KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, March 7, IWN — As the Fourth Regional Workshop on Negotiations for the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty opened on Wednesday, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves used the case of a Vincentian woman paralysed by a gunshot, to highlight the impact of years of unregulated trade in weapons.
“With that single bullet, this young lady went from being a star athlete at her school to a wheelchair-bound symbol of the creeping scourge of arms and ammunition into the most remote corners of our Caribbean civilization,” Gonsalves said of Sweet-I Robertson.
The 20-year-old Chateaubelair resident was shot in the neck in October 2010 during an altercation between some young men.
She is paralysed from the neck down, with only limited use of one arm.
Gonsalves spoke of Robertson as he addressed the opening of the workshop, which comes as the region prepares for the critical Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, which begins on March18.
Gonsalves said that when faced with a tragedy like the one that befell Robertson, there is a temptation for people to talk about what might have happened if the shot was fired a few seconds later or at a different trajectory.
“But, truth be told, the paralysis of this vivacious teen was not caused by seconds, but by the years over which we have allowed the unregulated trade in weapons to flourish.
“It was not a question of the last inches of the bullet’s journey, but the thousands of miles covered by thousands of bullets on their voyage from the point of manufacture to their ultimate Caribbean destination,” Gonsalves said.
“Who built the gun that shot Sweet-I? By what route, and for what purpose, did it travel to St. Vincent and the Grenadines? What about the bullet that paralyzed her? The doctors can tell you where that bullet’s journey ended, but neither the Commissioner of Police, nor the Minister responsible for Trade, nor I, the Prime Minister and Minister for National Security, can tell you where that ammunition was manufactured, who bought or sold it, or how it managed to find its way into the possession of a silly, reckless boy in a sleepy village in rural St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“All we can say, with complete certainty, is that neither the gun, nor the bullet, was manufactured in St. Vincent and the Grenadines or the Caribbean. The other questions are unanswerable,” Gonsalves further said.
He said that the participants of the two-day workshop must make these questions answerable in the coming weeks at the United Nations.
“The weak, ineffectual and non-existent global regulations that facilitate the free flow of arms from the factories of wealthy corporations into the hands of impoverished and senseless criminals, or hardened ones, and morally bankrupt terrorists must be tightened and crafted into robust safeguards that materially improve and protect the lives of our citizens,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves further said that the Caribbean Community “must be more ambitious, more aggressive, and less likely to compromise core convictions in exchange for ephemeral commitments or loophole-laden language.”
He further warned participants to guard against assuming that a consensus documents will be reached at the end of the 10-day negotiating period at the United Nations.
“Such an assumption may force us to make hasty and unhelpful concessions that are motivated not by need, but by an artificial negotiating calendar. While it is indeed important to delineate your ‘red lines’ and areas for compromise, I urge you also to engage in some contingency planning, so that the region will have a clear understanding of our next steps and tactical options in the event of a failure to reach consensus by March 28,” he said.
He further told the workshop participants that as they deliberate during the two days that they should keep in mind that the CARICOM Heads of State and Government continue to attach the highest priority to a robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty.