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Saturday, 7 February 2009

It is not unusual for one gun to be used in one member state or territory for one crime, and then show up in another member state for another crime

In Trinidad, 544 people were murdered last year and official statistics show that 295, or 54.2 per cent, were killed as a result of gang-related activities involving the use of firearms.
Figures are staggering. About half a billion small arms are in use around the world and nearly half a million people are killed by them annually.For Caribbean countries, such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), where more than 100 people have so far been murdered in January, the illicit trade in small arms is especially worrying.“It is not unusual for one gun to be used in one member state or territory for one crime, and then show up in another member state for another crime,” said Lynne Anne Williams, executive director of the Trinidad-based Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS).“Sometimes, there is connectivity between the victims and the perpetrators of the crime and we have not been able to aggressively pursue those links,” she said.Both the Jamaican and T&T governments have linked the illicit gun trade to illegal drugs, identifying Colombia, Haiti, Honduras and Venezuela as countries from which sophisticated small arms find their way into the local markets.Martin Joseph, chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council of Ministers responsible for national security and law enforcement, said that in a significant number of cases, there is a correlation between the illegal narcotics trade and that of the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons.
“These weapons are used to protect contraband goods, intimidate users and competitors, protect turf, coerce recruits into gangs, maintain discipline within these gangs and to execute those who threaten to curtail the lifeline of the trade,” said Joseph, who is also T&T’s national security minister.

Joseph said that gun-related violence was also weighing down public-health systems, as well as creating social and economic problems for many CARICOM states.In its 2007 report, Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean, the World Bank said that “the high rates of crime and violence in the Caribbean are undermining growth, threatening human welfare, and impeding social development”.Last year, the United Nations (UN) called on the Jamaican Government to institute strict gun-control regulations as a means of stemming the heavy inflow of guns and ammunition into the island. In Trinidad and Tobago, Joseph told Parliament recently that “we had a situation in 2008 that was totally unacceptable in terms of homicide”.A recently commissioned UN report on the impact of small arms on children and adolescents in Central America and the Caribbean said illegal arms dealers earn millions in foreign exchange annually from the deadly trade.“Small arms are widely available in the region, and the trade in arms is highly lucrative, with US$3.5-US$10.1 million for the legal trade and much more for the illegal trade,” the report said.According to the report, Latin America and the Caribbean account for 42 per cent of all homicides globally, and this region has “the highest rate of armed violence in the world”.Figures released by the Jamaican police indicate that between January 1, 2005 and May 31 last year, 5,068 people were murdered. Of that number, 78 per cent were killed with a gun. More than 2,000 others were shot and injured during the same period.Three years ago, Caribbean governments agreed to the formation of IMPACS. Now the agency is developing a regional integrated ballistic information network (RIBIN) to help member states combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and the crimes involved in their use.“The rise in gun-related crimes in the region is indeed a troubling aspect of our current reality,” Joseph told a meeting of firearm examiners and ballistic experts from the region in Port-of-Spain last month. “Virtually every member state of CARICOM is being afflicted by this scourge.”“In 2000, firearms were responsible for less than one-third of all homicides in many CARICOM states. However, by May 2006, gun-related crimes accounted for over 70 per cent of criminal activity. Illicit firearms are now a significant aspect of a growing culture of violence within the region,” Joseph said.Williams said that the meeting, which allowed the high-level delegations to further formulate plans for RIBIN, represented an important step forward “and a concrete example of how we are working to improve investigative and prosecutorial capacity to support law enforcement”.RIBIN is intended to support Caribbean territories that lack the forensic technology to identify the “fingerprint” of the ammunition used in a crime and to record the details about the firearm used.“There are three or four member states that own such systems and we are seeking to establish at least one or two systems in strategic locations across the region where member states that do not have resources to have their own system can have access to a system,” Williams said.She said the initiative would allow for greater cooperation with countries like the United States and Canada.Washington has already warned Jamaica, where 1,611 people were murdered last year, that the high crime rate was affecting businesses and that it could impact negatively on investments.Karen Hilliard, the United States Agency for International Development mission director to Jamaica, said data from a World Bank report showed that small companies in Jamaica spent, on average, 17 per cent of their annual revenue on security costs.
“This is alarmingly comparable to an approximate 23 per cent spent by small firms in war-torn Iraq,” Hilliard said.The World Bank study indicated that the costs of crime totalled five per cent of Jamaica’s gross domestic product and the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2009 gave Jamaica a ranking of 63 out of 181 economies assessed, showing a minimal decline from 62 in the 2008 report.



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