GT22D - POLITICS IN THE CARIBBEAN
HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
Liberal democracy stresses the importance of human rights. Social democracy stresses the importance of human development. Caribbean politics has sought to combine these two goals. Caribbean politics comes out of the philosophical traditions of liberal democracy but also a sensitivity to social conditions for human development because of the nature of a past rooted in slavery and exploitation. At any rate, liberal democracy will be on unstable foundations if it is not able to satisfy people’s human developmental needs. Human rights and human development therefore, should go together. Indeed, it is suggested that a decline in socioeconomic performance and abuse of civil and political rights correlate.
Concerns about human rights and human development have resulted in controversies around two kinds of issues: legal justice and social justice. Citizens expect that their human rights should be protected but they also expect that their social conditions of existence, or their human development must also be promoted.
This poses a dilemma for politics. The individualist tradition of liberalism runs up against the collectivist responsibility for the nation’s welfare. Government’s responsibility for national security, law and order, sometimes leads it to limit individual rights in political and civil, social and economic matters. Governments consider that they have a duty to protect society from external and internal threats to the social order. At the same time, democratic governments must provide rights through their national constitutions and the collectivity of governments must do so through international conventions such has the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. They also promise welfare as a function of good government.
The two concepts that have evolved to encompass this idea of responsibility between governments and societies are ‘human rights’ and ‘human development’.
Human rights refer to a set of rights that are regarded as fundamental to each person by virtue of the fact that the person is a human being. These are not rights for the state or any authority to give or take away. They are the natural and inalienable rights of the individual or human person. They should be declared and protected in the fundamental law of a country - the constitution - whereby they become constitutional rights.
What are these rights? They are commonly called political and civil rights. They include: the right to a fair a speedy trial, the right to life, to equality before the law, to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to organize and so on, regardless of the individuals race, nationality, or beliefs. Such rights are important for respecting the dignity of the person and to facilitate his free participation in political and other affairs of society.
The concept of human development refers to a set of opportunities that a society and its government have responsibility to provide for its members. These are necessary to afford the individual the chance to improve himself as a human being and to enjoy a quality of life that, at a minimum, is fit for a human being. It means expanding human capabilities so that people are able to lead long and healthy lives and have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living. It encompasses notions of collective well-being, equity and sustainable development.
What are these opportunities? They are commonly called social and economic rights. They include the fulfillment of basic needs in: personal security, health, employment and income, shelter, education, the right to own property and the right to a clean environment.
There is a tension in democratic theory over how these opportunities are to be provided. Liberal theory places emphasis on the market. Individuals, by their own effort, should make these opportunities for themselves in the market. Governments have a responsibility to develop markets so that individuals can better themselves by being enterprising in the market.
Social democratic theory places more emphasis on the state. Markets they say, are imperfect and biased. At any rate the poorest members of society have serious disadvantages that prevent them from being successful in the market. The state must provide opportunities which give them a start.
Out of these different perspectives come competing models for promoting human rights and human development. There is the liberal, capitalist, market, democratic model and the socialist or social democratic model. The first gives priority to human rights and the second, to basic human needs.
The Caribbean Context.
Human rights and human development in the Caribbean must be understood in the context of the conditions of these states and societies to understand how they measure up to internationally recognised human rights and human development standards. One must bear in mind certain particular aspects of the Caribbean context. The Caribbean is a region of different democratic and non-democratic traditions. It is constituted by different historical and cultural traditions. It comprises small states. These states are developing states. They are vulnerable to international pressures.
This context has different consequences for the understanding and performance of human rights and human development. These include:
The Record Of Caribbean States.
In ‘Democracy and Human Rights in the Caribbean’, the authors present a ranking of Caribbean countries based on United Nations measurements for 1995. It ranks countries on a scale of 1 to 7 in categories of ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’ and ‘Not Free’. It shows that:
- Of the 12 independent Anglo-Caribbean countries, 11 are considered ‘Free’. Only Antigua-Barbuda was considered ‘partly free’ (then). Barbados and Belize scored the highest in the two categories of political rights (1) and civil liberties (1). Jamaica scored (2) on political rights and (3) on civil liberties.
- The non-English speaking Caribbean scored lower, either as ‘partly free’ (Dominican Republic, Haiti, Suriname) or as ‘not free’ (Cuba). By liberal democratic human rights standards, Cuba scored (7) on both political rights and civil liberties. This put Barbados and Cuba at opposite ends of the human rights scale.
The authors summarize the situation. They say, the Caribbean has been a bastion of electoral democracy and the situation has improved over recent years in Guyana, Haiti and Suriname. On the human rights front, in comparison with other regions, the Caribbean’s profile is remarkable, and the Anglophone Caribbean, all the more so. Democracy in this (Anglophone) subregion has proven to be more effective and durable than in any other in the developing world.
This record, they say, should not mask what they describe as numerous outlandish practices and situations in the region. They refer to the controversies over the death penalty and police brutality. Other shortcomings of human rights relate to elitist and authoritarian (DR, Guyana, Haiti) decision-making structures and in some countries ethnic rivalries cause concerns over discrimination (Guyana, Trinidad, DR, Suriname).
(b) Human development.
The United Nations Development Programme puts out an annual publication in which it ranks countries on a scale of human development. Its 1995 ranking for the Caribbean again showed the Anglo-Caribbean countries on a higher scale than the others:
- Out of 173 countries, the lowest ranked Anglo-Caribbean country was Guyana (100). Jamaica was the next lowest at 84. The non-English speaking Caribbean generally ranked lower than English-speaking countries- Cuba (85), Dominican Republic (88) and Haiti (159). The only exception was Suriname (65). The highest ranked countries were Barbados (24), Antigua (29) and Trinidad (40). This makes Barbados the highest ranked Caribbean country in both human rights and human development.
- As a region Latin American and Caribbean countries had the second highest score of all regions after the group of 25 industrial countries, and so does the Caribbean by itself, if one takes out Haiti. The other regions are Africa, Asia, the Arab states and Eastern Europe. Jamaica, the second lowest ranked English-speaking Caribbean state still scored higher than the average score of all developing countries and had about the same score as the world average. (In fact, in 1996 Jamaica was rated first among all developing countries in having the lowest infant mortality rate for children under five years).
This means that in the areas of human rights and human development, the Anglo- Caribbean is the second best region outside of the industrial countries and on par with Latin America. But they score better on political and civil rights than on human development. The aim of development must be to achieve a balance of high scores on both counts. So far, only Barbados, the Bahamas and Trinidad have achieved this.
Human development in the Caribbean has been undermined by high levels of import dependency on food, high debt burdens, changing world market conditions that cause foreign exchange shortages and structural adjustment programmes that shift the burden onto the poor and which cause larger gaps between rich and poor.
The Caribbean should be pursuing ‘balanced development’, one that combines respect for democratic and human rights with social and economic development. The different models of development, with few exceptions, tend to overbalance in favour of one and against the other. For instance, in many respects Cuba has made great achievements in human development -social equity, racial and class solidarity, environmental conservation, mass education, literacy and health and Cubans might be willing to retain these gains of socialism at the cost of liberal democratic human rights.
The Human Rights Situation in the Caribbean.
Although the Caribbean, especially the Anglo Caribbean ranks highest among the developing regions in human rights there are still serious concerns in the case of some issues and particularly some countries. The major international human rights organisation, Amnesty International (AI), identifies these countries and issues. The main countries are Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad. The main issues relate to political and civil rights in the non-English speaking countries and civil rights in the English-speaking ones.
Amnesty International and other studies have found certain common human rights problems in the Caribbean. These include:
- political discrimination;
- the death penalty;
- prison conditions;
- slowness of the justice system in trying suspects;
- police brutality.
By liberal-democratic criteria, Cuba ranks (7) on political rights and (7) on civil liberties. AI was most concerned about:
- prison conditions - which sometimes constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;
- the death sentence - where many are under sentence of death although there have been no recent executions;
- political prisoners - of which there are about 300, many of whom say they have had unfair trials. Cuba did release over 100 political prisoners after the visit of the Pope in January 1998 and by his request;
- harassment of dissidents and forced exile of some;
- the harassment and discouragement of independent human rights organisations and activists;
- the absence of alternative political parties or their freedom to organise - such as the jailing of eight members of the Party for Human Rights in Cuba in 1997 for 18 months on charges of ‘disobedience’ and ‘associating with others with intention to commit a crime’.
The United Nations has expressed a desire for Cuba to:
- allow human rights organisations to visit the country;
- to investigate claims of torture and the ill-treatment of prisoners;
- to abolish the death penalty for which there is too wide a range of crimes;
- reconsider the vague categories of crimes of ‘disrespect’, ‘resistance’ and ‘enemy propaganda’.
The Dominican Republic.
AI is particularly critical of the actions that the government has taken against demonstrators, the conditions of prisons and the behaviour of the police force. It highlights:
- overcrowding and poor conditions in prisons;
- slowness of the justice system to bring accused persons to trial;
- harassment and in some cases imprisonment of members of human rights organisations;
- the detention in 1997 of over 500 leaders of various organisations preparing to launch a general strike against economic conditions;
- reports of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners by the security forces;
- investigations into reports of 30 protesters against the government being killed by the security forces;
- the mass repatriation of Haitians and the detention of people suspected of being Haitian whether legal residents or not, including several black Dominicans who might have Haitian ancestry.
AI has found that in Haiti:
- investigative and trial procedures fall short of international standards;
- there is frequent ill-treatment of prisoners and overcrowding of prisons;
- there are reports of torture of prisoners;
- there is extrajudicial killings by the police;
- there are long delays in justice;
- there are violent attacks against political figures including the murder of a legislator in 1997;
- there is a reluctance by people to give criminal testimony out of a fear of reprisal.
- there is little progress in bringing to trial the persons responsible for human rights abuses during the last military government between 1991 and 1994;
- the long detention, without trial, of persons detained in 1996 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
AI was concerned by:
- the resumption of hangings in 1996 when two convicts were put to death with another 24 on death row;
- reports of ill-treatment of prisoners by the police;
- shootings of criminal suspects by police in disputed circumstances based on eye witness accounts;
- the conditions of detention and imprisonment which are overcrowded, with poor sanitation, and lack of adequate medical treatment.
AI wants the government to commute all death sentences and abolish the death penalty, review the use of force and firearms by the police against reports of their lethal use of force; investigate cases of police abuses and bring the guilty ones to justice; compensate victims or their families; and investigate complaints against the police by the indigenous Amerindian population.
AI was critical of:
- the conditions in some lock-ups, places of detention and prisons which were overcrowded, insanitary and so poor overall that they amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
- controversial shootings by police which caused regular popular demonstrations, especially in politically charged atmospheres;
- the alarmingly high incidence of the use of firearms by the police;
- the ill-treatment and sometimes deaths of prisoners while in custody;
- weaknesses in the administration of justice such as prolonged detention, the poor state of legal aid, delays in judicial procedures;
- laws against homosexuality;
- the deaths in 1998 of 16 prisoners and injury of 40 others during prison disturbances at the St. Catherine prison because of a protest by warders against the decision to provide condoms to prisoners which warders said only encouraged homosexuality;
- the decision in 1997 to resume executions;
- the withdrawal of the Jamaican government from the American Convention on Human Rights and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on grounds that those bodies provided convicted death row inmates opportunities to prolong their executions by numerous appeals to those bodies and then make it possible for the British Privy Council to rule that their extended terms on death row constituted cruel and inhuman treatment. The standard rule is for no more than five years to elapse.
AI wants the Governor General to grant mercy to death row inmates and for the government to abolish the death penalty.
The human rights situation in Trinidad is characterized by:
- inefficiency in prosecuting and securing sentences for criminals where on average only 25% of cases are prosecuted;
- the execution of prisoners and the application of the death penalty most actively in the Anglo-Caribbean including one case in 1994 while the convict’s appeal was still pending before the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UK Privy Council;
- credible allegations of police brutality;
- extrajudicial killings by the police;
- wide scale corruption of the police force by drug traffickers requiring a special investigation by Scotland Yard and major reforms of the force;
These cases require that we return to the special Caribbean context within which human rights performance must be assessed.
It is questionable whether Cuban democracy can be measured by the same liberal standards used for very different political systems and against the background of open US hostility to Cuba and the stated intentions of Miami exiles to use force, if necessary, to change the government. Also, these criteria ignore forms of popular participation and legitimation of the regime which can be considered democratic, such as the holding of 59,000 meetings to prepare a programme of criticism and reform of the Cuban constitution, political and economic system after 1992, in light of the post-cold war situation and the need for a new approach to development.
The high incidence of crime in Trinidad has given rise to firm positions on crime. A 1994 survey showed that those who supported retention of the death penalty was 96%; the death penalty for drug traffickers (60%); for rapists (60%). Those who supported flogging in schools was 70%; for rape (96%); for grievous bodily harm (91%); for burglary and robbery (80%); for vehicular theft (72%).
At the same time Amnesty International complained in 1997 when for the first time in 20 years, a Jamaican court ordered the whipping of a criminal.
Many Anglo Caribbean states have withdrawn or threatened to withdraw from international human rights conventions on the grounds that they take too long to hear appeals by convicts and that it provides convicts with a delay of their execution with the hope that compassion or time limits might save them. All Caribbean states believe strongly in the death penalty and there is evidence of support for this among the populations, certainly in Jamaica and Trinidad.
Increasing crime related to drugs and gun smuggling have caused pressure on Caribbean governments to tighten their security laws. At the same time, this has caused complaints that these laws infringe on human rights. Issues like the death penalty and gay rights are examples of great differences in the culture that prevails in the Caribbean and that in the developed countries.
Human Development in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean ranks fairly well in terms of human development compared to other regions.
Also, sizable portions of the population in some countries have no access to safe water. This is the case for 63% of Haitians, 39% of Guyanese, 35% of the population of the Dominican Republic.
From the above we can say that on the measurement of human development in the Caribbean, Haiti and Guyana score lowest, while Barbados and Cuba score the highest. Cuba’s achievements are all the more remarkable considering that it has been forced to undergo by far the harshest economic conditions of all, those imposed by the US embargo for the last 35 years, and the loss of its main markets to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism. It is gains in social and economic rights of the revolution that have made Cubans protective of their developmental model and suspicious of the liberal market model. Cuba scores well in terms of social and economic rights even if it does not do so on political and civil rights. Haiti on the other hand, has benefitted from US support throughout this century despite its poor human rights record but still contrasts very poorly with Cuba. For example:
The Caribbean as a region ranks well in human rights and human development. Yet, as economic conditions deteriorate so too will the conditions for supporting human rights and democracy. Importantly, the new paradigm of good governance favours a kind of development where the choice is not between human rights and human development but a balance between both. As the region takes up this new paradigm with support from the international community, hopefully it can maintain if not improve its situation. The state of security against crime, including drug crimes remains a major problem, as does the shift to globalization and the implications this has for Caribbean economies. The system of justice remains a major concern. New initiatives to create a Caribbean Court of Justice promise to assist in this area.