Giving OAS chair to Dom Rep a colossal mistake

Sunday, January 26, 2014

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WE note with concern that the Dominican Republic has assumed the chair of the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS), against concerns over the ruling by that country's Constitutional Court that will render stateless thousands of people of
Haitian descent living in that Spanish-speaking country.

According to a recent wire service report, the Dominican Republic's permanent representative to the OAS, Ambassador Pedro Vergs, expressed the importance of the chair to his country.

"For our country, and to me personally, it is a great honour to assume the chair of the council of this organisation, which, for us, is of paramount importance, since we were among the first countries that shaped it and have followed all of its institutional history to the present, Mr Vergs is reported as saying.

He also told the OAS that his country was engaged in a continuous process of institutional and democratic strengthening, "which will not rest for a second"

Quite a commendable expression of commitment. But given that the ambassador's Government appears unwilling to convince the constitutional court to reverse its shameful ruling, we are left to wonder whether we can take him at his word.

An estimated 200,000 people, the majority of whom are of Haitian descent, could lose their citizenship from this court ruling made on September 23 last year. To make matters worse, we are already seeing cases of xenophobia and racism being played out against Haitian migrants, no doubt aided by this iniquitous ruling.

Interestingly, in addition to condemnation from the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, the Catholic Church in Jamaica, former Jamaica Prime Minister P J Patterson and Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, who has been the most consistent voice on this issue for months, the OAS has expressed deep concern about the ruling.

This OAS expression of concern now appears to be shallow, meaningless and a demonstration of lip service to the issue.

This action is a colossal mistake that will come back to haunt the organisation, when other nations take similarly vile steps such as the Dom Rep.

Given such outpouring of opposition to the court decision, and Santo Domingo's obvious stubbornness on the issue, the Dominican Republic, we insist, should not have been allowed the honour of taking the chair of the OAS, even as we acknowledge that the position rotates.

There should be some mechanism in the charter of organisations like the OAS to block member states from the privileges associated with membership when they are found to be in violation of people's rights and freedoms.

Caricom, we note, has - with a lot of prodding - taken the commendable step of suspending talks on the Dominican Republic joining the bloc. More pressure should be applied to Santo Domingo on this issue.

The OAS, despite the occupant of the chair, can help strengthen that pressure.




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