars. Articles IV and VII of the American Convention on Human Rights state that “every person has the right to have his life respected” and the right to personal liberty, and security, respectively. By allowing gang and drug-related deaths to reoccur, Suriname is failing to exercise due diligence in preventing, investigating, and punishing illicit arms trade, which has led to the violation of fundamental human rights.
The Cooperative Agreement, signed in September 2012, allows for the donation of a firearms marking machine to Suriname. Controlling small arms proliferation in Suriname can help decrease gang violence and access to weapons used in the drug trade. For every additional gang in a community the number of homicides increases by approximately ten percent. In Suriname, nearly thirty-one percent of the population reports gangs as being a significant neighborhood problem and the proportion of firearm homicides for every 100,000 people is almost thirty. With adequate marking mechanisms, records can be kept, weapons can be traced and recovered, people can be prosecuted, and the death toll can be reduced. Suriname is now in a position to effectively combat and minimize the illicit arms trade and uphold its duties under the American Convention.