Civil society groups here are calling on Caricom to name a Special Representative on Humanitarian Issues in the aftermath of the devastation caused in the region by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In a statement on October 7, the groups said that the Special Representative should be entrusted with the following tasks:
* Adopting a common rights-based framework of principles and standards for humanitarian disasters to be executed by governments, civil society and international forces.
* Create clear and compassionate model legislation in line with international norms governing refugees and persons internally and externally displaced by humanitarian crises.
* Operationalise the ‘common and differentiated responsibilities’ of governments and civil society ratified in Climate Change agreements.
The signatories to the recommendations are the Anglican Diocese of Guyana, Benab (Youth), Church Women United, East Coast Clean-Up Committees, Guyana Society for the Blind, Guyana Environment Initiative, Guyana Human Rights Association, Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, Jesuits in Guyana, Policy Forum Guyana, National AIDS Committee, Red Thread, Rights of Children, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc and the Ursuline Sisters in Guyana
The statement said that the devastating consequences of Irma and Maria require a major re-orientation of attitudes in the region, “primarily to ensure that all Caribbean lives are seen to matter equally”.
It said this accords with the recent sentiments expressed by Chairman of Caricom, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada, to the effect that “Caricom, the individual sovereign states and all the institutions of Caricom must fashion a new discussion and a new methodology to deal with the challenges posed by disasters”.
The local groups said that such a discussion should be a major priority engaging the civic, business and political leaderships of Caribbean territories, not mainly technical agencies.
“The starting points of the proposed conversation are three-fold. In the first place the disasters underline that…our time-table for addressing global warming is too complacent.
Secondly, while the outpouring of compassion to provide immediate relief are all-embracing, the prolonged recovery phase is beneficial to far fewer people.
The third starting-point is that responses to extreme devastation require political decision-making and cannot become a monopoly of those who deliver technical assistance and resources”, the groups said.
The groups added that mobilising of generosity across the Caribbean is a well-established response in the relief phase.
“However, those who recover most quickly are the sectors, particularly the business networks, best positioned to call on insurance and financial relief. Very large numbers of small farmers, informal businesses and householders, on the other hand, never recover since they do not attract the attention they deserve.
“Without wishing to suggest that the personal and civic compassion reflected in relief efforts are consciously discriminatory, the possibility of some sectors being overlooked is obvious and it is the role of governments to anticipate such short-comings.
In particular, governments must be vigilant that relief efforts are guided by the humanitarian principles of independence, impartiality, non-discrimination and neutrality in order to avoid, eliminate or compensate for inappropriate forms of political or ethnic discrimination which may favour some sectors over others”, the groups asserted.
They argued that given the severity of the hurricanes and numbers of people affected, it is essential that the recovery phase of reconstruction of these societies be guided by rights-based considerations.
A particularly pressing rights-related concern, it said, is to protect disaster victims from the harassment too frequently experienced by Caricom citizens in other Caricom territories.
A principled and uniform legal position on people fleeing disaster is urgently needed as part of the urgent review called for by the chairman of Caricom, the groups added.