OUR CARIBBEAN: Caricom has two critical issues at hand
The Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community may find it difficult to avoid holding an emergency session to deal with two very critical issues that have emerged within a week:
First, the implications of that landmark judgment by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the case of Jamaica’s Shanique Myrie vs the Barbados Government and, secondly, a highly controversial ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court that could result in rendering thousands of undocumented Haitians in that country stateless.
Issues of fundamental human rights are considered to be at the core of these separate judgments. It may, however, be less stressful for CARICOM governments to address the CCJ’s ruling, given the fact, for a start, that their respective countries are signatories to the revised Community treaty that recognizes its jurisdiction. It’s a case of Community law trumping the sensitive question of national sovereignty.
In contrast, the Dominican Republic is not a member of CARICOM and while involved in the wider CARIFORUM group that comprises all partner states of the Community, plus Cuba, it could well shelter under the umbrella of “national sovereignty” in resisting “outside interference” in relation to its Constitutional Court’s decision for a significant change in domestic law pertaining to those deemed to be “immigrants”.
CARICOM leaders and their legal advisers would be fully aware that the new ruling of the Constitutional Court that applies to all people born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 – yes, far back as 84 years ago – could affect a very sizable segment of that country’s approximately 10.3 million people, with those of Haitian origin representing the single largest category.
Historically, citizens of Haiti – which shares border with the Dominican Republic – have suffered from deep-rooted racial/cultural prejudices in that Spanish-speaking country going back to the days of slave labour on its sugar plantations.
It is most sinful, an abomination really, for those born to Haitian mothers in the Dominican Republic to now find themselves stateless, with no right to vote and subject to arbitrary deportation once the new law comes into effect.
With Haitians comprising some eight million of CARICOM’S estimated 14 million population, this becomes an exceedingly challenging problem for the governments and people of our Community.
As Jamaica’s former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson observed in Barbados two days ago: “No one can be hoodwinked as to the reason and the purpose for this kind of discriminatory legislation . . . .”
Though yet to come to terms with honourng its moral, if not also legal obligation to an estimated 8 000 Haitian cholera victims as a consequence of documented negligence by its peacekeeping military force in Haiti, the United Nations has already strongly urged the Dominican Republic not to use its new citizenship law to discriminate against people of Haitian origin. What then will be the response from CARICOM, and when?
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.