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CARICOM Heads of Government declare ‘war on guns,’ will treat crime as public health issue following regional anti-crime summit

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2023. 7:40 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: For the past two days, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government have been meeting in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, to discuss and address crime and violence in the region as a public health issue.

Secretary-General Dr Carla Barnett, opening the conference on Monday, said that timely implementation of solutions to address the underlying causes will require human and financial resources, data and research. As she emphasized, violence in the region is an epidemic that requires evidence-based strategies to combat: “The data and research, along with the financial resources, will allow timely implementation of [solutions to the] root causes of crime and mitigate the devastating effects of crime and violence on our societies.”

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is the designated Head of Government with responsibility for crime and security within the CARICOM portfolio and chaired the symposium.

The agenda included identifying priority actions and an action plan for a public health response, exploring transnational organized crime and the challenges with light weapons and small arms in Latin America and the Caribbean, and unpacking economic and social perspectives on crime and violence and community approaches to its management.

Two declarations resulted from the summit. CARICOM Heads declared the “epidemic of crime and violence…fueled by illegal guns and organized criminal gangs, as a threat to our democracy and stability of our societies;” endorsed a robust regional response that would involve all of society as a public health issue; said they acknowledged that there was unbalance between individual rights and public safety interest, including on the issue of bail for a person charged with murder; and issued a call to the United States to join its ‘War on Guns’ as the Caribbean had joined the ‘War on Drugs’ started in the 1980s, particularly calling out the high rate of illegal exportation of guns from America to the Caribbean.

They have agreed on the following: undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the criminal justice system to address criminal terrorists with a focus on proactive management of prosecutions, sentencing and the diversion of young people at risk; strengthen regional forensic capabilities and collaboration among national forensic agencies with a view to improving the quality of evidence and speed the conduct of trials; prepare regional model legislation to bring greater harmonization and efficiency to the development and revision of national laws; immediately and effectively implement the CARICOM Arrest Warrant Treaty; augment the jurisdiction of magistrates, the consideration of defendants’ options to judge-only trials, and the intra-regional rotation of judges and magistrates to admit or foster their greater exposure; and strengthen the capacity of the Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre (RIFC) to deliver its mandate through the development of agreed protocols for data sharing amongst Member States.

Other actions to be taken include Reform of education systems to empower citizens and better enable their socio-emotional development, in recognition that the social and emotional learning of the child is as important as technical and academic achievements; agree to ban assault weapons in the region, except for security forces and sporting competitions; agree to stand with Mexico on its legal action against U.S. gun manufacturers and retailers; establish an entity under IMPACS to assist in the containment of corruption and financial crimes, including money laundering and cybercrimes, through greater collaboration to harmonize related legislation and operational processes.

With regard to young people whom crime most affects, the Heads promise to empower and engage young people as positive content developers to offset the negative impact of social media and engage with the creative industries to re-engineer culturally acceptable norms; promote public awareness and education campaigns in our communities, that challenge harmful beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that contribute to crime and violence; work with all sectors and institutions to improve the equitable access to services and options for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, psychosocial support and parental education, addressing domestic violence, and integrating mental issues to treat with crime and violence; develop and implement targeted programs and strategies to address young vulnerable youth at risk of becoming perpetrators and victims of crime; and appoint an Eminent Person to lead and advise Heads and the Secretariat on further strategies and reforms and on effectively operationalizing the decisions of Heads.

 

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