By Sir Ronald Sanders
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados— Seemingly concerned about offending the principles of “non-interference in the internal affairs of States” and the “sovereignty” of States, the ten Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries that are members of the 53-nation Commonwealth have not spoken out in condemnation of the government of Sri Lanka which the UN Secretary-General’s Expert Panel said is guilty of war crimes, particularly the systematic killing of as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians including women and children in 2009. Similarly, these CARICOM States sent representatives to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in the Sri Lankan Capital from 15 to 17 November despite evidence of continuing violations of human rights including the “disappearance” of over 1,500 persons and sexual abuse of women and girls by the Sri Lankan army.
By saying nothing, CARICOM governments could be adjudged to be bolstering a regime in Sri Lanka that the UN Commissioner for Human Rights says “is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”.
This situation should not be repeated at home – inside the Caribbean. The failure of the Bureau of the Heads of Government of CARICOM to meet as scheduled on 19 November to discuss a ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court that divested more than 210,000 native-born Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship is deeply troubling. Failure by CARICOM leaders to speak out and to indicate strong objections to the government of the Dominican Republic will result not only in the institutionalization of a wrong, inhumane and racist program against native-born Dominicans of Haitian descent, it will also encourage the expulsion of these people from the country of their birth.
The government of the Dominican Republic will do little or nothing to end this abuse of human and civil rights unless there is robust regional and international action. That is why CARICOM governments must act to show their strong objection.
Arguments about “non-interference in the internal affairs of States” and “sovereignty of States” cannot hold with Caribbean governments while such inhumane and racist policies are pursued within the Caribbean region. Reginald Dumas, who served as Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General on Haiti in 2004, has already pointed out that sovereignty in this context is “a fig leaf behind which miscreants attempt unsuccessfully to hide: Vorster and Botha in apartheid South Africa, for instance, and, conspicuously in today’s world, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, busy following—by different means—in the footsteps of his late father, the murderous Hafez”.
On the question of “non-interference in the internal affairs of States”, this issue is far too inter-twined with the history of the Caribbean’s peoples, with their dignity and identity and with their own human rights for any government not to be vigorous in response. A government can take or allow a step too far in hiding behind “non-interference in internal affairs”. That step has been taken in the Dominican Republic.
Free from any blame for silence and lack of action, and meriting the greatest credit, is Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines. He has been strident in proposing actions that should be taken to persuade the Dominican Republic government to stop this programme directed at divesting mostly black people of their rights. Dr Gonalves has twice written the President of the Dominican Republic deeming the decision to be “morally repugnant” and in breach of the State’s international human rights obligations. On November 12, he told the CARICOM Secretary-General: “Thus far, CARICOM’s response has been tepid. We ought to take a very robust stance and act accordingly”. And so CARICOM should.
As a militarily feeble and economically weak organization of 15 territories (including Haiti), CARICOM has only two strengths – the depth of the intellectual capacity of its people, and moral suasion that it should exercise by example. In the international community, the States of CARICOM should be seen to stand-up for the values of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. There should be no silence or encouragement when other States violate these rights or CARICOM countries individually and collectively will lose the respect and suasion that they have enjoyed in the past.
Lest we forget, the people of Haiti are integral to the freedom of the peoples of the Caribbean. No Caribbean person can rightly proclaim rights and dignity that are not directly traceable to the rising of Haitians to establish not only the first black republic of the modern world but also what has been described as “the first free nation of free men to arise within, and in resistance to, the emerging constellation of Western European Empire”.
In this connection, it is not only the voices of the governments of CARICOM that should be raised loudly on this issue, but also the voices of the governments of Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela and – yes – of the United States of America. And, CARICOM governments that share a geographical, historical, cultural and organizational space with Haiti should be in the forefront of the choir.
That is why Prime Minister Gonsalves was right to call on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to re-consider providing oil benefits to the Dominican Republic under its Petro-Caribe scheme. That is also why the Prime Minister is right in saying that the participation of the Dominican Republic in CARIFORUM – a structure for CARICOM countries and the Dominican Republic to deal with aid, trade and investment with the European Union (EU) – should be reviewed toward likely suspension.
In the wider international context, the EU so often the champion of human rights as conditions of its development assistance, should already have spoken out on this issue.
Racist policies that deny human and civil rights to native-born Dominicans of Haitian descent should not be tolerated in the Dominican Republic any more than the denial of birth rights should be accepted in any State of an enlightened and progressive Caribbean where the productivity of every person counts.
The government of the Dominican Republic should be made to understand that an economic and trade relationship with the rest of the region cannot be devoid of respect for racial and ethnic groups – all of whom make-up our one Caribbean.