CARICOM Day was celebrated in the most shocking of manner in Guyana on Monday, July 6, 2020. On that day, supporters of APNU+AFC did the unthinkable; they launched lamentable protests against the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), an institution of the Caribbean Community.
Guyana is one of only a handful of countries in the region, which observes CARICOM Day as a national holiday. Many of the Caribbean states do not give such high recognition to the celebration of CARICOM Day.
This sets Guyana apart from the rest of the region and demonstrates the depth of both the PPP/C and PNC/R governments’ support for regional integration.
Forbes Burnham, the founder-leader of the People’s National Congress, is considered as one of the forefathers of Caribbean regional integration. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) and later the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
He hosted the first ever Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) in Guyana in 1972. He pressed and succeeded in having the CARICOM Secretariat located in Guyana.
CARICOM’s greatest success stories have been the institutions, which it created. These include the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and the Caribbean Court of Justice. Forbes Burnham was among the foremost proponents of replacing external examinations by a regional examination. He therefore fully supported the establishment of the CXC.
So too did his party, the PNC/R which is the main party in the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). It is therefore shocking and disappointing that, in its naked grab for power, the PNC/R has not rebuked its supporters for daring to discredit the CCJ to the point of even suggesting that Guyana is a sovereign state.
As Kamal Ramkarran pointed out, on Tuesday night on the Room 592 show on Kaieteur Radio, the CCJ is a Guyanese Court. It is Guyana’s highest court. The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas under which the CCJ was established was incorporated into Guyana’s domestic law. The Caribbean Court of Justice Act was passed in the National Assembly in 2004. The PNC did not oppose the establishment of the Court nor indicate any opposition to the Bill.
The proposal for a regional final court of appeal emerged out of the report of the West Indian Commission.
Titled, ‘Time for Action’, the report made a case for a regional court. It said, “We believe a Caribbean Supreme Court manned by distinguished West Indian jurists and in which litigants have confidence, is likely to attract a larger number of appeals from countries of the region than the Privy Council now does. Its knowledge and understanding of regional problems, language, and culture, coupled with its identification with the very ethos of the Caribbean Community…The importance of these attributes in the judicial law-making process is not to be overlooked or underestimated.”
Guyana, unlike other countries in the Caribbean, was able to overcome the constitutional hurdles towards recognition of the Court. A smooth process of recognition was achieved because the Caribbean Court of Justice enjoyed the support of both the PPP/C and the PNC/R.
The PNC/R ought to be ashamed of itself. To think that it boasts about its commitment to regional integration, yet would allow a partnership, with which it is associated, to openly disparage the CCJ on the flimsiest of grounds, is an indictment of the degree of political opportunism within the APNU+AFC.
It contends that for the CCJ to oppose a decision of the Guyana Court of Appeal intrudes on Guyana’s sovereignty. This is confounded nonsense.
The CCJ is not intruding on Guyana’s sovereignty. It is not an external court. Guyana consented to its jurisdiction.
Some of those protesting had the temerity to say that they would not accept any decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice, which goes against the Court of Appeal. Well, the CCJ also ruled in the past against the Guyana Court of Appeal. It rejected the Court of Appeal’s ruling in the third-term case. It was the same CCJ which is now being attacked which struck that decision down.
Do the supporters of the APNU+AFC want to revert to the original Court of Appeal decision of that case? This would mean that Bharrat Jagdeo would be allowed to run for a third-term as President?
It was a dark day for Guyana to see persons protesting the CCJ even before it had ruled in the Eslyn David case. And the only reason why the CCJ was being picketed was because the supporters would have been led to believe that a ruling would not have supported APNU’s position in the case.
An advertisement was placed in a Trinidad newspaper, which was interpreted within the region as an attempt to intimidate and influence the CCJ. The protests, occurring almost at the same time, could have been similarly interpreted as constituting a threat to the CCJ by suggesting that if it ruled in a certain way, Guyana would withdraw from the CCJ.
It is utterly disgraceful that the PNCR’s long-standing commitment to regional integration and to the regional court, the CCJ, could have been so contemptuously sacrificed on the altar of politics.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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