Illegal weapons trade hurts small economies
By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, July 5 2012
FOREIGN AFFAIRS Minister Winston Dookeran has made a stirring plea at the United Nations for a comprehensive, “strong and legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)” and called for an end to the unregulated international trade in conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons.
He pointed out the dire need for such a treaty because of the serious negative impact the illegal trade in small arms, light weapons and ammunition was having on the economies of so many small states in the Caribbean and other parts of the world.
In his first address to an international forum, since assuming the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, Minister Dookeran, speaking not only for Trinidad and Tobago (TT), but on behalf of the entire Caricom region said the international community would be abdicating its responsibility if it could not reach agreement on a treaty, which would enhance the security of our region.
Dookeran was addressing a large gathering of world diplomats at the High Level Segment of the United Nations Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at UN Headquarters in New York.
He pointed out that the economies of small Caribbean states are severely negatively impacted by the high levels of gun violence and other crimes “such as the illicit trade in narcotics, which are linked to the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons and their ammunition.”
This situation has forced small states “to divert scarce resources from programmes aimed at improving the quality of life of our people, especially in terms of poverty reduction and improvement of health care and education systems, in order to tackle the effects of the illegal trade in these weapons.”
Strengthening his plea for a robust ATT, Dookeran said, “Our people wish to live in societies free from the scourge of gun violence. The toll is not only social and economic in nature, but also human and psychological. While Caricom does not view the ATT as the panacea to resolve all issues, which lead to gun violence and associated crimes, we view it as an important tool to achieve this goal.”
Minister Dookeran said Caricom governments were very concerned about the deleterious effects on the region through the illegal trade in conventional weapons because of the unregulated and permissive approach to the trade in these armaments.
“Consequently,” added Dookeran, “the conclusion of a legally binding and robust ATT to establish the highest possible common international standards for the export, import and transfer of conventional weapons is a major foreign policy objective of Caricom. This in part leads to the adoption of a Caricom Declaration on Small Arms and Light Weapons by the Caricom Heads of Government, which in part also seeks to harmonise the region’s efforts towards combatting the illicit trade in these weapons as well as their ammunition.”
He said Caricom member states were not manufacturers or large importers of conventional weapons, “however, due to our geographic location, we have, through no fault of ours, become places for the transit, trans-shipment or final destination for weapons diverted from the legal trade to fuel both national and transnational criminal activities.
Dookeran pointed out that while various legal and regulatory provisions provide some measure of recourse in the different jurisdictions, the evidence is there to show that illicit arms and ammunition continue to enter the territories in several ways. He went on to identify some of them — in containers and cargo vessels; through undeclared items on board pleasure craft and fishing vessels and shipments of household and personal effects and imported used vehicles.
He said in completing the Treaty, it must be borne in mind that the document has to be comprehensive and include all conventional weapons including their parts and components. “At a minimum however, the Treaty should regulate the seven categories of weapons in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms in addition to small arms and light weapons, as well as ammunition,” he added.
“Caricom cannot contemplate an ATT that excludes small arms and light weapons and ammunition. These are weapons of mass destruction in our region and the trade in them must be regulated,” said Dookeran.
For smoother working and better implementation, Dookeran said, “The ATT must also establish an independent mechanism such as a secretariat or an Implementation Support Unit tasked with the responsibility to receive and verify reports from States/Parties on the implementation of their obligations which flow from the agreement. Such measures would provide for transparency and would also assist in confidence-building among States/Parties.”
Touching on international cooperation and assistance, which he regarded as another “vital area for Caricom”, which must be included in the Treaty, Dookeran said, “Caricom has already witnessed different levels of cooperation with the governments of Australia and New Zealand in our preparations for this Conference. Additionally, we join other states such as Mexico, in indicating that the ATT must make provision for States to receive assistance for capacity building, upon request, in areas such as drafting legislation to give domestic legal effect to the ATT.”
Dookeran advised the Conference “to seize this opportunity to forge an agreement on a uniform set of rules to govern the trade of conventional weapons, including small arms and ammunition.”