Mexico's unprecedented litigation against US gun producers touches on Human Rights while opening up a ground-breaking view of Civil and International Law
In what is considered a ground-breaking application of the law, on 4 August 2021 the Government of Mexico filed a lawsuit against eleven firearms manufacturers, alleging liability for the effects of illicit trade. According to this lawsuit, the manufacturers are liable for negligent conduct. Before a court in the state of Massachusetts, Mexico has claimed that the manufacturers knowingly promote illicit trafficking and actively facilitate weapons reaching drug cartels in Mexico.
On 4 August 2021, Mexico filed a civil lawsuit in a Federal Court in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, against US gun manufacturers and distributors. The Mexican government claims that the defendants’ business practices actively facilitate the illegal trafficking of weapons into Mexico for drug cartels and organised crime and, consequently, generate enormous material and human damage to the country. Mexico, therefore, asked the Court to impose liability on these companies and hold them accountable for their negligent and unlawful business practices.
Although the lawsuit seeks financial compensation for damages, the main objective of the legal proceedings is to urge the arms industry to adopt self-regulatory measures to prevent and combat the illicit arms market, which would reduce the destructive power of criminal organisations.
The lawsuit is ground-breaking in its field, as it is the first time a foreign government has brought a civil legal action against an arms manufacturer in a US court. It also highlights the growing relevance of transnational civil litigation in the field of corporate liability and sets a precedent in the field of international justice by arguing that US domestic laws do not apply to damages caused outside the territory of the United States.
As Dr. Magdalena Bas, professor at the University of Monterrey, points out, "in addition to the commercial or fiscal effects that the illegal introduction of any product by a state can generate, the heart of the arguments lies in the effects of this illicit act: increased national insecurity because the weapons are designed according to the needs and tastes of criminal groups (for example, without security measures), greater public spending on security measures (human and material resources), and consequently a decrease in tourism (a fundamental source of income for the country)".
Between 70 and 90% of the arms seized in criminal activities were illegally introduced from the United States into Mexico. The defendants market over 68% of these weapons, that is, more than 340,000 firearms. Thus, Dr. Bas points out, one should not lose sight of the fact that "companies and other entities are not exempt from complying with human rights standards, according to article 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Therefore, “their negligence contributes to the violation of the right to life or physical integrity of the victims". In short, she adds, "Mexico embarked on a historic litigation: suing eleven US arms manufacturers in a Massachusetts state court. Illicit trafficking from the United States has a direct impact on Mexican territory (national security, fiscal aspects, tourism), but also on the fundamental rights of those who have been killed by trafficked firearms”.
On September 30, 2022, the Tribunal decided not to accept the lawsuit as it considered that national federal legislation protects and gives immunity to the defendants. However, it recognized Mexico's legal standing to sue and the alleged existence of damages in Mexico. Based on this, Mexico filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on October 26.
To commemorate the first anniversary of the filing of the lawsuit and in response to the interest shown in the litigation by various actors from different fields, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs published an electronic repository with the main documents filed before the Court, interviews with Ministry staff, analytical articles, press releases and additional digital material on the lawsuit.
A briefing paper on this litigation and the link to the repository can be found at the following link: