CARICOM Heads have agreed that before year end an arrest warrant treaty will take effect as part of a wider mission to improve cooperation among law enforcement authorities and to boost security in the region.
Prime Minister of Dominica and Chairman of the 37th Heads of Government Conference Roosevelt Skerrit made the announcement last night.
“We have placed as a priority the completion of the CARICOM arrest warrant treaty. This is a matter we have been discussing for some time now and I believe that heads are resolved to having this particular Treaty entered into before the end of 2016. This we believe will enhance the security of our region and it is a matter which heads fully are in support of”, he said at a press conference held at the Pegasus Hotel moments after the three-day meeting had ended.
Briefing the media on some of the decisions made during the conference, he said that security- related issues occupied a “big chunk” of the discussions. He said the heads were brought up to date on major issues and ways to deepen and strengthen cooperation in this areas. In addition to approving a review of the CARICOM Crime and Security Strategy (CCSS), discussions centred on ensuring that there was coordination between national security plans and the strategy.
“IMPACS (Implementing Agency for Crime and Security) continues to play a major role in our efforts to address crime and security and we really appreciate the work in this regards”, he said adding that significantly it was agreed that urgent steps should be taken for completion of a number of critical regional security agreements. It was at this point he announced the decision taken with respect to the Treaty.
Skerrit said it centres on the enhancement of the Region’s law enforcement’s ability to address cross-border crime.
“If we are to enter into this Treaty, if someone from Dominica wants to commit a crime in Dominica and move to St. Vincent then the Vincentian authorities would be able to have him arrested and repatriated to Dominica to face changes”, he said, adding that the Treaty will enhance cooperation between and among law enforcement authorities in the community. He said that it will be a measure which gives law enforcement officials the ability to apprehend those who are of interest to the judicial system in their states.
With regards to Suriname and this issue, he explained that there is a challenge arising out of that country’s constitution. “The way we understand it is that if a Surinamese was to commit a crime in Jamaica and flee to Suriname then they could be prosecuted for that crime … in Suriname so what we have asked the legal advisors to do is to engage the Surinamese authorities to better appreciate the constitutional provisions …in respect to Suriname’s ability to engage in the Treaty”, he explained.
He said that once the officials in that country have studied the Treaty they will advise CARICOM on how best it could benefit from this arrangement.
“The arrest warrant Treaty is a critical aspect of it. The mutual legal assistance agreement between and among member states…the sharing of intelligence (and) the joint sharing of personnel, all of these elements we believe will simply enhance the collaboration and cooperation among law enforcement entities and ensuring that we can enhance the security of our region”.
Skerrit said too that in a bid to keep the integration process moving a number of matters were discussed. He said that with regards to the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), the heads after being briefed to look forward to a comprehensive review which will considered at an intersessional meeting in February 2017.
He said that this review is being done in an effort to take the process forward. In the meantime he said that there will be an intense public information campaign in all member states aimed at all levels of society and it will highlight the benefits and provisions of the CSME.
He said that the CARICOM Commission on the Economy also reported and set out several recommendations aimed at fiscal stainability, private sector stimulation, improving the business regulatory environment and moving towards sustainable growth.
Skerrit made it clear that CARICOM is fully committed to implementing all elements of the CSME regime as it remains convinced that it is “our only option to achieve sustainable growth and development in the Caribbean Region”.
With regards to free movement, he said the engagements were “spirited”. He said one of the most significant issues was that CARICOM has to address the concerns of citizens in taking advantage of the free movement regime which has been approved. He said even though the majority of citizens are moving around the region without hindrance “we do have instances of denial of entry at our ports and this is a matter we believe has to be addressed and addressed urgently as we are aware of the negative views that surface when these instances occur”.
Over the years there have been complaints of CARICOM nationals from Guyana and Jamaica being denied entry into Barbados. Recently complaints have been levelled against Trinidad by Jamaica.
Skerrit said that there is guidance relative to free movement from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as well as decisions taken by the conference. He said that the CARICOM Secretariat has now been mandated to bring together the Chief Immigration officers, CARICOM Ambassadors and other relevant officials to “fashion a solution to the issue because we believe that the free movement of people is an integral part of the single market”.
Asked about the systems that have been put in place to ensure that all decisions made at the conference will be implemented, Skerrit said that firstly it has to be approached at a national levels and all ministers must meet. “At the same time too we must not attempt to bite too much at one time because we all have limited capacity”, he said.
He was asked about Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU) and CARICOM’s seemingly laid back response. He said that a final decision has been made and stressed that CARICOM would continue to have good relations with the EU and the UK.
“There will be implications. We have to study those implications. The Caribbean Community is cognizant of the implications and of course there are both positive and potentially negative implications”, he said before urging that this matter should not be the region’s primary focus as they are other critical issues such as climate change and correspondent banking which may have a greater impact on the community than the UK exiting the EU.
Meanwhile co-host of the Conference, President David Granger outlined four areas which deal with relations between CARICOM and the rest of the world.
The first area raised was correspondent banking. He said that the conference discussed the latest developments with respect to the loss of correspondent banking arrangements affecting member states. “It remains a very serious issue but we must find a solution given its effect on our financial and trading systems in particular”.
He reminded reporters of the meeting with the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet which centred on the renewal of longstanding political cooperation with the South American nation. ”Chile has been a long supportive country of the community through its institution and capacity building projects in a wide variety of areas”, he said.
The third area he said is CARICOM/Cuba relations. According to Granger while the community is pleased at the ongoing normalization of relations being Cuba and the United States, at the same time it reiterates its call “for the lifting of the USA trade and economic embargo against Cuba”. He said that in this new environment in Cuba, CARICOM recognizes the need to seize “the trade business and investment opportunities including those in tourism”. He said that the Heads have agreed that every effort will be made to conclude negotiations for a second protocol to the trade and economic cooperation agreement to allow for it to be signed before the end of 2016.
He said as expected the implications of Brexit on the community were discussed. “We in the Caribbean Community are confident that the United Kingdom and the European Union will remain strong and valued partners for the Caribbean community.” He later said it is too soon to say what implications this situation will have on the Region.