Sunday, December 20, 2009

State violence and breach of International Human Rights

According to Cambridge’s Online dictionary a protest march is defined as “an occasion when people show that they disagree with something by walking somewhere, often shouting and carrying signs.” In this same dictionary a riot is defined as “a noisy, violent, and uncontrolled public meeting”. With regard to the above definitions it can be clearly seen that a protest march ought not to be managed or dealt with by a riot squad because a riot squad’s sole purpose is to disburse and quell a violent uncontrolled public meeting and bring such meeting under control through the use of physical force.

A protest on the other hand does not require the presence of a riot squad as the very concept of protesting is a basic human right as enshrined in the Human Rights Charter, Article 19, the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Article 20, the right to freedom of assembly and association. The actions of the Police in front of Parliament last week Friday were a clear breach of International Human Rights. The minister of national security therefore owes the citizens of this country an explanation as to why from the time of the Summit of the Americas to the events occurring outside of Parliament last week Friday, his government through his ministry has sought the use of a riot squad to deal and treat with citizens who were not rioting but merely exercising their rights as per the human rights charter.

This action of the police has served to reinforce in the minds of many that it is a political tool of the PNM government, used to silence and intimidate those that are opposed to its policies. The silence of the government with regard the illegal actions of the police demonstrates that it is a government what will seek to silence
those oppose to it using any means including state violence. Worst still, time and again the Police Service which is responsible for maintaining law and order, has persistently demonstrated by their actions that they themselves are not knowledgeable about the laws they are responsible for enforcing and upholding, nor do they seem to comprehend to whom they are accountable and to whom they have a duty to protect. Thus very often you find the police service is found guilty of ill treating and abusing the very citizens they took an oath and swore to protect.

The ignorance and disrespect shown to citizens is not exclusive to the police service. Take for instance the disdain and disrespectful remarks made by Ms Esther Legendre who unfortunately is our ‘Honourable’ Minister of Education. A woman who because of her education portfolio, should be encouraging dialogue and the transfer of ideas from all fronts of society concerning national issues because dialogue and the exchange of ideas whether one agrees with said ideas or not is part of the education process. Minister Legendre was shown on television on Friday night speaking in parliament, referring to the protesters as pathetic. “Twelve people protesting” she bellowed while glowing in the admiration of her other misguided colleagues. Many have expressed shock at the Minister’s lack of professionalism and disrespect for the voice of the people, because be it twelve persons or two hundred thousand persons, in a democracy everyone has the right to be heard. What I find amusing is the inability of someone who is a Minister of Education to count, because at a simple glance even a 10 year old could have guessed that there was probably over a hundred people in front the red house.

Then there was Min Colm Imbert who incidentally had a more accurate guess as to how many people were protesting, nevertheless Colm described the protests as ‘political’. My question to Colm Imbert is what exactly is wrong with that? This is a democracy is it not? The government to which Mr. Imbert belongs IS POLITICAL therefore any opposition to the policies of his government will be political. Why therefore does Mr. Imbert think that he and his POLITICAL party has a monopoly on the politics of Trinidad and Tobago and therefore are the only ones who ought to be and have a right to be political? Politics is about formulating national policies such as the amendment of tax legislation Mr. Imbert therefore any objection to or discussion about your government’s plans will be political. Now that we’ve all been made aware of this fact can we talk about the Police’s actions on Friday which was political and which ought not to have been political?

Mr. Imbert was also quoted as saying “I myself came out on the public gallery and I did hear what appeared to be a megaphone or some form of amplification and that is not allowed.” I would like Min Imbert to inform the general population under what law can a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago not use a megaphone. I will also like Min Imbert to inform the general public why when those preachers come out on the Brian Lara Promenade using those portable megaphones, why the police do not arrest them. Could Min Imbert indicate if any such law preventing the use of a megaphone is constitutional and more so in line with the Human Rights Charter?

According to Article 20 of the Human Rights Charter everyone has a right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. The word peaceful here does not pertain to noise/sound in the form of speech via amplification. The word peaceful here pertains to assembly and association without violence and we know this is so because Article 20 follows suit to Article 19 which states that as humans we have ‘the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier.’

The key phrase of Article 19 is the right to ‘receive and impart information and ideas through any media’. According to Cambridge Online Dictionary ‘media’ is the plural of medium therefore what Article 20 is stating is this, it is our fundamental right to receive and impart information and ideas through any medium and that includes the use of a megaphone. Minister Imbert et al need to educate themselves with regard our national laws and more importantly International Law especially law concerning human rights.

It is indeed a travesty when persons seek public office and then attempt to use the position acquired to misinform and miss-educate citizens for the purpose of psychologically binding and subduing said citizens. The opposition forces in this country ‘all’ of whom are political owe it to the citizens of this country to keep a very watchful eye on this PNM government because from all accounts this government has no regard whatsoever for the rights and voice of the citizens of this country. It is imperative that we as citizens nip the emerging state violence in the bud because if we fail to do so, it is as Prime Minister Manning once said “We will pay in Blood!” ©

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