Remarks by U.S. Charge d’Affaires Lisa Johnson
Royal Bahamas Police Force Headquarters
I want to take this opportunity to thank the Government of the Bahamas for hosting this Technical Working Group, and for their hospitality to all of the participants and presenters here with us. I also want to thank all of you for participating in this event and showing your commitment to working together to combat this transnational threat.
It is only through international cooperation that we will be able to effectively combat the illicit trafficking in firearms. I am heartened to see so many Caribbean countries and international partners represented here to show their commitment to international cooperation. The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police has estimated that as many as 1.6 million illegal guns are circulating in the region.
A CARICOM press statement, released following the organization’s 2011 annual meeting, stated that: “the use of these weapons has spawned an alarming rise in murders and gun violence throughout the region.”
The destabilizing accumulation and illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) has proven a major obstacle to peace, stability, and economic development in the Western Hemisphere. Throughout the region, criminal organizations, gangs, and drug traffickers acquire arms primarily through illegal diversion, theft, and smuggling, and use these arms to perpetrate violent acts against our citizens.
The U.S. government firmly believes that steps by individual countries and regional and sub-regional organizations will go a long way toward establishing norms and practices that will lead to our shared responsibility to defeat this threat and deny criminal and terrorist organizations the tools they need to commit illegal acts.
The world community and partners in the region have made political commitments to combat illicit firearms trafficking in such agreements as CIFTA, the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and other related materials, the United Nations Program of Action, and the recently signed Arms Trade Treaty. We must now focus our energies to implement these commitments in practical ways.
Focused efforts to identify and curb the methods of the illicit trade that include brokering controls, weapons’ marking, tracing firearms used in crimes, law enforcement cooperation, improving investigative skills, and expeditiously destroying excess stocks and safeguarding legitimate stocks from theft are among the best ways to attack the problem.
The United States and other partners have several international programs in place to assist states in the fight against illicit trafficking in arms in the region. You will hear many of the experts outline these programs in the next two days.
The illicit trade in firearms has the potential to affect any country in the world at any time; it is not limited to regions of conflict, instability, or poverty. We often talk about the biggest threats to international peace and security, such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – and appropriately so. Yet, it is readily apparent that the illicit trafficking in firearms poses a serious threat to stability and security in this hemisphere.
We must all work even more energetically to curb the illicit trade in firearms. I hope we can collectively redouble our commitment to that task. You will find the United States ready to engage in very practical and concrete ways to combat the illicit trafficking of firearms in the hemisphere.
Achieving progress in the fight against arms trafficking will require addressing many factors underlying the illicit trade in firearms worldwide. Until we mount a sufficient collective effort to address the contributing factors comprehensively, we are likely to continue to face challenges from illicit trafficking in firearms.
The United States is committed to promoting partnership, cooperation, and collaboration with your countries and institutions by providing technical assistance programs to help develop the capacity to effectively address this common threat. Through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and other programs, the United States has invested over 3.9 million dollars to increase the capabilities of Caribbean law enforcement partners to fight gun trafficking.
We will continue to coordinate that program with each of your states and we look forward to working with you to maximize prior U.S. investments in this area. Working together, we can further our mutual goal to reduce the illicit spread of firearms and to eliminate the danger these weapons pose to our citizens.