Monday, 30 November 2009

Returning to the Charter of Civil Society

One of the more remarkable features of the two summits hosted in Trinidad and Tobago this year - (The Fifth Summit of the Americas April 17-19 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – November 27-29) – was the almost complete absence of frank discussions on the question of existing threats to human rights, especially within attending states.

In April, for example, a significant media clampdown in Venezuela and similar threats in adjoining client states of the Bolivarian empire as being tailored by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, were completely ignored. Talk about the re-admission of Cuba to the ranks of the Organisation of American States also proceeded boldly without reference to the continued harassment of journalists and bloggers there.

In this context, it was absolutely not expected that anyone would therefore utter a single word about emerging difficulties in some of the English-speaking Caribbean states where journalists do not face the same severe restrictions or harassment, but where bad signals concerning the diminution of our freedoms are being observed.

Then, in November, CHOGM 2009 came and went without any indication that freedom-loving leaders, in even the most obtuse fashion, raised the issue of disturbing trends on the African sub-continent, in South-East Asia and in Fiji in the South Pacific where the military clampdown on free speech continues.

For the countries of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) blindness to such transgressions is nothing new. We sat around the Caricom table for years even as Guyana sank into darkness and pain. Maurice Bishop’s reckless adventurism in Grenada was often at the expense of free speech and press freedom. Elsewhere, the state grip on broadcast media was used as a way of suppressing dissenting views and broadcasting bans on leading protagonists were par for the course in Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere; in earlier years now apparently being craved by insecure politicians in the 21st Century.

Now, in the midst of a re-examination of the Caricom process, the Charter of Civil Society – designed in 1997 as an instrument for guiding the nature of the development process in the Caribbean – has disappeared from the discussion.

Article 8 of the Charter says:

Freedom of Expression and Access to Information

1. Every person shall have the right to the enjoyment of freedom of expression including the right to:
(a) hold opinions and to receive and communicate ideas and information without interference and freely to send or receive communications by correspondence or other means;
(b) seek, distribute or disseminate to other persons and the public information, opinions, and ideas in any form whatever.

As Caribbean leaders run for protective cover under the umbrella of media laws and defective Access to Information legislation, to what extent has there been public recourse to this 12 year old undertaking?

Let’s put the Charter of Civil Society back on the stove. It is not even on anyone’s back-burner. Let’s remind the leaders of the commitments they once claimed would help bring not only the freedom of economic independence, but the liberty of modern nations.

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