Vincentians are disturbed by the continuous whittling away of their constitutional and democratic freedoms by the Unity Labour Party (ULP) Administration through the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force.
The most recent incidence of this came on Thursday 23 February 2023, when police officers summarily arrested several citizens staging a peaceful protest outside Parliament in Kingstown.
Luzette King, Adriana King, John Mofford and Robert “Patches” Knights were arrested by police officers and taken to the Kingstown Police Station where they were kept overnight and charged that they failed to disperse, when instructed by a police officer, from “an unlawfully held public meeting which was held within 200 yards of the CourtHouse building when the House of Assembly was sitting”, contrary to Section 10(3) (a) of the Public Order Act.
The continued weaponization of the police by the ULP government against its political opponents is an attack on democracy and a grievous misuse of the police force. St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues to experience record breaking statistics on homicides and other crimes, which the Minister of National Security, Ralph Gonsalves and the Police Commissioner, Colin John seem incapable of addressing. After a record high of 42 homicides for 2022 and already a homicide count of 9 for 2023, including two policing shootings, the Vincentian public could see no substantial strategy initiatives to address the problem, except the normal rhetoric of the Prime Minister.
The NDP is calling for the ULP to stop the politicizing of the police force and allow our police officers to do their jobs of addressing the issue of crime that is negatively affecting Vincentian society and making people unsafe and afraid.
The Right to Protest Peacefully
The following is a statement that was made by the Leader of the Opposition, and president of the New Democratic Party, Dr. the Honourable Godwin Friday as it relates to protest.
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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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.”
In its report, the IACHR: “… acknowledges that in different circumstances protests cause disruption and affect the normal course of other activities, but this fact does not make these forms of expression per se illegitimate. It is based on the fact that one of the functions of protest is to channel and amplify the demands, aspirations, and grievances of different segments of the population…”
In para 41 , the OAS report says: “It is inherent to the functioning of a democratic society that the State must continuously weigh competing or conflicting legitimate rights and interests against each other. And this weighing, under the requirement of necessity…means that at times the exercise of freedom of assembly can alter daily… routines, especially in large urban centers, and even create nuisances or affect the exercise of other rights that should be protected and guaranteed by the State, such as freedom of movement.” Nevertheless, “such disruptions are part of the mechanics of a pluralistic society in which diverse and sometimes conflicting interests coexist and find the forums and channels in which to express themselves.”
“Restrictions must also be strictly ‘proportionate’ to the legitimate aim for which they are intended, and closely tailored to the achievement of that aim, interfering as little as possible with the lawful exercise of that right. To determine the strict proportionality of the restrictive measure, it must be determined whether the sacrifice of freedom of expression it entails is exaggerated or excessive in relation to the advantages obtained through such measure.” This is very helpful guidance given what is happening here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.