When the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction (CAVR) joined CARICOM Impacs in January this year to discuss national and regional arms control systems, CAVR gained greater insight into the challenges for the region. Here are three challenges identified during the workshop, plus three opportunities we discussed with officials to assist in overcoming those challenges.
- Outdated Legislation and Procedures
Many Caribbean islands have outdated legislation. For example, Antigua and Barbuda’s Firearms Act was enacted in 1973. This means the legislative system does not cover illegal activities such as brokering, while penalties for other illegal firearm activities remain low. A brief activity with officials to review current state compliance with UN small arms Programme of Action (UNPoA) provisions highlighted discrepancies between the islands’ legislative provisions. Jamaica, which is currently reviewing its internal legislation, has already legislated many of those provisions. Other states felt improvements could be made, particularly to legislative procedures for marking on import, marking of state forces’ weapons and marking stocks transferred to civilians from private companies.
- States should conduct a legislative review to identify gaps against arms control standards outlined in the UNPoA and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS) provide a useful resource to conduct such a process. International assistance and international cooperation should be made available to assist.
- CARICOM model legislation has been developed to propose legislative amendments for gaps in compliance with the ATT.
- Who is the Interagency Coordinating Mechanism and National Point of Contact?
Both the UNPoA and the ATT call for the establishment of a national arms control mechanism and an appointed National Point of Contact (NPC). The national coordinating mechanism is responsible for coordinating all key stakeholders for effective internal and external controls on arms flows. The NPC acts as liaison to the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, the ATT Secretariat and other governments to enhance effective collaboration and information sharing of best practices between states and organisations.
As officers move on to new positions and portfolios, a global challenge is to ensure that new national points of contact are appointed and that their information is updated with relevant UN agencies, regional organisations and other key bodies. That’s why having a national coordinating mechanism is essential – it’s their job to ensure that an NPC is always in the job. In the Caribbean and other regions, this has not always been the case. Several officials at the workshop were unable to identify their state’s NPC. Although many had informal mechanisms to deal with arms control, they worked on an ad hoc basis with minimal interagency coordination.
- States should establish a formalised process for which one agency is responsible for coordinating all action on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The role and function of this agency should be communicated amongst all relevant government officials
- States should ensure a national point of contact is identified and this information is updated with the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, the ATT Secretariat and CARICOM
- Porous Borders & Several Entry Points for Illicit Arms Flows
Porous borders, vast oceans and geographical location make Caribbean islands vulnerable to illicit flows of many commodities. Low human resources mean it’s impossible to patrol and inspect all cargo crossing borders. Officers also need more training in identifying arms as they flow in as parts and components.
- The region can strengthen regional Customs and security networks for improved collaboration and communication. Best practices such as those of the Oceania Customs Organisation could provide examples of how these could be strengthened.
- States could train Customs Officers in their ATT obligations and how to identify illicit arms when they flow through as parts and components
The challenges are not restricted to these three alone. Nor are the solutions an easy fix. They are however a step towards building more comprehensive border controls. Controls which will make the region less permeable to leakage of small arms and light weapons from the legal trade to the illicit trade.
Laura Spano, Arms Control Manager, Centre for Armed Violence Reduction (CAVR)
 All Caribbean islands attending the workshop were ATT State Parties, except for Haiti which has so far only signed the Treaty and Monserrat, which cannot become a State Party.