Regional Leaders Reiterate Strong Position On Crime And Violence

(CMC) – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders ended their four-day summit here on Wednesday night reiterating their strong position on crime and violence in the region and recommitting themselves to the principles as set out in the Declaration on Crime and Violence as a Public Health Safety Issue.

The declaration was adopted last year in Trinidad and Tobago at a special meeting of regional leaders and other stakeholders and the CARICOM leaders during their deliberations at their 46th regular summit “strongly condemned” the development, presence, tolerance or acceptance of violent anti-social music and social media content that denigrate women and promote the use of violence and guns.

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, who was added to the CARICOM Bureau of Prime Ministers, told reporters that crime and violence are a matter of fundamental importance to CARICOM affecting “to varying terrible degrees each of our islands.

‘We want to reiterate that crime, public safety, and violence is not a matter for governments only. It is not a matter for CARICOM heads only, it is a matter that should engage all of society…because we have some per capita alarming statistics”.

He said many of the region’s young people were becoming victims of the crime situation, adding it is “something that we cannot be proud of”.

Mitchell warned that all the initiatives by regional countries to deal with a myriad of socio-economic problems could be undone “if we do not address this tide of crime and violence”.

He said the regional leaders had also discussed the implementation of the CARICOM Arrest Warrant, hoping for its full implementation by the time they meet in Grenada in July.

“As it stands now if someone is wanted in Trinidad and Tobago and finds themselves in Grenada or Barbados, it is extremely difficult for law enforcement to apprehend and return them on the simple basis that they would not have been wanted in Grenada or Barbados for any crime.”

Mitchell, an attorney, said “We need to make sure that criminals understand that we will not tolerate them moving from island to island in the Community to escape the consequences of their actions.

“Some of the islands have begun to ratify the document that is required to make sure that this becomes a reality and we intend to press forward urgently with this matter to make sure that it is quickly ratified by all member states.”

Mitchell said that there were other initiatives that need to be undertaken regionally, ranging from strengthening law enforcement to sharing intelligence and dealing with money laundering.

“It is clear that in some of our islands, organised criminal activities are run like a business and so it is important that we strengthen our ability to in fact seize, confiscate and ensure that criminals do not profit from their criminal enterprise.”

Mitchell said it was also necessary for the judiciary to be on board with the fight against crime, recalling the reaction that followed statements made in Trinidad and Tobago last year by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her St. Vincent and the Grenadines counterpart, Dr Ralph Gonsalves in relating to sentencing, granting of bail to criminals on multiple repeat charges.

“The Caribbean civilization is founded upon, yes the separation of powers. But the separation of powers cannot be taken to mean that the executive and the judiciary cannot engage. We have to appreciate our values and we can’t sit idly by as heads and watch criminals who are on bail, commit crimes and not say this is a matter that needs to be discussed.

“And so as heads, we are very clear that talking and engaging with the judiciary is absolutely necessary if we are going to address this issue of criminality within the region. We cannot tolerate the situation with criminals committing multiple repeated offences and being let loose in our societies:

Mitchell said just so that there is a common understanding by all “it isn’t only legitimate businessmen, women or citizens who are moving, the criminals also move”.

He said in the case of Grenada …we have had high-profile public executions that were not committed by Grenadians. They were committed by citizens coming from other islands and so as citizens of the region we have to appreciate that there are in fact professional killers, hired shooters and hired gunmen who ply their trade throughout the Caribbean.

“This is a sobering reality and so blaming heads for comments pertaining to the need to address our sentencing approach, or approach to bail is not an attempt by heads to interfere in the judiciary’s exercise of their right to ultimately determine a sentence.

“But it is a recognition that if we value life, that if we value public safety as one of the fundamental pillars of our civilization, we cannot simply sit idly by and slowly walk into a situation where criminals have more rights than citizens and innocent victims”.

Mitchell said he wanted to make the point because regional leaders “are very clear that engagement with the judiciary is not interference and that regionally we have to have that engagement to ensure that the judiciary does its part in addressing this issue of crime and violence.”

Mitchell told reporters that another controversial issue, which the regional leaders are prepared not to “shy away from” regards the type of lyrics in songs emanating from some regional performers, reminding that the Caribbean has produced some of the “ world’s most renowned entertainers” ranging from Jamaica’s Bob Marley to Montserrat’s Arrow.

“Their lyrics were always inspiring, uplifting, funny, entertaining. But they never promoted violence. They never encouraged violence, they never glorified violence, they never denigrated women and we have to accept …that there has emerged a trend in our entertainment sector…that glorifies violence, glorifies criminality”.

He said that while regional leaders were not inclined to prevent artistic rights and expansion of the entertainment industry “all societies have to determine what are our values.

“We have to ascertain promoting violence, glorifying criminality is to be normalised, is to become mainstream. Heads are clear it is not and so we are unreserved in our condemnation we as a society must therefore work with the enormous talent that we have in the region…to promote and develop positive content that reflects the true essence and values of Caribbean civilization,” Mitchell told reporters.