“War on guns” declared at CARICOM crime symposium

28th April 2023

CARICOM leaders have come out forcefully against the proliferation of illegal weapons in the region as they met to craft solutions for rising crime at the recently concluded symposium on crime.

Themed “Violence as a Public Health Issue – The Crime Challenge,” the regional symposium was held in Trinidad and Tobago over 18 and 19 April 2023 and was attended by several CARICOM Heads of Government and other key stakeholders. 

At its opening, CARICOM Secretary-General Carla Barnett said that an action plan would be developed by the end of the symposium for implementation across the region.

“We are in the process of preparing both a declaration and an action plan because it is not only about saying what we need to say, it’s about stating how we’re going to actually get it done. We are organising to ensure we enlist the support of experts across the region as we proceed forward,” said Barnett.

Regional leaders and over 300 delegates including academics, crime experts, police commissioners and religious and non-government organisations discussed a range of issues related to the challenges of crime in the different countries of the bloc.

“We need the CARICOM arrest warrant, we need to have the exchange and rotation of judges … we need to have an enlargement of the jurisdiction of magistrates, we need cooperation on forensics, and we need to deconstruct all the rules in our police service and reconstruct them,” argued Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, calling for bail reform and improvements to the Regional Intelligence Centre and other areas of cooperation.

“Now, when I look at the stats, not just out of The Bahamas, Barbados, and all through the region, the people who are causing the greatest problems are charged with two, three, four murders. Something is fundamentally wrong,” said Mottley on the regional issue of bail arrangements.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whose country has one of the highest global homicide rates, said that there is a lot that CARICOM countries can learn from each other. “The truth is that in the forum we were able to discuss and exchange solutions about what is happening in Trinidad, what we are doing in Jamaica, what we are doing in the Bahamas, and how we can learn from each other,” said Holness.

“CARICOM Heads have agreed today to take a decision to ban the use and presence of assault weapons in the civilian population of our nations,” announced Trinidadian Prime Minister Keith Rowley on the final day of the summit, adding that Caribbean countries cannot sustain for much longer the death rate and the economic destruction being caused by the use of arms and ammunition.

He noted that for some CARICOM countries legislation might be required to support the ban and called on opposition parties throughout the region to support any parliamentary action by their governments. The bloc also announced that member countries are declaring a “war on guns,” calling on the US to urgently adopt and take action to stop the illegal exportation of firearms and ammunition into the Caribbean.

“Today we are saying to the US, the same way we fought with you to prevent the powder [cocaine] from going up North to poison your community, we want you to fight with us to prevent the guns and ammunition from coming into our territories,” said Prime Minister Rowley, noting that CARICOM leaders have requested dialogue with US President Joe Biden on the issue of weapons trafficking.

During his contribution to the summit, Bahamian Prime Minister and CARICOM Chairman Phillip Davis revealed that 98.6% of recovered illegal firearms in The Bahamas could be traced to the US, in Haiti 87.7% and in Jamaica 67%.

“We lament the disproportionate share of our national budges 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 region,” said the CARICOM statement.

The declaration comes just weeks after several CARICOM Member States announced plans to join with Mexico in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against US gun manufacturers over the weapons smuggled into their countries.

Photo by Jay Rembert

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