The CCJ and the rights of the little people

Guyanese in particular, we suspect, will be strongly appreciative of the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) concerning the Shanique Myrie case on freedom of movement in the Caricom area, pursuant to Article 207 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. For long before that date, and in consequence of the deep economic recession that had been afflicting the country, there had been much talk of what many Guyanese considered unsavoury behaviour towards them by officials at various Caricom ports, as they sought work in the wider Caricom area.

Now, eventually, it has taken a Jamaican to challenge behaviour considered reprehensible at the points of entry to a specific country, and to ensure a clarification of the meaning of the decision that the heads of government took in 2007, no doubt in their inclination then to show the Caricom public that they were committed to persistent advance in various spheres of the integration movement that related to the generality of citizens of the region.

The heads of government have been concerned for quite a while of a popular feeling that the integration initiative is mainly about trade and, more than that, trade and investment as it pertains to the activities of the big men and their big firms, the big banks and their big monies, and the big investors and their investments in the millions of dollars which anxious and appreciative governments could boast about.

In that context, the Myrie case can be seen as a victory of the little people – activated by a “little woman.” And the little people will be pleased that someone “up there” has been able to lay their case for unfettered movement, removing a continual feeling that their complaints are irritants to governments, as well as to the functionaries at sea and air ports wishing to fiercely guard their countries’ inclinations to emphasise the difference between the rights of nationals and the rights of Caricom citizens, even in a system agreed by the governments themselves.

Oddly enough, the someone, or in this case something “up there” has been the Caribbean Court of Justice, the detailed significance and operation of which, we suspect, even well-educated Caricom citizens no little of.

This relative ignorance some Caricom states and commentators have periodically been able to take advantage of. And they have been inclined to minimize the significance of an institution which, while handling the big trade cases, was also designed for pronouncing on the rights of the individual, even when he or she was not a citizen of a specific Caricom country in which a sense of grievance was felt, but on whom the Revised Treaty in particular had nonetheless conferred specific rights.

Oddly enough too, this substantial victory substantiating the rights of the little people, has come in the case of a national of a country whose successive governments, while agreeing to the concept of a regional court, have been unwilling to, or fearful of, taking the case for full acceptance of the court before its own people, or through the national parliament. And the victory has come against the government of a country which has been, over the years, quite enthusiastic about the acceptance and operationalisation of the court in all its jurisdictions.

In the case of Jamaica, the case for fear of adhering to the court’s jurisdiction has been argued in terms of an infringement of sovereignty, made without any intellectually sophisticated justification. And really, really, if we look a little further back, it seems to be about what we can call the foundation fear of a referendum that took Jamaica out of the West Indies Federation on the grounds that the country, as sovereign, must have unfettered individual right to rule itself.

This referendum victory has struck fear in the hearts of Jamaican politicians, even as they saw it as a populist electoral weapon to be used as necessary, irrespective of previous commitments given. And in governments’ dealings in respect of the CCJ in what has been referred to as its original and final jurisdictions, this foundation fear remains.

But of course, as is well known, Jamaica is not the only hesitating country, even as we leave aside the smaller territories of Caricom which would have to clear certain matters with the British government. For Trinidad & Tobago, the home of the CCJ after a hard fought battle for that trophy, has gone through a similar political ride as Jamaica, though in 2012, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, now Chair of Caricom, committed the country to joining the court in its appellate jurisdiction.

What we can now hope is that the Jamaican Shanique Myrie’s victory – particularly as it has been one on behalf of one of the little people, will induce the two major Jamaican political parties which have alternated in government since the establishment of the court, to come to a common consensus on the issue.

The Government of Barbados has declared itself disappointed with the ruling of the CCJ. The country indeed, as something of a crossroads in the East and Southern Caribbean, has been fairly liberal in accepting workers from other Caricom countries, including Guyana, as it sought to take advantage of an economic boom in the 1980s-’90s which was driving up the price of  labour, particularly in the agricultural sphere.

But Barbados has always indicated a fear of the overloading of what it considers to be a small country already heavily populated by its own nationals. But Barbados, too, has been, in those boom years, a veritable economic and financial headquarters of the Eastern Caribbean, the consequence of the free trade in goods and services facilitated by the implementation the Caricom Treaty.

What appears to be needed is a minor corrective – a proper training of public servants, emphasizing the fact that their country has been a significant beneficiary of the integration arrangement and that this implies a certain tolerance and reciprocity to those less fortunate, even in the present difficult economic times which the country is now going through.

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