‘Justice must be seen to be done!’

Local activists try to ensure the fight for human rights is sustainable.

Human Rights is not all about criminal rights,” Martinus Francois noted at the first official meeting for the National Centre for Human Rights on Thursday, July 5 at the Central Library. “That is a misconception on the part of St Lucians. We talk about the whole spectrum, we talk about human rights of the children, we talk about what happened in Canaries, what happened with St Romaine who was on
remand for eight years.”
Thursday’s meeting was part of the organization’s membership drive and precedes a July 31 launch date (Eve of Emancipation Day). Coordinator for the Human Rights organization Mary Francis said the mission was to strengthen the observance and protection of human rights for St Lucians.
“Mary is the true pioneer of human rights,” Martinus Francois stated from his head table position. “We have to respect her. Long before I was even a lawyer she was in that business alone, fighting for human rights in St Lucia. She doesn’t have to do what she does, she’s a true pioneer and I’m just a successor of Mary Francis.
“You have 200 lawyers in St Lucia, why is it only Mary and I doing this? Where are all the rest?” Francois questioned. “I’m reminded of the book of Luke, 12:48: To whom much is given, much is expected. Lawyers are not in business like everyone else; we’re not plumbers, we’re not labourers, we’re in it because we have competence others don’t and we owe it to society. Don’t tell me lawyers are only here to make a living.”
Francois felt the organization was important because there was need for a “watchdog” organization that would speak against “outrages in society and ensure justice is done.”
“Justice must not only be done but seen to be done, and tell my brother that,” he quipped. “The vision of this organization is to help people. I will put whatever I have into it and we will do it. When we left law school Mary and I never said on our sign that we were human rights. We can do all the other laws in town, we were all trained the same way. The reason I am doing this is based on love. We’re doing this because of love, because of the gift of love we have in us. Those who are selfish only care about themselves and their overdraft, they have no love. The point is, God is not letting us suffer because we’re doing this. God is providing for us. I have a good life. God is providing for me, I’m not starving. I get by like anybody else. They believe if you help others you will starve, but it is not so. I really want to encourage the younger lawyers to come in and join us; to be there with us. We will mould them so that when we decide to retire, our work will not be in vain.”
The journey of 10,000 miles truly begins with a single step and Francois expressed appreciation for all who’d turned out.
“I don’t want to know after Mary and I are no longer on the scene,  human rights in St Lucia is done, and this is the point of the organization,” Francois said. “We’re going to be a very important non-governmental organization in St Lucia. I’m committed to this organization and I thank Mary Francis for her work.”
At Thursday’s meeting participants spoke about instances where their own human rights had been violated in St Lucia. Master of Ceremonies Laurent Jean-Pierre shared a gripping ordeal that started with him witnessing and speaking out about the beating of a mentally ill man in La Toc, and somehow winded up with him getting detained for obstructing “police business”.
“They put a plastic bag over my head and were about to torch it,” he recounted.                 “That was my punishment . . . and there is a God. Just when they were about to torch it, it was half past 11 in the night, my lawyer walked in and said “where’s my client?” and everybody froze, then everybody started moving. I think that was the divine intervention. That is why I’m not scarred today. I understand what’s going on.
“I see a calling,” Laurent continued. “Don’t mind Mary Francis saying she’s going to throw in the towel. When you have a calling, it’s a calling you have . . . you can’t help yourself, I know what it is. I have been a victim of my human rights being violated in this country on several occasions and I’ve seen it happen to other people.”
According to Laurent it wasn’t about fighting the police. There was need for both forces, in his words “a marriage of the two, reconciliation of the law and watch dogs to keep them in check and to strike that balance.”
“That reflective equilibrium,” he added. “It’s only when these two forces are reconciled and recognize the importance of each other that we can get anywhere. Human rights activists are important for the smooth running of society. Without human rights power is a dangerous thing. We have to speak out, act when necessary, do what it takes and be responsible citizens. It’s not just going and putting your ‘X’ and keeping quiet for the rest of the five years. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
When it was her turn to speak Mary Francis was concerned about developing the organization to an extent that would attract other lawyers.
“If we have to do the work which is required to actually gain legitimacy we have to start seeing how we can solicit funds for project proposals,” she said.
“There is a cost for everything. Time is being utilized, administrative cost, telephone, and all these things. We need funds to push the agenda.
“This is our work, to demand accountability,” Francis commented.
“Those in higher power should be asking people to respect the role because we have a role to play. The state must be held to account for its actions.”
In light of the recent establishment of a Human Rights Institute in Barbados Francis felt government needed to set up a human rights commission.
“If Barbados can set that up to actually monitor new developments that take place, reflecting human rights achievement or attainment, why can’t our government take steps to do that?” She questioned.
“There is really a lot of work to do in St Lucia. We need money and membership to move forward.”
Attendees spoke of an island wide human rights educational campaign and in that respect lawyer Lorraine Glace expressed: “Human rights a question of education, some people speak out of ignorance. If people are educated on an ongoing basis, know what the rules and guidelines are there wouldn’t be this problem. If they are educated they will get out of this fear. You have to tell people why it is important, how it gels together and how it works for everybody as individuals.”
An executive for the organization will be announced soon.

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