PEOPLE AND THINGS – Our CARICOM family
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. – Hebrews 13:1-2
Over the past few weeks, there has been much discussion related to a claim made by a Jamaican sister named Shanique Myrie, whose allegations of abuse seem to have inspired other Jamaicans who claimed similar experiences, to come forward and make reports which have led to investigations and one possible prosecution.
Over the next two weeks, I will examine this issue and speak initially to the specifics of this first round of complaints, and next week, to the larger issue of how we treat our CARICOM family.
The official response of Government to the Myrie claim has been somewhat confusing, with Minister McClean categorically denying her claim initially, but entertaining a diplomatic encounter, the outcome of which is still not clear. The Barbados Government appears to be exploiting the fact that Myrie claimed she was “finger-raped by Immigration”, which is unlikely because this entity is neither empowered to, nor in the habit of, searching anyone entering the country.
One might be inclined to think that the case is therefore closed; however, we live in a real world and Government needs to respond to the complex facts.As much as our immigration authorities lack the power to search, it is equally true that our Customs authorities do have this power and routinely search people as well as their luggage. Moreover, it is well known that people entering the country often confuse Immigration and Customs who have similar uniforms and often work in tandem when investigating suspicious visitors.
One can therefore appreciate the reaction of someone who arrives in Barbados, is detained by Immigration initially, thereafter investigated by different officers over a period of time and concludes that an abuse is associated with the department that first intercepted them.
There is also the curious role played by the police at the airport in both its uniformed and plain clothes manifestations. These officers now appear to have a permanent presence at the airport in the arrivals section and freely interview visitors after such people have completed their immigration checks, demand documentation and carry out their own searches that often go beyond drug interdiction checks.
On one recent occasion, I arrived from Guyana and was “interviewed” by a police officer who requested my passport and enquired the reasons for my “visit”, before he realised that the face beneath my baseball cap was mine.
I also received a first-hand report from a Barbadian official of one Caribbean organization who reported being taken to a room here by a police officer who was not satisfied with his laissez-passer which is the customary identification for Caribbean officials.
I thereafter learnt that this type of interception was not unusual, and on one previous occasion, a female member of the same organization was forced to produce a diplomatic passport from elsewhere to appease a policeman who was uncomfortable with her identification.
Those who are familiar with the CARICOM protocols can appreciate the extent to which these incidents are unfortunate and clearly demonstrate that the Royal?Barbados Police Force is being allowed to perform a role at the airport which is poorly defined and clearly one for which they are not well-equipped. A policeman who requests a document which he/she is not trained to understand or examine puts the Government in a potentially embarrassing situation especially where an individual has already satisfied the demands of the immigration authorities trained to deal with these matters.
Consistent with this scenario, one wonders what more the police at the airport is doing that might be inappropriate. The Jamaican counsel acting on behalf of Myrie has argued that it was the police who conducted the search. However, Government has been silent on the extent to which this could be possible, was investigated and if this is something that the police here should be doing in the first place.
I reject the assertion from some quarters that these are national security issues that we have no right to enquire into, or that the concept of human rights applies only to Barbadian citizens.
I genuinely believe that ALL authorities are subject to the constitution of this country and need to respect principles of human rights regardless of the origin of the subject of their investigation.
If therefore there is a perception that the police force is not answerable to “US” regarding its airport operations, Ms Myrie has done us a favour by bringing this issue into the public domain.
The issue goes beyond the specifics of the Myrie case and speaks to the principles which guide the authorities at the airport and the extent to which some of these authorities appear to either misunderstand their powers or are indifferent to the concerns that we raise.
To my mind, such authorities do not deserve protection, but need instead to be publicly exposed if there have been infractions. Moreover, if the problem is an absence of Government policy in these areas, then our Government needs quickly to fill this void and make public statements regarding the rights and responsibilities of airport authorities and visitors alike.
Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).