By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — CARICOM leaders ended a two-day regional symposium on violence as a public health issue, on Tuesday, declaring a war on guns to combat the illegal trade which they said “provides the weapons that contribute significantly to crime and violence in our region”.
In addition, the delegates attending the symposium including academics, crime experts, police commissioners and religious and non-governmental organisations, said that they are alarmed by the epidemic of crime and violence in the Caribbean.
They said it is being fuelled by illegal guns and organised criminal gangs that pose a “threat to our democracy and the stability of our societies”.
In the declaration titled “War on Guns”, the regional leaders said they were also calling on the United States to joining the Caribbean in “our war on guns and urgently adopt and take action to stop the illegal exportation of firearms and ammunition into the Caribbean.
“We lament the disproportionate share of our national budgets that we are compelled to allocate to measures to address crime, violence and national security as well as mental health and other health-related challenges that directly result from the illegal exportation of guns to our shores.
“We underscore our commitment to utilise all human, financial and other resources to rid our region of the scourge of illicit weapons,” the regional leaders said in their declaration, adding “we reiterate that the Caribbean must be a Zone of Peace, which will allow us to achieve our goal of a secure, stable and prosperous Community for all our citizens”.
Speaking at a news conference, the host Prime Minister Keith Rowley told reporters that the CARICOM leaders who met here had also agreed implement a ban on assault rifles.
He said during the symposium one of the experts had outlined that the production and sale of hand guns in the United States “in recent times saw these heavier, more lethal and destructive assault weapons that are designed for military use, for maximum destruction, those weapons are now weapons of choice and the production levels are higher than the … handguns.
“Those weapons have begun to appear in our country. They are now commonly in the hands of criminals who get them through the illegal trade, but they are also being licensed by the state and put in the hands of civilians.
“We are saying that we do not require those weapons within our societies … because of their outcome in the presence of the societies. So, we can continue to provide a certain amount of protection with … handguns … and we are saying having the volume of those guns in our communities on a scale where easily available assault weapons can carry with it what we are seeing elsewhere, it has serious destructive outcomes.”
The regional leaders have agreed to stand with Mexico on its legal action again US gun manufacturers and retailers and establish an entity under the CARICOM Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) to assist in the containment of corruption and financial crimes, including money laundering and cybercrimes, through greater collaboration to harmonise related legislation and operational processes
They have also noted that cost associated with the crime epidemic on the region’s social, economic and health systems, saying that they are “determined to ensure that our people of the Caribbean can exist in an environment of peace and safety”.
They said seized of the urgent need to reverse the normalisation of violence in social interaction and to restore the bonds of social solidarity they remain convinced that what is the multi-faceted nature of violent crime and its pervasive effects require a “robust regional response” that includes a public health approach, which is an all of society strategy including family, church, academia, cultural and sports personalities, minority political parties and wider civil society.
They acknowledge the concerns of the Caribbean population that there is a tilting of the balance between the rights of the individual and the public safety interests of the whole of society, which is having a debilitating effect on the rights of the community to live in peaceful societies, particularly given the trend for persons on murder charges to be granted bail.
He leaders said they have agreed to strengthen the development of security as a fourth pillar of CARICOM “so that collectively we can better address the extra-territorial threats to citizen security; including strengthening the capacity of the Community’s security and justice agencies to adopt and implement a public health approach”.
They have agreed to undertake comprehensive overhaul of the criminal justice system to address criminal terrorists with a focus on proactive management of prosecutions, sentencing and the diversion of young people at risk.
They will seek to strengthen regional forensic capabilities and collaboration among national forensic agencies with a view to improving the quality of evidence and speed the conduct of trials and prepare regional model legislation to bring greater harmonization and efficiency to the development and revision of national laws.
In addition, the leaders say they will “immediately and effectively implement the CARICOM Arrest Warrant Treaty” as well as augment the jurisdiction of magistrates, the consideration of defendants’ options to judge-only trials, and the intra-regional rotation of judges and magistrates to admit or foster their greater exposure.
They have agreed to strengthen the capacity of the Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre to deliver its mandate through development of agreed protocols for data sharing amongst member states.
There will be a reform of the education systems to “empower our citizens and better enable their socio-emotional development, in recognition that the social and emotional learning of the child is as important as technical and academic achievements”.
The two-day symposium, which was held under the theme “the Crime Challenge”, also reached agreement on empowering and engaging young people as “positive content developers to offset the negative impact of social media and engage with the creative industries to re-engineer culturally acceptable norms”.
The symposium agreed to promote public awareness and education campaigns in the various communities, that challenge harmful beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that contribute to crime and violence.
“Work with all sectors and institutions to improve the equitable access to services and options for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, psychosocial support and parental education, addressing domestic violence, and integrating mental issues to treat with crime and violence”, as well as “develop and implement targeted programmes and strategies to address young vulnerable youth at risk of becoming perpetrators and victims of crime”.
The leaders have also agreed to appoint an “eminent person” to lead and advise them and the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat “on further strategies and reforms and on effectively operationalizing the decisions of Heads”.