Region wants end to illegal arms trade
March 8, 2013

Region wants end to illegal arms trade

Paralyzed Chateubelair resident Sweet-I Robertson has become the country’s poster-child for highlighting senseless crimes committed with illegal firearms and ammunition.{{more}}

Robertson, 20, was the focal point of Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves’ address at the Fourth Regional Workshop on Negotiations for the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. The debate on the draft treaty is scheduled for later this month in New York.

Gonsalves, also the Minister of National Security, told the delegates gathered at the National Insurances Services conference room on Wednesday about Robertson’s plight, of which he became aware late last year.

“Three and a half years ago, she was coming home from a pageant at her secondary school when some young men got into an altercation. That altercation escalated into gunplay and Sweet-I was innocently, and tragically, caught in the crossfire. A single bullet has left her paralysed from the neck down, with only limited use of one arm.

“With that single bullet, this young lady went from being a star athlete at her school to a wheelchair-bound symbol of the creeping scourge of arms and ammunition into the most remote corners of our Caribbean civilization.

“When faced with a tragedy like the one that befell this young lady, there is a temptation to talk about brief times and small distances. We say ‘if only the gun had fired a few seconds later,’ or ‘if only the bullet had travelled a few inches to the left or right’, maybe this could have been avoided. But, truth be told, the paralysis of this vivacious teen was not caused by seconds, but by the years over which we have allowed the unregulated trade in weapons to flourish. It was not a question of the last inches of the bullet’s journey, but the thousands of miles covered by thousands of bullets on their voyage from the point of manufacture to their ultimate Caribbean destination,” Gonsalves stated.

Gonsalves reasoned that while it is easier for doctors to determine the final destination of the bullet that changed Sweet-I’s life, neither he, nor the Minister of Trade or Commissioner of Police could say from where the bullet came, where and who manufactured it, who bought or sold it or “how it managed to find its way into the possession of a silly, reckless boy in a sleepy village in rural Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

“All we can say, with complete certainty, is that neither the gun, nor the bullet, was manufactured in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines or the Caribbean. The other questions are unanswerable.”

The prime minister, speaking passionately on the topic, said that the conference, which came to an end yesterday, should seek to get the answers to these pressing questions, and strategize on means of the prevention what appears to be a free flow of illegal weapons into the region.

He urged that the workshop learn from lessons of past failed arms treaty negotiations to address the upcoming talks.

“This regional meeting cannot be merely an echo chamber of homogenous and mutually reinforcing viewpoints. It must be a detailed, granular, evaluation of the political, strategic, tactical and legal tools at our disposal to reach an optimal outcome.

“I urge you also to engage in some contingency planning, so that the region will have a clear understanding of our next steps and tactical options in the event of a failure to reach consensus by March 28.

“We are not dealing here with any debate about second amendment rights for people in the United States who own guns, we are talking about the trade in the guns across borders. Let us not have those on the American right confuse the issues.”

Gonsalves called on the delegates to rise to meet the challenges that are expected in the coming weeks, with the same intelligence and indomitable spirit that have defined the greatest individual and collective moments as a Caribbean civilisation, an act which Sweet-I would be grateful for.

“I visited Sweet-I on her birthday some three weeks ago, as I have other innocent victims of senseless gun violence in St Vincent and the Grenadines. I was fortified by her continuing resilience and optimism in the face of the challenges that she, her family and the State apparatus must now overcome, to ensure that she enjoys a healthy and productive life. But I was also deeply angered by the knowledge that the senseless barbarism, which robbed this young woman of the use of her limbs, is but another manifestation of a deepening, yet wholly preventable malaise,” the prime minister said. (JJ)