[Law clinic] Access to justice for gun violence

Published 28 February 2023

NEW YORK, US - Aug. 24, 2016: Non-violence sculpture The Knotted Gun at the United Nations Headquarters @Shutterstock

This post was originally published on the T.M.C. Asser Institute website on 27 February 2023 and can be found here.

Last week, the international law clinic project on ‘Access to Justice for Gun Violence’ was launched by the Amsterdam International Law Clinic of the University of Amsterdam in cooperation with the Asser Institute and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The pro bono clinic will address gun violence from the standpoint of European legislation and human rights law. 

The law clinic will harness the work of students who will receive academic credit to develop a memorandum on legal remedies available to gun victims across European jurisdictions. The project aims to promote student engagement on the issue of gun violence prevention, and contribute with expertise to relevant debates on arms production, distribution and export. ­ 

Accountability deficit
“Accountability for gun violence is alarmingly deficient in European countries”, says Asser Institute researcher León Castellanos-Jankiewicz, who serves as NNHRR Coordinator and is the Law Clinic supervisor for this project. “And although gun violence is not endemic in the region, European gun exports lack comprehensive due diligence procedures despite being transferred to at-risk states and conflict areas. The law clinic will identify this accountability deficit to assist policymakers in developing a better regulatory regime.” 

León Castellanos-Jankiewicz

León Castellanos-Jankiewicz, @Asser

The Amsterdam Law Clinics enable students to work on matters of public interest and broad social relevance on behalf of clients. “We are delighted that the students can obtain hands-on experience on this important topic”, said Marcelle Reneman, Director of the Amsterdam Law Clinics. “This clinic complements existing projects in our programme such as those of the Fair Trials Clinic and the Business and Human Rights Clinic. These are all part of the experiential education programme of the Amsterdam Law Practice.”

Addressing negligent conduct
The clinic is partnering with the Office of the Legal Advisor of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has been actively seeking to improve the regulatory regime of arms trade and gun control. The students will be working closely with the Office of the Legal Advisor to prepare their memorandum mapping out legal remedies available to address the negligent conduct of members of the arms industry.  

Aljandro Celorio Alcántara

Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, @Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, México

“Working with students is very important to us”, said Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, Principal Legal Advisor to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “because it empowers younger generations to take action in the future on the basis of first-hand knowledge. Arms trafficking has become a serious threat in many regions, but does not always feature highly on the multilateral agenda. Understanding the regulatory makeup of arms control and its limitations is an important first step towards changing this.”

Irresponsible business
Mexico has been spearheading efforts to raise awareness about the irresponsible business practices of the gun industry globally. In 2021, the government sued Smith & Wesson and eight other gun manufacturers in U.S. federal court. Mexico claims damages in the form of healthcare, security, and other costs, in addition to economic loss arising from the companies’ negligent failure “to exercise reasonable care” in manufacturing, marketing, and selling their guns in ways that reduce the likeliness of their being trafficked into and causing harm in its territory. Last year, Mexico also requested an Advisory Opinion to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the impact of gun industry practices on human rights.  

According to Amnesty International, 44 per cent of homicides globally involve gun violence, with easy access to guns being among the driving reasons behind this statistic. At the same time, gun companies are notoriously neglectful  in their manufacturing, distribution and sales practices, thus increasing the likelihood of damage. Moreover, states conduct irresponsible arms trade that ravages communities worldwide, including in conflict zones such as Ukraine and Yemen.

European arms exporters
Many of the largest arms exporters in the world are based in Europe. Moreover, some of these companies engage in dubious business practices. A recent report , for example, identified European firms from Germany, Austria and France as supplying Myanmar’s military junta with materials to produce weapons while circumventing sanctions.

Despite these red flags, the arms industry enjoys special protections in many European jurisdictions, including secrecy for licensing and export agreements through state-approved national security or foreign policy exceptions. Consequently, judicial remedies for victims are deficient. The expansive interpretation of these exceptions has jeopardised the right to a remedy to which survivors of gun violence are entitled, including under international human rights law.

About the law clinic
The law clinic team was competitively selected among the student body of the LLM in Public International Law of the University of Amsterdam. The project’s participants are: Jasmijn van Dijk, Felix Hartner, Viktoria Schmidt, and Nada Ben Yahia. Additional support is provided by Melanie Schneider, the Asser Institute research intern currently working under the supervision of Castellanos-Jankiewicz, as well as by Wilma Laura Gandoy Vázquez and Alfredo Uriel Pérez Manriquez from the Mexican Foreign Ministry.

Read more
Mexico v. Smith & Wesson: Judge Dismisses Complaint Citing PLCAA and Standing Issues’ASIL Insights (2022), León Castellanos-Jankiewicz, with Leila Nadya Sadat

‘Ensuring Access to Courts for Gun Victims: The Case for Repealing PLCAA’, Just Security (2022), León Castellanos-Jankiewicz, with Kaya van der Horst

Mexico v. Smith & Wesson: U.S. Court Duel Over Extraterritorial Legal Issues Looms with Motion to Dismiss’, Just Security (2021),León Castellanos-Jankiewicz

Video of the expert panel discussion on Transnational Civil Litigation and Corporate Liability: Mexico v Smith & Wesson, co-organised by the Asser Institute, the University of Amsterdam and the Embassy of Mexico to the Kingdom of the Netherlands (2022)  

‘Mexico v Smith & Wesson’, Hablemos de Derecho Internacional Podcast (2022) (in Spanish), León Castellanos-Jankiewicz