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Philipsburg, January 31, 2022 – Only with a comprehensive, integral approach, can real results be achieved regarding the illegal firearms problem in Sint Maarten. Solely repressive action by justice authorities, in particular the Sint Maarten Police Force (KPSM), does not offer a solution to the current illegal firearms issue. Ministries, institutions and the community as a whole need to structurally work together to tackle the causes and effects of illegal firearms and the related problems. The social-economic aspects need to be taken into account as well as developing preventive strategies with special attention for youngsters. This is stated in the latest inspection report of the Law Enforcement Council. Based on a request of the Minister of Justice, the Council carried out an inspection on the prevention and combating of the illegal firearms trade and illegal firearm possession in Sint Maarten. The Council made seven recommendations on the subject.
Nature and scope
There is no precise view on the nature and scope of illegal firearms smuggling, illegal firearms trade and illegal firearms possession in Sint Maarten, neither at the Ministry of Justice, nor at the justice departments. The Council is of the opinion that without having a good view on the issue, optimal guidance at a strategic level (management of the departments together with the ministry) is not possible, a specific policy and an integral approach are only partly possible and the necessary investments cannot be prioritized.
Legal framework and protocol
The applicable legal framework with regard to firearms in Sint Maarten is clear and is composed of treaties and national legislation. Aside from the legal framework there is also a relevant protocol. The legislation is outdated, but doesn’t result in bottlenecks at the various departments during the execution of tasks. The efforts of Justice with regard to the issue is positive, even though it remains a serious problem and incidents keep happening, the Council stated. The Protocol mutual strengthening border protection offers opportunities for structural improvements of the judicial departments in Sint Maarten, also where it pertains to the prevention and combating of the illegal firearms trade. The departments involved in this collaboration are Customs, the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard, KPSM and the Immigration and Border Protection Service (IBP). Sint Maarten has a number of obligations under this protocol, including the drafting of a plan of approach by all stakeholders. This plan serves to strengthen the border with the combating of illegal firearms trade as one of the objectives.
Judicial approach and collaboration
The Council concluded that within the investigation, high priority is given to illegal firearms by the departments as well as the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Council is under the impression that everyone is on the same page on this issue and that all efforts are being made with the limited means. Here too, the Council repeats its view that by bundling forces, even more results could be achieved. The multi-disciplinary team that carried out road controls – of which everyone agreed that good results were achieved – is a good example to accomplish this. The Council is of the opinion that precisely because of the general lack of capacity, there should be more collaboration and use made of each other’s capacities and competencies. The lack of capacity makes the importance of a quality and quantity information-driven input through investigation even greater. However, the limited analysis capacity of the departments is impeding this. There is collaboration with the French-side authorities, with regard to among other things, the exchange of information, the carrying out of searches and the execution of joint controls. There is a good relation between the French and Dutch-side authorities on the work floor, but the securing of the cooperation on a political level is difficult. The Council believes that the Minister of Justice can act as a catalyst in this regard.
The Council finds the effectiveness of law enforcement to prevent and combat the illegal firearms trade and illegal firearms possession insufficient and not in relation to the severity of the issue and would like to see a strengthening of the effectiveness of the departments. The Council concludes that the integral approach by the departments with regard to the topic of illegal firearms is (still) insufficient. “Although St. Maarten continues to struggle with a lack of resources to address the problems confronting the community, which includes the problem of illegal firearms, the hope is that with the combined efforts of the agencies, a great deal can be achieved. All concerned are aware of the bottlenecks and above all possess the resolve to address them. However, to realize specific plans, they will require the requisite support in among others, the areas of policy and finance from politics and the administration”, the Council stated.
The Council recognizes that the impact of illegal firearms on the community is significant and that the lack of victim support is a major shortcoming in this regard. The Council has raised the issue of victim support in several reports. Change seems to finally be on the way with the establishment of a foundation by the Minister of Justice to provide victim support.
A restrictive weapon policy and the enforcement thereof contribute to the safekeeping of society. Even though it is a separate subject, the Council did look at the weapon policy, because the licensed and illegal are two sides of the same coin. Failure to properly regulate, document and monitor the licensed side carries risks and can affect the illegal side and lead, for example, to a firearm ending up in the illegal circuit. The Council will consider, as a result of these findings, conducting an inspection at a later time into the broader subject of a weapon policy.
The full Dutch and English report ‘Illegal firearms in Sint Maarten’, and all other publications of the Council can be found on the website www.raadrechtshandhaving.com or http://rrh-sxm.org.