More than 'signatures’ for democracy and anti-terrorism Analysis by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
June 13, 2002

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THERE were great bursts of applause, and many smiles and mutual back-slappings as heads of delegation to last week's Annual General Assembly of the Organisation of American States ((OAS) in Barbados signed on to the first-ever “Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism".

Some 30 of the 35 member countries of the Washington-based organisation signed the Convention. Trinidad and Tobago was among the four that did not. The others were Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Windward island of Dominica -- for varying reasons.

In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, as Foreign Minister Senator Knowlson Gift told this correspondent, it was because Prime Minister Patrick Manning's cabinet had not yet approved the draft convention.

He, however, expects that this would soon be done and the country will join other CARICOM partners in becoming involved in honouring its obligations under the convention in relation to human rights and terrorism.

The actual status quo, or true position, as Mr Gift would also know, and as made known to me by some ministers and diplomats, is somewhat different: Attorney General Glenda Morean has really not had the time --- stressed out as she is on other more pressing domestic issues --- to give the required attention that this historic document of the OAS deserves.

Blending the preservation of fundamental human rights and democratic traditions with a new and concerted collective anti-terrorism programme is central to the OAS convention.

The document itself reflects the spirit of Resolution 1373 of the United Nations Security Council of September 28, 2001 on wide-ranging issues in the "war against terrorism", and done against the backdrop of the troika of strikes by terrorists against the USA on September 11.

While the overwhelming majority of countries of the OAS --- the body from which Cuba remains banned under Washington's unwavering pressures --- there remain some significant reservations about sections of the convention. That's according to some Caribbean legal luminaries who have taken time to peruse the document since its original concept was considered.

Consequently, it is understandable why for this US-driven anti-terrorism convention to become operational in any member state of the OAS, it must first be endorsed by local parliaments.

Unlike the related "Inter-American Democratic Charter" that was unanimously adopted by way of a resolution by all member states in Lima, Peru, last year, the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism is a legally binding instrument.

It, therefore, requires meaningful consultations among parliamentary parties as well as human rights and other civic organisations before enacted into law to give it the powers of enforcement.

Since the approval of the UN anti-terrorism resolution that established a special committee to monitor defaulting member states, most, if not all of the 189 members of the world body, have obtained parliamentary approval that toughens laws against all forms of terrorism, including money laundering and other activities intended to finance terrorism --- nationally and internationally.

But long before the OAS adopted last year the much-trumpeted Inter-American Democratic Charter, in accordance with the sentiments that surfaced at the Third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, there was our own "Charter of Civil Society for the Caribbean Community".

Basically, a declaration of intent, it is a non-binding consensual document for the guidance of participating states in the promotion and defence of human rights, democracy and good governance.

This document was originally approved in principle at the 1992 special CARICOM Summit in Port-of-Spain that was called to consider the recommendations that year of the West Indian Commission. The hope was expressed then that the Civil Society Charter "can become the soul of the Community", which, as the Commission noted, "needs a soul if it is to command the loyalty of the people of CARICOM..."

As CARICOM leaders prepare for their 23rd Summit in Guyana on July 2, it would be instructive to learn from the Community Secretariat in Georgetown exactly how many of its 14 full members (Haiti remains a provisional member) have actually endorsed the Charter of Civil Society.

A question of relevance, therefore, is: If governments of the Community are otherwise too preoccupied to ensure legislative endorsement of the CARICOM Charter on human rights, democracy and good governance, as unanimously approved in 1997, to give the Community "the soul" alluded to by the West Indian Commission, then how much emphasis or credence should be placed on the Inter-American Democratic Charter, as adopted by the OAS last year?

And when will CARICOM and other OAS member states actually set in motion the relevant arrangements for legislative and other consultations in order to make legally binding the provisions enshrined in the OAS Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism?

It seems apparent that more than the UN Security Council's anti-terrorism monitoring committee have their work cut out. The challenge for all UN members remains the preservation of fundamental human rights in the "war against terrorism"

It is expected that issues resulting from the 32nd OAS General Assembly will be discussed at next month's CARICOM Summit in Georgetown being hosted by the Guyana Government.