Several years have gone by since I attended a local press conference. I decided on Thursday to set aside the reasons, on the basis that history was about to be made: an EU delegation had grabbed the bull by the horns, so to speak, and offered to share with the media details of a discussion with the prime minister on “areas related to security and justice in Saint Lucia—in particular the government’s follow-up to the publication of the IMPACS report.”
I noted with interest the matter-of-fact way the delegation had referred to the “publication” of a document that the government continues to treat as classified. Ten days after a December 1, 2015 meeting in Barbados the Delegation of the European Union to the Eastern Caribbean Countries had issued a communiqué that included the following: “Successful growth and development include effective legal systems and criminal justice. In this context, the public statement on 8 March 2015 by the Honorable Prime Minister Kenny Anthony on the IMPACS report is very important. Following this statement, due process must be followed. Without due process there would be no effective criminal justice system.”
Additionally: “Effective judicial systems are critical for a country’s Human Rights record. With much achieved on other fronts, it would be regrettable if this issue would undermine St. Lucia’s reputation in the international community. It is in the full interest of all St. Lucians, and of EU visitors and investors, to see this situation move forward. The EU and its member states stand ready to support the country’s endeavours in this critical area, including with assistance under the 11th European Development Fund, which has 44 million EUR assigned to programmes fighting crime and security.”
This week the US Embassy in Barbados issued a statement on “Saint Lucia IMPACS” that included the following: “Despite the significance of the IMPACS report for human rights, national security concerns, and Saint Lucia’s international reputation, the government of Saint Lucia has made no meaningful progress towards criminal prosecution in 10 months . . . We are concerned that four years have passed since these allegations of human rights violations first surfaced and due process is yet to be served.
“We respect Saint Lucia’s separation of powers but emphasize the entire government’s role in guaranteeing that each branch has the tools and resources to fulfill its commitments to the rule of law. That said, the Director of Public Prosecutions made a disappointing announcement in November that her office was not provided sufficient resources or the report’s investigative files, thus precluding furthering criminal prosecution.”
While the US Embassy applauded the government’s approval in September of a reformed Use of Force policy that guides security forces to protect both national security and human rights, it also complained that “these measures alone are not sufficient for Saint Lucia to demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law. A clear demonstration of the Government of Saint Lucia’s commitment to the rule of law would benefit the people of Saint Lucia as well as Saint Lucia’s international standing as a trusted, democratic partner in economic and security cooperation.”
Yes, so how could I not have dragged myself to Thursday’s precedential EU press conference? Especially since I imagined Saint Lucia’s prime minister would be in attendance. The meeting began with the head of the EU Delegation based in Barbados, Ambassador Mikael Barfod welcoming the full house on behalf of not only himself but also in the names of French Ambassador Eric de La Moussaye and the British High Commissioner Victoria Dean, as well as “on behalf of all the 28 member states of the European Union.”
Barfod recalled the earlier cited EU meeting of 1 December 2015, “when my colleagues and I discussed the situation in Saint Lucia with respect to the alleged judicial killings in 2011 and especially the IMPACS report. We were very concerned with the lack of due process and decided to take this matter up with the authorities in Saint Lucia. That is why the statement on behalf of the 28 member states was issued in December 2015.”
He described IMPACS “as an issue that must be resolved for the sake of the country, its authorities and not least, the police.” He revealed that he and his fellow ambassadors were “invited” by the prime minister to visit Saint Lucia following the EU’s December 11 statement. Shortly before meeting the press, said the ambassador, he and his colleagues had “conveyed to the prime minister our own concerns that almost over a year after his address to the nation on 8 March 2015 there has been no action or due process with regard to the allegations of extra-judicial killings by members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.”
Echoing this week’s US Embassy communiqué Barfod underscored the fact that his problems notwithstanding, the prime minister remained responsible for all matters relating to governance. “We are saying that even without this high profile case [IMPACS] the criminal justice system in Saint Lucia needs to be improved. There is a current backlog of cases and too many adjournments that have resulted in long delays, no justice and a sense of impunity that is dangerous to society. In addition it also affects tourism, because travellers will need to be advised about the legal system in Saint Lucia.”
The ambassador was nevertheless “a bit more optimistic” following the meeting with the prime minister. Barfod and his colleagues had “learned from the prime minister that within a couple of months we are likely to see a new DPP as well as a deputy. We also learned today that the process to appoint a commissioner is on track and that is something we are very happy to learn.” Barfod had also been informed that “resources to support the new DPP are there on demand.” The EU delegation expects investigations based on the IMPACS report should start “immediately after the appointment [of a new DPP].
Barfod’s final word: “We would like to continue to dialogue with the prime minister, so the three ambassadors sitting here have agreed to meet again with him at the end of March to see the progress in this extremely important matter.” It was quite obvious that English is not Ambassador Barfod’s first language. That, added to the fact that he spoke with the care of a seasoned diplomat, only made understanding fully all he said more difficult. A native of Denmark, he holds degrees in political science and economics, also in government. He has held his present position since October 2012.
The panel took several questions from the press that drew revealing answers. More about Thursday’s historic press meeting next Saturday. Oh, in case you’re wondering, Saint Lucia’s prime minister was a no-show!