Caribbean security challenges

Opening address by his Excellency Edwin W Carrington, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community, on the occasion of the Ministerial Conference on Security, Drug Trafficking , Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism as challenges for development in the Caribbean, 19 February 2009, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

It is my signal honour to have been invited to this very important Ministerial Conference on Security, Illicit Drug Trafficking, Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism as Challenges for Development in the Caribbean. I extend warm appreciation to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for organizing this meeting and to the Government and People of the Dominican Republic who have been such gracious hosts. It gives me great pleasure to address this opening session not only in my capacity as Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) but also in my dual role as Secretary-General of CARIFORUM, in which the Dominican Republic plays a singularly prominent role.

Edwin Carrington
Edwin Carrington

This Ministerial Conference is taking place at a time when the world is facing one of its worse economic and financial crises since the great depressions in the 1930s. Stimulus packages have become a standard part of the response to this crisis not only in the USA, Europe, Asia, Australia and elsewhere, but also in our CARICOM region. The objective is to cushion the fall out on business and people more generally and to re-energise the economy. Indeed, following the concerns of our Ministers of Finance, the CARICOM Council of Finance and Planning (COFAP), at its Meeting in Barbados on 30 January, established a Task Force headed by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to brainstorm, track and advise on a regional strategy to respond to the crisis and to avert its worst effects of increasing unemployment, loss of homes, default on pension schemes and other hardships.

This Ministerial Conference is nothing if not most timely for us in the Caribbean. The global economic crisis, generated by high-level illegal, immoral and highly questionable business practices, has undermined global financial systems and caused massive personal and other loss. This situation adds a most pernicious dimension to the issues with which this Conference is treating, namely, “drug trafficking, transnational organised crime and terrorism”. Such activities, as in the case of the global economic crisis, are perpetrated by those who make fortunes by preying on their fellow human beings and, through immoral or criminal acts, wreak havoc on societies.

The Caribbean’s location as the bridge between the major drug-producing countries of the South and drug-consuming countries of the North and the attendant trade in small arms and light weapons, are among the most important factors which pose security challenges for the region. An additional dimension to this challenge will now, undoubtedly, flow from the social repercussions of the global economic crisis in our countries.

My presence today at this Conference is indicative of the high interest that the Caribbean Community places on combating those scourges. Indeed, so high a priority does the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) place on these and related issues that the Heads of Government have mandated that Security be made the fourth pillar upon which the Community is based, joining the foundation pillars of economic integration, foreign policy coordination, and functional co-operation. Security will, however, not just be a pillar in its own right, but will be critical for the achievement of the objectives of the other three pillars.

This meeting also signals, happily, a revitalization of the relationship between CARICOM and the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC). Such a relationship would enhance the Region’s effectiveness in tackling the pressing challenges to its safety and security. The importance of the overall objective of the CARICOM-UNODC partnership – to support the efforts of Member States in their response to growing human security threats in the Region –could therefore hardly be overstated.

These efforts must be seen against the background of the Caribbean Region recording one of the world’s highest murder rates which, along with other forms of violent crimes, not only causes human suffering but also has adverse effects on economic growth and social development. Most disturbingly, our youth are disproportionately represented in the ranks of both victims and perpetrators of crime and violence.

Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, a report in the Independent newspaper of the United Kingdom brings home starkly the gravity of the situation we now face. That report states, and I quote, “drug syndicates control 8 per cent of global GDP – which means they have greater resources than many national armies. They own helicopters and submarines and they can afford to spread the woodworm of corruption through poor countries right to the top.”

Further the Report goes on to state that: “in order to protect their patch and their supply routes, these gangs tool up – and kill anyone who gets in their way. You can see this any day on the streets of London or Los Angeles, [where teen gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 per cent profit margins on offer.”] I regret to have to acknowledge that, should I add the streets of Port of Spain or Kingston to that list, I may not be far wrong.

The UNODC and the World Bank in THEIR seminal report “Crime, Violence and Development: Trends, Costs and Policy Options in the Caribbean”, have also left us in no doubt about the reality of our security situation in the Caribbean and of the main cause. The Report cites statements by various Caribbean leaders on the fact that “the high level of violent crime remains our most troubling and pressing problem (P J Patterson – Jamaica)” and that “the country is in crisis due to escalating crime rate (President George Maxwell Richards – Trinidad and Tobago)”. The Report states unequivocally that … “the strongest explanation for the relatively high rates of crime and violence in the region and their apparent rise in recent years is narcotic trafficking.”

Indeed, the level of violence spawned by such illegal activity is a fact of life for many Caribbean countries. It was in response to this situation that in 2005, CARICOM Heads of Government, recognising that the issue of security needed to be frontally addressed and effectively tackled as a Community, and as a Region, in order to maintain the gains accrued and further the prospects for sustainable development, decided to give teeth to the addition of the Security pillar by establishing a dedicated Management Framework for Crime and Security. That framework encompasses a Council of Ministers for Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE), a Security Policy Advisory Committee (SEPAC) and an Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS). At the helm is the Conference of Heads of Government to which the system is accountable through the Prime Minister with responsibility for regional security, the Honourable Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

The CONSLE’s role is to superintend policy direction and to report to the Conference of Heads of Government. The implementing nerve centre of this Management Framework is the Implementing Agency for Crime and Security – IMPACS, an institution with primary responsibility for the implementation of the regional crime and security agenda, reporting directly to the CONSLE.

The first major test for this framework came with the staging, in the Region, of the Cricket World Cup in 2007 which brought thousands of visitors to the Caribbean, including many dignitaries. From all reports the systems that were introduced then contributed significantly to the successful hosting of the event and some of these have been retained as ‘legacy items’ as part of the regional security architecture. These include:
● The Joint Regional Communication Centre   (JRCC),
● The Advanced Passenger Information System   (APIS), and
● The Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre (RIFC).

There is, however, no doubt, that the prevalence of criminal activities, in particular violent crime, cannot be adequately curtailed by the security and justice systems alone.

Strong social and economic support structures are needed to bolster the area of prevention. It is instructive that the Joint Report of the UNODC and the World Bank pointed out that “in general there was an over-reliance on the criminal justice approach” to crime reduction in the Region to the detriment of other complementary approaches. The Community has recognised this deficiency and the Ministerial Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) has mandated the CARICOM Secretariat to collaborate with the relevant regional and international organisations to develop a crime prevention initiative.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it should be noted that the new UNODC programme for regional cooperation, which is the focus of this Conference, seems to be more balanced addressing as it does both the law enforcement focus with IMPACS and the social and development crime prevention focus with the Secretariat. The programme also recognises that a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary response, supporting a programme of reforms is required. It is my understanding that UNODC’s strategic approach in the Caribbean will be organised around three inter-linked thematic areas: Research and Analysis; Rule of Law and Crime Prevention; and Health and Human Development.

This diversification of programmes is most timely and welcome. I am pleased to hear that work has already commenced to expand the programme for crime prevention and criminal justice-related areas and HIV prevention and care.

I also take note, that in addition to this diversification, the UNODC intends to create the necessary synergies with CARICOM IMPACS in countering illicit drug trafficking and organized crime, trafficking in persons and smuggling of immigrants and fire arms control.

I must also congratulate the UNODC on the development of the United Nations Handbook for Planning and Action for Crime Prevention in Southern Africa and the Caribbean. This handbook should be a useful guide to help our Member States implement strategies for crime prevention and criminal justice reform, as well as assist the CARICOM Secretariat-led effort, in collaboration with the UNODC, to develop and implement the CARICOM Social and Development Crime Prevention Plan 2009-2013.

Given the level of co-operation and co-ordination required between the UNODC and the relevant CARICOM agencies, including the Secretariat, to carry out this ambitious programme of work, it strengthens the case made earlier this month in New York, when the CARICOM Secretariat and other Regional Institutions held their Fifth Meeting with the United Nations Secretariat and Agencies, for the re-opening of the UNODC office in the Region. The indications emanating from that meeting were certainly positive and the Community welcomes the proposed reopening of this important office in the Caribbean.

Aware of the enormity of the task facing our countries, as set out in the draft Political Declaration, to be adopted by this Meeting, it is critical that we not only identify what is to be done but also specify who is to do what and secondly, to provide the means for undertaking the task. Without that, our work here would not be complete.

In closing, as I wish this Conference every success, I draw your attention to the words of the Honourable Senator Colonel Trevor MacMillan Minister of National Security of Jamaica in his address to the III Inter-American Forum on Violence Prevention And Citizen Security: Addressing Crime and Violence in the Caribbean Region, held in Jamaica last month.

He stated that “Reduction in violence and improved public security is our compelling goal. It is not a mere policy outcome. It is a condition of life in which values of freedom, safety, opportunity, inclusion, and empowerment can find expression. Security and crime reduction are cross-sectoral, public/private and community based phenomena that require a multi-dimensional approach. They demand cross-fertilization of efforts among all social actors; significant institutional reform to facilitate a holistic response; and require us to see beyond the limitations of our institutions and deliberately seek to build across and beyond lines of bureaucracy.” I commend these words to this Conference.

I thank you!

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