In its latest bid to curb the flow of illegal firearms and ensuing violence, Jamaica has turned to the United Nations for help.
Scheduled to run until December 2022, Reducing Small Arms and Light Weapons Joint Programme, referred to as SALIENT, boasts an over $70 million budget and a range of programs spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) in Jamaica.
According to a statement from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “SALIENT aims to dismantle the factors that make it possible for guns to flow into the country, and into the hands of criminals while addressing the root causes of violence.”
While the program already kicked off in January, its key pilot project, Community Violence Audits, launched on June 17 in Norwood and Denham Town. Both communities will partake in studies designed to deepen the government’s understanding of the underlying causes of Jamaica’s wider pattern of violence.
Furthermore, youths will be trained in conflict resolution in tandem with greater violence reduction training for guidance counsellors and teachers.
Part of the UN’s broader mission to tackle small arms trafficking, SALIENT has been wholeheartedly welcomed by Jamaican authorities, who concurred that a reduction in small and light firearms is critical to combatting violence in the country.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr. Horace Chang, asserted that “pistols and revolvers are the most frequently recovered firearms as they are preferred by criminals for flexibility, concealability, price and access to ammunition.
According to local media, in 2021, roughly 342 guns were seized along with nearly 5,000 rounds of assorted ammunition.
Already in 2022, both figures have been surpassed with 376 illegal guns and 7,511 rounds of ammunition being recovered.
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After years of reactionary policies have failed to dislodge gun trafficking in the Caribbean nation, Jamaica is taking a step back and opting for a slower, holistic, data-driven approach.
While the SALIENT program presents a true reform in the government’s strategy, it is unlikely to bear fruits within the immediate future.
Regardless, a change is undeniably in order. For the last two years, the island nation has led the entire region for murder rates, capping off at 49.4 killings per 100,000 citizens in 2021. In the preceding three years, Jamaica consistently ranked in the top three countries within the region.
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That violence is fueled, in large part, by small arms coming from Haiti and the US. Chang told the Jamaica Observer that “over 85 percent of our homicides are committed with firearms [and] Jamaica has the highest rate of homicide of any democracy.”
While authorities have already boosted seizures for this year, such recoveries likely do not put a real dent in the flow of guns, given that the country receives an estimated 150-200 illegal firearms per month from Haiti alone.
The SALIENT program defers from previous policing-centric strategies through its purportedly wholistic approach. Rather than harping down solely on punitive measures, the UN program will aim to first understand the roots of the violence through the Violence Audits and then launch a whole-of-government approach to enact legislation, training and law enforcement reforms aimed at minimizing the flow of illegal weapons.
If the pilot programs in Denham Town and Norwood are deemed successful, they could be expanded to other communities, laying the foundations for more informed violence reduction strategies.
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