Santo Domingo Pact strengthens regional cooperation to fight drugs and crime in the Caribbean

10 March 2009 - At a recent Ministerial Conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, agreement was reached to strengthen regional cooperation to fight drugs, crime and terrorism in the Caribbean. In their Political Declaration, Ministers from the region, expressing concern about the impact of drug trafficking and organized crime on security and development, pledged to address these threats as a high priority. States committed themselves to a long and detailed list of measures, from taking steps to improve drug prevention and treatment, to strengthening the enforcement of legislation and international judicial cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.

In order to improve regional cooperation and coordinate the delivery of technical assistance, Ministers established the Santo Domingo Partnership Mechanism. It draws on lessons learned from the Paris Pact  which was created in 2003 to stem the flow of Afghan heroin. The Political Declaration also pledged to implement the Social and Development Crime Prevention Plan of Action, jointly undertaken by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

"It's quite significant that Ministers from the region explicitly recognized the coordination role of UNODC in close consultations with CARICOM, the Central American Integration System (SICA), and the Organization of American States in seeking to create greater synergies among partners", said Francis Maertens, Director of Operations at UNODC. "We have also been asked to prepare thematic programmes for the region, improve sharing of intelligence and best practices, and help to implement the Action Plan for the Caribbean", said Maertens. The Political Declaration says "We look forward to the return of a Caribbean based UNODC in the very near future".

In his address to the meeting, the Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa (who had just arrived from official visits to Cuba and Haiti), stressed the need for prevention, criminal justice and regional cooperation.

He pointed out - citing a UNODC/World Bank report on Crime, Violence and Development in the Caribbean - that the region is vulnerable to crime due to its geographic location, youth unemployment, income inequality, and easy access to firearms. "High crime means low growth: if Jamaica and Haiti reduced their homicide rates to the level of Costa Rica, their annual growth would double", observed Mr. Costa.

He urged Caribbean countries to "tighten gun control in line with the UN Firearms Protocol in order to bring down one of the highest murder rates in the world".

He highlighted the need to steer young people away from drugs and crime. "Youth violence and youth homicide rates in some of your countries are well above the world average, and young people are usually the victims of crime", he pointed out. He also observed that in many Caribbean jails, child offenders serve their time alongside adults: "do not forget that jails are the best university for crime in the world", he warned. He therefore called for more school, family, and community programmes to empower young people, greater investment in drug prevention and treatment, urban renewal projects to create safer cities, and alternatives to imprisonment, like drug treatment courts.

To strengthen criminal justice, the head of UNODC offered technical assistance to improve forensic capability, like witness protection, counter-kidnapping, and special measures to prevent violence against women and girls.

He also called for prison reform, citing "alarming levels" of HIV in prisons, the highest prisoner-to-population ratios in the world, insufficient facilities for young offenders, and excessive numbers of inmates still awaiting trial (more than 80% in Haiti).

The head of UNODC - whose Office is guardian of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) - called on the Ministers "to rid the Caribbean of its reputation as a safe haven for dirty money". He pointed out that thanks to the UNCAC, bank secrecy should no longer be an impediment to criminal investigations. He urged Ministers to "close loopholes in your legislation to prevent corruption, money laundering, and the theft of assets".

Since organized crime is a transnational problem, Mr. Costa called for greater regional counter-narcotics cooperation. He underlined the need for improved regional intelligence-sharing, training for investigators and prosecutors in special investigative techniques, increased contacts among anti-organized crime agencies, the creation of a regional centre on maritime security, and greater international cooperation in prosecuting criminal matters, including extradition, mutual legal assistance, and confiscating the proceeds of crime.

Because Central America and the Caribbean face similar challenges in combating drugs, crime and terrorism, it has been proposed to strengthen triangular cooperation between UNODC, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and El Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA).

A regional Ministerial Conference for Central America will take place in San Jose, Costa Rica on 26-27 March.

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Political Declaration (English - pdf)

Political Declaration (Spanish - pdf)

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