The proliferation of illegal firearms and their devastating impact on our communities will ultimately defy any transient ceasefire between warring criminal gangs in this country. The ever-present threat of gun violence demands not mere expressions of concern but concerted action here and across our island region.
The grim reality of homicides and firearms-related violence makes a mockery of the longstanding declarations by CARICOM leaders of this region as a zone of peace. The absence of conventional war and the abundance of tourist idylls do not make a zone of peace.
The statistics reveal a chilling truth – violent deaths occur in our region at three times the global average, despite being home to less than one per cent of the world’s population. An astonishing 23 per cent of all recorded homicides in the world take place in our beloved Caribbean. Some zone of peace.
The root cause of this crisis is the excessive use of firearms in these heinous acts, causing not only death but also injuries and disability. High-powered firearms have become the weapon of choice for criminals, and they are directly linked to organised crime, narcotics trafficking, and gang violence that afflict our communities. This vicious cycle not only shatters the social fabric but also hampers our sustainable development.
The geographic nature of our region makes it particularly susceptible to the illicit circulation of weapons between countries. The diversion of weapons and ammunition from state-held stockpiles further exacerbates this issue. While Caribbean states have relatively small stockpiles of weapons in government custody, there is a high prevalence of registered and unregistered firearms among the civilian population.
Amid these grim circumstances, we must take decisive action to address the threat posed by these weapons to the Caribbean Community’s peace, security, and stability. Regional cooperation in managing weapons and ammunition is a vital component of our response to this crisis and we endorse the strides that have been made. One such initiative is the 2022 memorandum of understanding between the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), an international charity whose work since 1989 has been working to rid war zones of the latent lethality of mines and other weapons of war.
Technical assessments conducted by MAG and CARICOM IMPACS in several Caribbean countries have generated tangible recommendations for direct efforts that deal with weapon stockpile management. One such concern is the substantial challenge posed by civilian-owned weapons. These weapons, held in police and court custody for extended periods, occupy a significant portion of facilities and complicate the security forces’ ability to manage state weapons and exhibits effectively.
Under the agreement, CARICOM IMPACS began work with the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago to destroy some 7 000 and more than 328 kilogrammes of net explosive weight in expired ammunition in three months. This was hailed as the first step in a region-wide campaign.
Said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Jones, the executive director of CARICOM IMPACS: “Each of the 7 000 firearms represents a potential shooting, a potential victim, a potential murder. The destruction of weapons is one of the most effective arms control measures which enables states to do away with obsolete and seized weapons, ensuring that they will no longer be used to commit future acts of crime.”
In this and many other CARICOM member states, a large number of civilian-owned weapons are held by the police, requiring large-scale destruction as well as secure and accountable storage and management of police weapons. The identification and disposal of unserviceable and unclaimed weapons are essential steps in addressing this issue.
All responsible Caribbean citizens must actively support these efforts. It is our collective responsibility to demand the control and destruction of stockpiles of firearms seized from criminals anywhere and everywhere in the region, including here. Given the predominant role that firearms play in homicides across the Caribbean, we simply cannot be a zone of peace that sits atop a growing arsenal.
We call for renewed efforts to stamp out the trafficking of illegal firearms. Clear, durable processes, such as the one envisaged by the CARICOM IMPACS-MAG cooperation should ultimately lead to the legal–and public–destruction of these dangerous weapons, making the region safer for all.
We must secure our Caribbean as a true oasis of peace in a volatile world, not just for tourists but for the people who call this region home.