CMC – Caricom leaders ended a two-day regional symposium on violence as a public health issue, 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-government organisations, said that they were 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 join 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,” it stated.
Speaking at a news conference, the host Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley told reporters that the Caricom leaders who met 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 handguns 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,” he said.
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 the costs 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.
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 operational zing the decisions of Heads”.