From email@example.com Sat Jun 17 05:55:52 2000
Region Set Adopt US-Designed Drug Courts
By Peter Richards, IPS, 14 June 2000
PORT Of SPAIN, Jun 13 (IPS) Attorneys General from the United States, Britain, Europe and the Caribbean on Tuesday ended two days of discussions aimed at strengthening regional co-operation in the fight against drugs and money laundering.
United States Attorney General Janet Reno said the meeting, attended also by Police Commissioners, provided "a real and practical way to make a difference".
"We sincerely want to work with you, we recognise whether you are large or small, we all have something to contribute," she added.
Her Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj urged co-operation warning that the threat of drugs "knows no geographical or political boundary."
"If the international community does not work together against drug traffickers, this region's stability and the economic stability of the world are at grave risk, especially if democracy fails and drug traffickers prevail," Maharaj said.
"Drug trafficking presents the greatest threat to democracy in this region. It is for this reason we need a comprehensive regional strategy to fight drug trafficking," he added.
Figures released at the conference entitled "The Caribbean-United States, Europe, Canada Ministerial Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Conference , show that drug trafficking and money laundering posed serious problems for the region.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that more than 1 million front companies are in existence and that money laundering accounts for about eight percent of international commerce.
Opium poppy cultivation in Colombia has expanded from almost nothing in 1990 to over 6,000 hectares today. In addition Colombian cocaine production increased by 20 percent in 1999 to 520 metric tonnes over the last year.
One of the ideas discussed here to deal with the problem of drug trafficking relates to the efforts to close the gap between the number of people who have serious drug problems and treatment opportunities available on demand.
A Drug Court Model devised by Washington that provides for judicial supervision and monitoring of drug treatment for persons on minor drug charges has found support from among the Caribbean territories.
Under the system, persons have a choice in participating in the treatment programme and they are rewarded if they complete the programme.
Maharaj said that the Drug Court concept is likely to prove to be a powerful tool in Caribbean societies, in reducing drug abuse and criminality.
"We need to develop this Drug Court concept where persons charged for drug use, as opposed to trafficking, can be diverted for rehabilitation rather than punishment. We must recognise that drug addiction is a disease that must be treated and addicts must be saved," Maharaj said.
Jamaica has also given support to the idea of a Drugs Court.
Attorney General Arnold Nicholson told IPS that Jamaica was "highly complimentary" of the US model, but that it was putting in place legislation which would allow for the proposed court to function differently from what obtains in the United States.
He said a magistrate along with Justices of the Peace would sit to hear the cases, because it was important for people with "street sense" to be involved in the exercise.
"If we can attempt rehabilitation in civil society that is the way to go," he added.
Nicholson said that he was "very pleased with the US offer of technical assistance" and that financial assistance would be provided to help in the rehabilitation of the drug offenders.
Dominica's Attorney General Dr. Bernard Wiltshire noted, however, that while his country was prepared in principle to adopt such a Court, economic realities made it very difficult. "This is an issue we would be discussing very much with the United States," he said.
But St. Lucia Attorney General Petrus Compton says that while he welcomed the initiative, Castries would be pursuing the issue on two dimensions.
"What we are thinking of right now is to do two things. One would be to establish a Crime Court, which would have sole jurisdiction in terms of all drug offences and firearms offences as well as one or two other offences which we have not yet decided upon."
"Secondly to give magistrates, in relation to drug offences where you have persons who are abusers and who would have committed an offence as a result of the use of drugs, the discretion to use a rehabilitative approach pretty much as is done under the Jamaica Drugs court," he said.
Compton said that St. Lucia would approach multilateral agencies to help fund the proposed new court.
"Where our surveys and reviews show that the needs would be beyond us, we would go outside the region, but we prefer to go to multilateral donor agencies, especially within the United Nations family, before we go to the bilateral level," he added.
During her stay here, Reno and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Basdeo Panday signed a memorandum of understanding concerning deportees, which Caribbean countries have been highly critical of in recent months.
Under the accord, Washington agrees to standardise procedures to assist consular officers in Trinidad and Tobago in issuing travel documents to their nationals deported from the United States after having criminal offences there.
"The United States will provide all necessary supporting documents, including clearly identifying the charges upon which the removal is based, to facilitate this co-operation," according to the document.
Reno said that Washington hoped that similar accords would be signed with other Caribbean states, which in the past have accused the United States of deporting
ruthless criminals to unsuspecting and vulnerable countries.
"My hope is that we can work together with everyone, and we would like to make sure that we do the same both ways because we have people who are returning to our country as well," she added.
Reno said that Washington was seeking to work with the Caribbean to develop "positive re-entry programmes" under which convicted or criminal deportees would be given an opportunity for rehabilitation.
"How we can extend that throughout the region is one of the critical issues that we face because with cybertechnology, with borders and travel as easy as they are now, crime is becoming international in its consequences and its origin, and that's going to mean that our partnerships have got to be stronger and better than ever before," she said.
Panday said that the "flow of seasoned and sophisticated" criminals had caught the region "woefully unprepared" and had "exacerbated the problems associated with crime in our society."
Both Jamaica and St. Lucia said they welcomed the initiative.
"As to whether Jamaica will go the same route as Trinidad and Tobago, I am not prepared to say at this time," Nicholson said, while his St. Lucia counterpart Compton said "I am happy there is the willingness on the part of the United States to discuss and come to an agreement with states on the issue."
"I would prefer if we would have had an agreement between the United States and the Caribbean region on a whole, that not withstanding, the Trinidad one if it is a good agreement can serve as a precedent for the rest of us," Compton said.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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