Letters to the Editor

US withdrawal from the arms trade treaty must raise eyebrows

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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Dear Editor,

Most people who have been impacted by crimes which involve the use of guns in Jamaica have probably never heard of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The weapons that are commonly used to commit violent crimes on the island fall under the rubric of small arms, which is among the eight categories of conventional weapons whose sales and transfers between countries the ATT seeks to regulate.

The conventional weapons regulated by the ATT are battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons. The ATT does not address emerging technologies such as drones, which are being increasingly employed in conflict situations and now being envisioned for deployment as lethal, offensive weapons.

Jamaica is among the 101 countries that have ratified the ATT. The US, which is the world's largest exporter of arms, has not ratified the treaty, although it was signed by the Barack Obama Administration in 2013. Neither have the world's second- and fifth-largest exporter of arms, Russia and China, respectively. On April 26, 2019, US President Donald Trump announced that he would rescind the signature to the treaty on the basis that it threatens the Second Amendment rights of US citizens.

The absence of the world's largest arms exporters among the countries that are parties to the ATT continues to raise concern about the growing proliferation of conventional weapons around the world. Critics of the ATT have long criticised its failure to prohibit states from selling arms to non-State actors, terrorists and states engaged in military aggression, perpetuating human rights abuses and human suffering, and undermining key aims of the treaty.

In the case of Jamaica, the effect of a US rescission of its signature to the ATT is uncertain because a disproportionate amount of the small arms entering the region are not through government-to-government sales, which the treaty regulates, but illicit weapons transfers. Most of these weapons are US-made and shipped from the US. Given the security measures instituted at US maritime, air, and land borders after September 11, 2001, the continued arrival of illegal caches of small arms at Jamaican ports from the US should raise hard questions about the complicity of State elements on both ends of the illicit trade.

US withdrawal from the ATT is unlikely to help stem the illegal arms trade in the Caribbean region. Countering the proliferation of illegal arms will require a significant hardening of the borders with enhanced application of intelligence and technological tools, as well as capacity-enhancing training for personnel, and cross-boundary collaboration with international law enforcement entities. Sustained efforts in the education and training of youth who may be seduced by schemes which employ small arms as a trade — where the Caribbean Maritime University excels — will also be critical to this end.

Winsome Packer


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