On 24-25 June 2015, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNLIREC), with the support of the Government of the United States, convened its first focal point workshop in the context of UNLIREC’s new Assistance Package for Caribbean States entitled ‘Combating Illicit Firearms and Ammunition Trafficking in the Caribbean through Operational Forensic Ballistics’.

The workshop brought together designated government focal points from seven beneficiary Member States (Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago), as well as experts from international, regional and national organizations, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from the US Department of Justice; the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs from the US Department of State; the US Department of Homeland Security; CARICOM´s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), and a representative from the Government of Canada. The two days of intense discussions focused on introducing participating States to the new operational ballistics forensics project currently underway in Caribbean States.

During the workshop, participants shared information on forensic ballistics casework, quality management systems, equipment and technology, information sharing on national, international and regional levels and opportunities for capacity development for firearms and tool mark examiners.

Participants underscored the importance of forensic ballistics as a key tool in the fight against firearms trafficking and armed violence in the region and welcomed assistance from UNLIREC in this regard. During the discussions, representatives highlighted the current resource constraints and challenges that are faced on a daily basis, particularly as this relates to caseloads, limited staff, training, and the lack of required technology and equipment to effectively carry out their responsibilities. Officials also noted the need for implementing and updating standard operating procedures in order to ensure uniformity and validity in all processes undertaken. Additionally, participants raised concerns regarding crime scene contamination, maintaining the chain of custody, proper packaging of evidence and crime scene reconstruction.

The workshop combined presentations, working groups and plenary discussions with a view to maximizing interaction among participants and providing an introduction to best practices, current frameworks and standards on forensic ballistics.

Participants also provided feedback for the development and planning of upcoming technical assistance to Caribbean States for 2015 and 2016 whereby UNLIREC will assist national authorities to undertake baseline assessments of their current ballistic forensics capabilities, develop national action plans and national competency testing frameworks, as well as provide technical support through the development of standard operating procedures, training and equipment procurement.

This US-supported initiative forms part of UNLIREC’s assistance to States in their implementation of international small arms control instruments.

For more information about UNLIREC visit (www.unlirec.org) or contact Amanda Cowl, Political Affairs Officer (cowl@unlirec.org).