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CARICOM urged to unite against illicit arms trade

Published:Thursday | June 25, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Michael Peart

Regional governments have been challenged to unite in articulating their concerns about the devastating impact of the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons on their populations and economies.

The aim of such a move, as outlined yesterday by an independent international organisation seeking to prevent violent conflict, is to get policymakers to take serious steps to curb the high rates of injury and death inflicted with guns.

"CARICOM needs to make itself heard over the next few years ... (and) develop an understanding on how to make the treaty (Arms Trade Treaty) work in the real world," declared Roy Isbister of Saferworld, whose goal is to "build safer lives".

"There is still a lot to be worked out, and if CARICOM doesn't participate actively in these conversations, the treaty will be done to CARICOM as decided by others."

Isbister was addressing participants yesterday during a two-day parliamentary forum on small arms and light weapons at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.

At the core of deliberations, which continue today, with the Jamaican Houses of Parliaments hosting parliamentarians from five Caribbean states, is the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) adopted by the United Nations on April 2, 2013 - the first international treaty aimed at regulating international transfers of conventional arms.

Providing a legally binding framework for global responsibility and restraint in international transfers of conventional arms, the ATT sets an important basis for global action to control the conventional arms trade.

In endorsing the view for CARICOM to be proactive and very active, Calixtus Joseph of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) noted that despite this, the ATT recognises that many national, regional, and multilateral systems are often inconsistent with each other and remain inadequate because of corresponding loopholes, inconsistencies, and gaps that have been exploited by illicit arms dealers.

"The rise of criminality in the Caribbean region, I would say, is inextricably linked to the increasing proliferation of small arms and light weapons, or firearms, and its associated ammunition, resulting in higher mortality rates and increasing fear in the community. The detrimental impact of these arms has propelled CARICOM to the top of global homicide statistics, while adversely impacting socio-economic development," Joseph charged.

He went on to cite the fact that on average, 68 per cent of murders in the CARICOM is done with guns, compared to 13 per cent in Europe and the world average of 41 per cent.

The ATT, Joseph argues, will oblige states that plan to authorise a transfer of conventional arms to another state to first undertake a rigorous risk assessment that will help regulate the global arms market in order to prevent weapons reaching the hands of criminals, terrorists, insurgents, and human-rights abusers.

As bad as nuclear weapons

In the meantime, House Speaker Michael Peart told yesterday's opening ceremony that while one often hears of the ravages of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, small arms and light weapons can be just as devastating.

He said the fact is that an estimated 639 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation across the globe, with more than eight million such weapons and 16 billion rounds of ammunition to service them produced on an annual basis.

"More frightening than all of this, however, is the fact that according to a small-arms survey, 70 per cent of these small arms and light weapons are to be found in civilian hands. The devastation caused by small arms and light weapons is not restricted to the death and injury of tens of thousands of victims," Peart noted. "It also reaches to the young and vulnerable, who, so often, harm themselves by becoming the perpetrators of unspeakable acts of violence."

The Speaker of the House of Representatives disclosed that Jamaica has sought to control the supply and possession of illicit weapons and taken steps to ensure the responsible use of small arms and light weapons both at the national and community level.

Pointing out that the Small Arms Committee and National Small Arms Policy could also be effective tools in reducing the devastating impact of the uncontrolled use of these firearms, Peart also called on fellow parliamentarians to do more.

"It is up to us to speak out against the illicit trade and irresponsible use of small arms and light weapons and to encourage ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty and the adoption of the United Nations Programme of Action to Combat, Prevent, and Eradicate the Illicit Trafficking in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its aspects."