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Is TT bound by the Inter-American rights commission?

ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, July 26 2009

THIS WEEK murder convict Ronald Tiwarie will face the Mercy Committee for what could be his last chance to avoid the hangman. But the committee’s meeting will take place notwithstanding the fact that London lawyers acting on behalf of Tiwarie have filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR).

But while lawyers for Tiwarie this week argued in the local courts that the meeting of the Mercy Committee might, as such, violate his right to the due process of law, a complex and nagging question has dogged the case. For is this country even bound by the IACHR?

The IACHR is an organ of the Organisation of American States, of which this country has been a member since March 17, 1967. In fact, this year, Prime Minister Patrick Manning signed-off on the declaration of the Fifth Summit of the Americas which sought to affirm the OAS member states’ commitment to “the protection and promotion of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Trinidad and Tobago became a party to the OAS’s American Convention on Human Rights on May 28, 1991. But under former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, this country denounced the American Convention on May 26, 1999 in accordance with Article 78 of the Convention.

However, according to the 2002 IACHR case of Ramlogan v Trinidad and Tobago this country remains bound by another human rights instrument that comes appurtenant with OAS membership: the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The IACHR is vested with the authority to supervise this state’s compliance with that instrument.

But why should the Mercy Committee wait for a report from the IACHR? Can a regional court seriously tell a sovereign state what to do to? What power do international bodies have over sovereign states to ensure compliance with orders made by bodies to which they voluntarily ascribe? These questions are, perhaps, as old as public international law itself.

The power of international bodies may not be military given the meager budgets of these international bodies, but rather deeply symbolic.

Trinidad and Tobago may, for instance, face sanctions for violating OAS provisions. And if this country, which has only this year positioned itself as the centre of OAS proceedings, begins to flout the processes of the OAS, this will certainly have political repercussions, if not legally enforceable ones.

In any event, lawyers acting for Tiwarie would not argue that the IACHR is binding. They would instead argue that the process of approaching the IACHR is inherent to the Constitutional rights of Tiwarie. The State could do what it wants with the IACHR report so long as they wait for that report, they might say.

Tiwarie was convicted of the 2001 Blue Basin murder of Polly Ramnarine. He lost an appeal at the Court of Appeal, after that court took almost four years to hand down a ruling, and was then denied leave to take the case to the Privy Council. The moves to have Tiwarie hanged come amidst a proliferation of crime in this country. But while this country desperately craves some means of responding to crime, if Tiwarie is hanged, the case could, in the end, present political embarrassment for Trinidad and Tobago on a regional scale.

abagoo@newsday.co.tt

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