Evolving Approaches to Armed Violence Reduction in the Caribbean

Maribel Gonzales Conventional Weapons

Maribel Gonzales

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2010 Volume 31 Issue 1

Armed violence is the intentional use of physical force, threatened or actual, with arms, against oneself, another person, group, community or State that results in loss, injury, death and/or psychosocial harm to an individual or individuals and that can undermine a community’s, country’s or region’s security and development achievements and prospects. (UNGA 2009)

More than 740,000 people die each year as a result of armed violence; 490,000 violent deaths per year occur in non-conflict settings; 60 per cent of homicides are committed with guns. These grim figures from the report, Global Burden of Armed Violence (Geneva Declaration Secretariat 2008, pp. 2, 3, 5), underscore the changing nature of violence, its prevalence in non-conflict settings, and the role of guns in fuelling the violence. Beyond the stark statistics, there is strong evidence (Geneva Declaration Secretariat 2008) that armed violence undermines development and threatens the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. The 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, now endorsed by over 100 countries, demonstrates the growing consensus to address armed violence as a development imperative.

Armed violence takes many forms, occurs in a wide range of contexts, and affects men, women, girls, and boys differently, but the risk factors and effects of armed violence are often similar. Young men between the ages of 15 and 30 make up the majority of perpetrators and victims of armed violence. Women, girls, and boys bear a disproportionate burden of the indirect and longer-term impacts of armed violence. Beneath the violence there is a complex interplay of socio-cultural, economic, and political factors, including social norms, relationships, and behaviours linked to masculinity; income and gender inequalities; marginalization or exclusion of certain groups; weak governance by the state; organized crime; and trafficking of firearms and drugs.

At one time armed violence reduction focussed on control and deterrence of violence by reducing inappropriate access to instruments of violence through such measures as weapons collections and gun control legislation. Fighting crime and violence was more reactive, relying heavily on the police (e.g., “crackdown on gangs”) and the judicial system (e.g., tougher sentences for perpetrators).

As the complexities of armed violence and its links with development, peace, and security are better understood, the concept and strategies to address armed violence are evolving to place a greater emphasis on prevention and reducing vulnerabilities to decrease the likelihood of violence in the first place. Efforts to curb small arms use go beyond controlling the supply to addressing the factors that fuel the demand for arms. Small arms control is a component of a broader, longer-term and multidimensional approach that addresses a range of risk factors associated with the onset of armed violence. As Norway’s Secretary of State Gry Larsen (2009) states:

Armed violence is not a thing that can be banned – such as cluster munitions or anti-personnel mines. Armed violence is the result of intertwined social, economical, cultural and political factors – that only can be addressed by pursuing many tracks at the same time, in a coherent and strategic manner.

Caribbean cases

The Caribbean’s homicide rate of 18.1 in 2004 (the most recent year in which comprehensive data is available) is more than double the world average of 7.6 per 100,000 inhabitants (UNODC 2004). In Jamaica, which has the highest homicide rate among countries in the region, the death rate from violence is higher than that in many wars. While the standard international definition of a war or high-intensity conflict includes a fatality rate of over 1,000 per year, in Jamaica, 1,574 people were murdered in 2007 (UNDP-Jamaica 2008a).

Table 1 (below) presents examples of ongoing projects in the region that address armed violence. These projects, all funded by multilateral agencies, illustrate the elements involved in armed violence reduction. (No conclusions are made here about the effectiveness of these projects.)

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) started violence prevention work in 1996. Its primary justification to become the first development bank to fund stand-alone violence prevention projects came from its research on the economic costs of different types of violence. Typically the IDB uses a public health approach. It identifies the dominant risk factors associated with violent activity and then designs specific interventions to minimize those (Buvinić et al 2005).

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has strongly advocated for the need to see armed violence as a development issue. It has a program for small arms control and armed violence prevention and has assisted countries (including Jamaica) in developing comprehensive armed violence prevention programs.

In contrast, the World Bank does not fund stand-alone violence prevention projects. Instead, violence and crime prevention components are integrated in its urban renewal projects. The rationale is to exploit the synergies between infrastructure upgrading and community-based prevention activities. Development through improved access to basic services reduces the risk and effects of armed violence.

Some observations1 about the projects shown in Table 1:

  1. This work takes time to produce results. Although the UNDP’s program Jamaica Violence Prevention, Peace and Sustainable Development (VPPSD) is shown as a three-year project, there were prior initiatives, starting with a civic dialogue on governance in 2002, which contributed to the approval of a National Security Policy in 2007.
  2. Projects use a mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches2 because violence has many causes. Top-down approaches (citizen security, environmental design, criminal justice) are those that are primarily driven by the state or implementing agency. Bottom-up approaches (social capital, conflict transformation) are community-driven development strategies to engage citizens in targeted communities and strengthen or rebuild social capital.
  3. Front-end community sensitization and mobilization work is relied on to provide diagnostic and baseline information and to engage and empower residents of targeted communities. The VPPSD “Monday Night Forums” and Community Town Hall meetings are consultative mechanisms that determine programming priorities.
  4. Data drives project formulation and elaboration. Therefore, research that produces good data is critical. Integrated crime and violence information is being developed in the Trinidad and Tobago Citizen Security Programme (CSP). Cleaning and standardizing the collection of crime and violence data is a priority.
    Data is particularly important in developing community-level interventions in the targeted communities. Community-based staff is crucial in the collecting of information and in discussing the results with residents. The Jamaica Inner City Basic Services for the Poor (ICBSP) has Community Liaison Officers who conduct diagnostic and baseline surveys. Community Action Officers in the CSP use a five-step community safety assessment in each of the pilot communities to provide a detailed safety profile of crime and violence issues and of risk and protective factors, and to build effective partnerships. Project preparation work and information from IDB’s previous projects have indicated that the most proximal and modifiable risk factors for the CSP are firearms, juvenile delinquency and anti-social behaviour, child abuse, and domestic violence. Mapping and the use of geographic information systems (GIS) to plot incidents of violence are powerful tools that community mobilizers can use to engage the community. In the VPPSD, when community members see the “killing field” superimposed on their streets and homes, they see more clearly the need to reduce violence. Asset mapping of community resources was done as part of project preparation for the CSP.
  5. Multi-sectoral interventions involve many actors, including some who have not traditionally worked together. For example, 10 organizations – four government, one academic, and five nongovernmental organizations – are involved in the VPPSD project.
  6. Institutional strengthening of both government and nongovernmental organizations involved in the projects includes upgrading diagnostic, policy, monitoring, and evaluation capacities.
  7. Implementing armed violence reduction projects can be expensive. The costs involved underscore the need to monitor and systematically analyze the interventions and their impact to determine what works and what does not.
    Ultimately, the costs of armed violence reduction programs must be weighed against the costs of the violence itself. These costs are increasingly measurable and invariably high. An example is the direct impact on health systems of people killed or wounded by gun fire. In addition, there are the immeasurable costs to surviving family members and communities who lose their loved ones in senseless violence.


  1. The details about the projects are drawn from UNDP-Jamaica 2008b, World Bank Project Database, and IDB 2008.
    2. Definitions of approaches are taken from Moser and McIlwaine (2006), p. 103.


Buvinić, Mayra, Erik Alda & Jorge Lamas. 2005. Emphasizing Prevention in Citizen Security. New York: Inter-American Development Bank, August.

Geneva Declaration Secretariat. 2008. Global Burden of Armed Violence.

Inter-American Development Bank. 2008. Trinidad & Tobago Citizen Security Programme Loan Proposal.

Larsen, Gry. 2009. A real millennium challenge: tackling armed violence. Humanitarian Forum, Oslo, December 11.

Moser, Caroline & Cathy McIlwaine. 2006. Latin American urban violence as a development concern: Towards a framework for violence reduction. World Development 34 (1): 89-112.

United Nations Development Programme-Jamaica. 2008a. The Jamaica Violence Prevention, Peace and Sustainable Development (JVPPSD) Programme 2008-2010.

—–—. 2008b. Jamaica Violence Prevention, Peace and Sustainable Development Programme 2008 Annual Report.

United Nations General Assembly. 2009. Promoting development through the reduction and prevention of armed violence. Report of the Secretary-General. A/64/228.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2004.

World Bank Project Database. 2010.

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