By Sarah Peter
Caribbean News Now contributor
NEW YORK, USA -- “Small arms and light weapons are the weapons of mass destruction of the Caribbean,” said Barbados UN Ambassador Joseph Goddard.
“For Barbados and other small developing countries, the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons constitutes a threat to social and economic development. Experience has shown that this trade is inextricably linked to the trade in illicit drugs,” he added.
Goddard’s concern is being echoed by governments throughout the Caribbean region. And, Trinidad and Tobago’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Eden Charles said the impact of small arms and light weapons across the region is momentous.
“If you take up the newspapers in some countries everyday you would see a skyrocketing in the homicide rate and the effect is some communities might be under siege, people do not feel as safe as they use to be, we have the situation of gang wars,” he said.
He noted that while the region is not responsible for manufacturing arms they are nevertheless significantly impacted by it.
“We are not major players but the problem is magnified in small countries in a very, very negative way. They (gangs) get their weapons from the international illegal trade in weapons. I am saying international because an AK-47 that was used in Asia as a consequence of international illicit trade could end up in the CARICOM region,” Charles pointed out.
The concern comes on the heels of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Charles was hoping that, during the session, the Arms Trade Treaty process would get on stream. (The initiative is a multilateral treaty that would regulate the international trade in conventional weapons.) Negotiations on the agreement broke down this past July.
Charles lamented that major manufacturing states “did not want a treaty which includes small arms and ammunition.”
“Some of the major players in the world would come to the Caribbean, come to CARICOM and advocate that our governments sign and implement certain treaties and we would because of international solidarity, but we are saying we need your support in this particular matter as well,” he said.
The Trinidad and Tobago diplomat said a lot of the money that has been used to fight the illicit trade, could have instead been used to help Caribbean states achieve some of the Millennium Development Goals.
“When you have to spend more money on your law enforcement and you’re buying legal arms to deal with this and the governments have to deal with health care and other social issues, education, unemployment, your development could be affected,” he explained.
Charles expressed concern that the problem could have dire consequences if not controlled.
“The scourge in these illicit activities has the potential to affect the rule of law in our countries. We have seen in parts of Mexico where the effects have been even graver, with small towns being totally overrun and police stations being over taken by drug dealers,” he said.
The ambassador however expressed optimism that, with support and determination, all is not lost. He said the region will continue to fight and will continue to fight for the reconvening of the United Nations small arms treaty.
Some advances have been made by the Caribbean community (CARICOM) including the formation of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS). That agency is developing an integrated ballistic information network to improve the capacity of regional member states to identify and trace guns and ammunition used to commit crimes, particularly in more than one territory.
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