The issue of crime and violence is not a top agenda item for this week’s Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government Summit in Antigua even though the region’s leadership itself is expected to zero in on a few security matters.
Given the rising economic and social despair in our neck of the woods, no effort can be spared; therefore a sharp focus on the part of our leaders is not only desirable but necessary.
Just last week, we were treated to some troubling statistics about illegal firearms and gang membership in the region. And from a man who should know of what he speaks, the head of CARICOM’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security Francis Forbes.
Addressing a regional workshop in Trinidad and Tobago, the former Jamaica police chief revealed that of the 2,143 homicides recorded last year in 11 CARICOM states, 70 per cent were committed by small arms and light weapons.
And that was not all. He went on to reveal that between 2006 and 2013, regional law enforcement authorities had recovered more than 16,000 illegal firearms — 16, 162 to be exact — in these same countries, where gang membership is now estimated to “not be less than 35,000 and growing”.
We have to agree with Mr Forbes that this situation is “more than a cause for concern”, especially as it begs the question why only six CARICOM states, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, had signed on to the Arms Trade Treaty as at June 3, 2014?
Maybe the authorities in the other neighbouring territories, Barbados included, feel that their situation is no where near as bad as that facing at least some of the regional signatories. This may be true if you look at crime and security from a numbers perspective only. However, they would do well to remember that even traditional low crime destinations such as ours, which are still generally considered safe, simply cannot turn a blind eye to crime, in particular the war against illegal weapons and rising gang culture.
That these problems currently exist at a greater intensity in other countries, only heightens the threat posed to small, open economies
like ours, with highly porous borders and which are heavily dependent on tourism.
In Barbados’ case, recent experiences with Bulgarians entering this country with criminal intent and illicit gunfire in troubled districts should serve as enough of a reminder to us that we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.
Indeed, we need not look any further than within our shores to see the debilitating effect of crime on certain communities, as well as the pain and suffering caused when there is ready availability of weapons and ammunition on the streets.
That it has not reached the stage of repression and terror that we have seen in other countries is reason for us to give thanks but it must also spur us into more concrete action of the protective sort that will repress any irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons that could destabilize security in our country and region.
That is why it is surprising to learn that we have been lethargic in signing on to the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on April 2, last year, regulating the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships.
The treaty also seeks to foster peace and security by thwarting uncontrolled destabilizing arms flows to conflict regions; preventing human rights abusers and violators of the law of war from being supplied with arms; and keeping warlords, pirates, and gangs from acquiring these deadly tools.
Under the global pact, Governments remain primarily responsible for providing security and protecting their populations, in accordance with the rule of law.
According to the United Nations, which is committed to supporting the full and effective implementation of the ATT, the swift entry into force of the global treaty would be “a clear indication of its signatories’ willingness and determination to address the poorly regulated international arms trade”.
Let’s hope that we will not remain out of step for much longer on this important convention.
Indeed, let us not wager with the safety and security of this region’s citizens.