Social Protest is Essential to Democracy
(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Press Statement)
On September 9, when Parliament meets again, the people will continue our protests on the streets of Kingstown. These actions are to be robust and determined while being peaceful and lawful, in a manner that proclaims and elevates our democracy.
Our actions are to defend and promote democracy. And to oppose in a direct manner the unpopular legislation and policies of the government as reflected in the changes the government made to the Public Health Act three weeks ago to allow for mandatory vaccination! In the present context this means paving the way for mandatory COVID vaccination.
The actions by the government that brought people out to protest are still confronting us. In fact, in respect of mandatory COVID vaccination, the situation is worse now than on August 5th, when the massive protest took place in Kingstown, because the government passed the law in the early hours of Friday morning. August 6th that prepares the way for mandatory COVID vaccination. So, the amended Public Health Act is on the way to becoming the law of the land!
It is important that the broader society lend support to the trade unions as they represent their members. These are our brothers, sisters, spouses, friends. I therefore urge everyone to join in common cause with the trade unions and other associations to defend against the erosion of our fundamental rights and oppose mandatory vaccinations.
I call on NDP supporters, all, to come out and show their disapproval of the government measures and to support the teachers and public servants and others. We must insist that the government engage in meaningful dialogue with the stakeholders on the way forward and out of this COVID crisis.
Too many people are concerned about the changes to the Public Health Act and, indeed, oppose it, for the government to act unilaterally in passing the law, and to continue to act in this manner. They would do it simply because they have the power in Parliament to do it. So only the people by taking direct action through peaceful protest can insist that they stop and listen to them.
The government has been acting unilaterally for far too long; proceeding without any serious consultation with and involvement of other stakeholders in decision-making when it really matters. It is time that this approach come to an end; it has been good for our country. I had led us to an economic and political crisis. I encourage all individuals, social groups, churches, trade unions, and business associations, artistes, sportsmen and women to come out and support this rally.
There is nothing wrong or bad about peaceful protest; in fact, social protest essential to fostering a vibrant, strong democracy. I especially call on you church leaders and your congregations to bring spiritual guidance and power to combatting the challenges we confront in our nation. We cannot do this properly without you. It is up to all of us to save our nation.
For those of you who are concerned or worried about coming out to publicly express your disapproval of what the government is doing, please put your mind at ease about doing so. I urge you to set aside your fears and doubts and come out on Sept. 9th!We can’t allow our beloved country to slip away and become a place of regret and sorrow, simply because we failed to act when required to. You have a constitutional and God-given right to express yourself in peaceful protest. It is good for our democracy, and at this moment our country needs you to do it.
It is not wrong to protest; you are not giving your country a bad name to protest, as some may have you believe. All around the world, the strongest democracies see protests on a daily basis, as people take to the public spaces to demand and promote their rights. You are not giving yourself a bad name to protest. On the contrary, you are doing good for your country because you are bringing close attention to problems that confront us, and you are strengthening our democracy.
The Inter American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the OAS, of which SVG is a member, prepared and published in 2019 a report entitled “Protest and Human Rights: Standards on the Rights
Involved in Social Protest and the Obligations to Guide the Response of the State”. This is a very powerful statement that is set out in that document, and it applies to us because we are part of the OAS system, what they refer to as “the Inter-American System”. We subscribe to the treaties that protect human and political rights.
Social protest is essential to Democracy. The report states that: “Social protest is a core element for the existence and consolidation of democratic societies and is protected by a constellation of rights and freedoms, which the inter-American system guarantees both in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and in the American Convention on Human Rights.”
The state must help protesters. It goes on to say that “… demonstrators have the freedom to choose the mode, form, place, and message for peaceful protest, and States have the obligation to manage social conflict through dialogue” and that “States must respect the limits on their ability to place legitimate restrictions on demonstrations and protests.”
And further makes clear that “…States are obliged to guarantee and facilitate the exercise of the human rights at stake during demonstrations and protests, and to implement measures and mechanisms to ensure that those rights can be exercised in practice, rather than hindered. The InterAmerican Court has also ruled that citizen security cannot be based on a use of force paradigm aimed at treating the civilian population as the enemy, but must consist of the protection and control of civilians participating in demonstrations.”