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PEOPLE & THINGS: Caricom wins in Myrie matter

Peter Wickham

PEOPLE & THINGS: Caricom wins in Myrie matter

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It is difficult not to see the Shanique Myrie ruling that was delivered last Friday as a watershed in the evolution of our Caribbean Community (CARICOM), although one imagines that for Miss Myrie this issue will always be personal.
It is therefore appropriate that this analysis commences with a sincere statement of apology from me to Miss Myrie for what she has endured. Sadly, it is unlikely that my Government will be as magnanimous and, as such, the generous award of damages has been ordered to compensate her for the pain and suffering she has endured.
I also need to state that my Government’s response to this issue leaves much to be desired and is perhaps reflective of either its contempt for Miss Myrie, or its misplaced confidence in the public servants at the centre of this issue.
Certainly, there were diplomatic initiatives explored by Jamaica initially and these could have been better exploited by the Barbados Government if it were willing to show some level of compassion regarding the young woman’s claims.
Had there been an investigation of the issue with appropriate apologies, it could possibly not have come to this. However, this reaction (or lack thereof) seems reminiscent of this Government’s pattern of behaviour – a Government which seems to prefer crises.
Issues of failed diplomacy and finger rape aside, this matter marks a turning point for CARICOM. It can be recalled that CARICOM evolved out of CARIFTA and neither of these institutions anticipated the free movement of people; indeed, both specifically excluded it.
Later the CARICOM heads belatedly demonstrated an appreciation of the illogic of a community that did not allow its citizens to move and therefore articulated the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. This document, by way of protocols, sought to facilitate free movement but did not articulate specific “rights”.
The repeated hesitance on the part of Caribbean governments to specify which rights flow from this hallowed CARICOM treaty is unfortunate. It is therefore fortuitous that the Caribbean Court of Justice has now filled this breach.
The most potent aspect of the judgment, from the perspective of regional integration, is their lordships’ statement that “the state of Barbados breached Miss Myrie’s right of entry without harassment or the imposition of impediments . . . . The denial of entry, the treatment to which she was subjected, the conditions under which she was detained and her unjustified deportation, all of which contravened the 2007 Conference Decision in conjunction with Article 45, Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas”.
The fact that her treatment and deportation were all lawful under Barbados law but unlawful in the context of the 2007 Conference decision and the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas implies that our laws need, of necessity, to conform to this body of CARICOM law. 
Already several Barbadians have raised concerns about the extent to which this makes our law “secondary” to CARICOM law and have raised issues of sovereignty. These arguments are really non-issues since we have signed these agreements wilfully and without coercion, fully understanding the consequences of our actions and should therefore have anticipated the need to modify our domestic laws. 
The implication of their lordships’ assertion that CARICOM travellers do have “rights” cannot be understated, especially as this often appears to be a little known fact among customs, immigration and police officers who frequently treat CARICOM nationals as though they are without rights and no different to any “foreigner” who comes calling.
Properly interpreted, this judgment should force these agencies across the region to examine their practices and amend their procedures. 
It would be incorrect to assume that because Barbados was named, that all is well with the other territories. In reality, incidents offensive to the spirit of CARICOM take place in all countries, but Barbados has now provided a good example of what not to do.
The full legal and political analysis that will be forthcoming from this extensive judgment will be interesting and will ultimately strengthen the regional integration movement.
There are, however, some domestic issues that will be forced on the table here, such as the court’s acceptance that Miss Myrie was “finger raped” by the female police officer who utterly denied doing such.
In addition, at our airport there is the clearly unchallenged authority of the police that exists without any clear mechanism for supervision. This now has cost the taxpayers of Barbados $77 240 in addition to the legal costs for our attorneys and Myrie’s.
• Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).