FORGET, for a moment, international human rights treaties such as the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Consider, instead, the local law known as the International Criminal Court Act 2006.
Section 10 of that act, which was first tabled in Parliament in 2005 by then Minister of Foreign Affairs Knowlson Gift, passed, then proclaimed in 2006, says any person who commits a crime against humanity in this country is guilty of an offence and is liable to either life in prison or a more serious penalty depending on the crime.
The definition of a crime against humanity, in the local statute, includes the range of activities we would normally associate with that phrase, but also the “deportation or forcible transfer” of a population.
This specific law is now at the centre of the disturbing case of Venezuelan migrant Juan Manuel Acosta. whose lawyers have called on the police to investigate whether the State has broken a series of local statues in handling Acosta’s case.
That case raises a chilling question: Has our Minister of National Security committed a crime against humanity?
When it comes to international treaty law, the State has wanted to have its cake and eat it, playing fast and loose depending on what is politically expedient.
On the one hand, officials frequently cite treaties when it looks good. The report by the task force led by Judith Jones, the retired justice of appeal, which provoked sweeping actions and reforms by the Cabinet, begins with a reference to this country’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which, according to the task force, placed a duty on the State to uphold children’s rights “without reservation.”
On the other hand, when it comes to Venezuelan migrants, the State shrugs off its duties not only in relation to the treatment of children but also potential refugees and asylum-seekers.
The impunity of the State’s actions has only worsened in the wake of the High Court ruling by Justice Frank Seepersad last month which deemed international treaties without direct effect (the International Criminal Court Act 2006 does not appear to have featured in the case before Justice Seepersad). The raid on a St James bar, the shambolic “detention” of almost 200 migrants and the indiscriminate deportation of many of them suggest a hardened approach.
Acosta’s case, which is a serious one which authorities must deal with expeditiously in light of criticism of this country by bodies such as Amnesty International, suggests while the State has viewed migrants as little more than law-breakers, the State itself may well be violating laws passed by our very own Parliament.