St Vincent and the Grenadines opposition party the NDP will protest on 9 September 2021, when parliament meets.
Leader of the Opposition Dr Godwin Friday, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday 25 August, said the people would continue their protests on the streets of Kingstown.
“These actions are to be robust and determined while being peaceful and lawful, in a manner that proclaims and elevates our democracy”.
“Our actions are to defend and promote democracy, to oppose in a direct manner the unpopular legislation and policies of the government as reflected in the changes the government made to the Public Health Act three weeks ago to allow for mandatory vaccination. To lend support to the trade unions as they represent their members. To insist that the government engage in meaningful dialogue with the stakeholders on the way forward and out of this Covid crisis”.
Friday said the government is acting simply because they have the power in parliament to do and the only way people can take direct action is through peaceful protest.
“The government has been acting unilaterally for far too long; proceeding without any serious consultation with and involvement of other stakeholders in decision-making when it really matters.
It is time that this approach comes to an end; it has not been good for our country, it has led us to an economic and political crisis”, the opposition leader said.
Nothing wrong or bad about peaceful protest.
Friday said in fact, social protest is essential to fostering a vibrant and strong democracy.
“I especially call on you church leaders and your congregations to bring spiritual guidance and power to combatting the challenges we confront in our nation. We cannot do this properly without you. It is up to all of us to save our nation.
Worried about coming out.
“I urge you to set aside your fears and doubts and come out on Sept. 9th! We can’t allow our beloved country to slip away and become a place of regret and sorrow, simply because we failed to act when required to.
You have a constitutional and God-given right to express yourself in peaceful protest. It is good for our democracy, and at this moment our country needs you to do it”.
Why it is proper to engage in social and political protest.
“It is not wrong to protest; you are not giving your country a bad name to protest, as some may have you believe. All around the world, the strongest democracies see protests on a daily basis, as people take to the public spaces to demand and promote their rights.
You are not giving yourself a bad name to protest. On the contrary, you are doing good for your country because you are bringing close attention to problems that confront us, and you are strengthening our democracy”.
Friday quoting from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, 2019 report entitled Protest and Human Rights: Standards on the Rights Involved in Social Protest and the Obligations to Guide the Response of the State said:
“Social protest is a core element for the existence and consolidation of democratic societies and is protected by a constellation of rights and freedoms, which the inter-American system guarantees both in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and in the American Convention on Human Rights.
The state must help protesters, it goes on to say that demonstrators have the freedom to choose the mode, form, place, and message for peaceful protest, and States have the obligation to manage social conflict through dialogue” and that “States must respect the limits on their ability to place legitimate restrictions on demonstrations and protests.
It makes it clear that States are obliged to guarantee and facilitate the exercise of the human rights at stake during demonstrations and protests, and to implement measures and mechanisms to ensure that those rights can be exercised in practice, rather than hindered. The InterAmerican Court has also ruled that citizen security cannot be based on the use of force paradigm aimed at treating the civilian population as the enemy, but must consist of the protection and control of civilians participating in demonstrations.”
Friday said IACHR has considered that the exercise of freedom of assembly through social protest should not be subject to government authorization or excessive requirements that make it difficult to carry out.
“Legal requirements underlying the prohibition or limitation of a meeting or demonstration, such as the requirement of prior permission, are not compatible with freedom of assembly or the exercise of freedom of expression in the inter-American system.
Prior notice, generally justified by States on the basis of the need to provide greater protection to a demonstration, cannot function as a covert authorization mechanism. The requirement of prior notification must not be confused with the requirement of prior authorization granted in a discretional manner, which must not be established in the law or practice of the administrative authorities, even when it comes to public spaces”.
The duty to not criminalize leaders, participants in protests.
“This is very helpful guidance given what is happening here in SVG, where people homes have been raided and two persons have been charged with offences stemming from their perceived roles in the recent protests in Kingstown.
Paragraph 188 of the document states the criminalization of social protest consists in the use of the punitive power of the State to deter, punish, or prevent the exercise of the right to protest, and in some cases, to social and political participation more broadly, through the arbitrary, disproportionate, or repeated use of the criminal justice system against demonstrators, activists, and social or political leaders for participating in or allegedly organizing a social protest, or for being part of the organizing or convening group or entity. As the Inter-American Commission has pointed out, its effects often include arbitrary and prolonged prosecution for misdemeanor or criminal offenses, the imposition of fines, and/or arbitrary arrests with or without a conviction.
The IACHR has underscored in this regard that the people who promote and lead demonstrations are often the hardest hit, and are used to send a message to other people and organizations that participate in the protests. Some cases have gone so far as to accuse social leaders of acts carried out in demonstrations where they were not even present. This reveals an application of the criminal law that is explained less by the aim of regulating the use of public space and guaranteeing the rights of third parties, than by a persecutory and restrictive purpose that seeks to curtail the social and political activity of these people and their organizations.
Criminalization may also be the product of criminal proceedings based on circumstances for which there is no evidence or where the evidence is directly false and which lead to the authorization of measures that are distressing to individuals, their families, and organizations, such as the unwarranted ordering of pretrial detention, seizures, raids, and often violent searches”.
Friday said more than ever in this time when our rights and freedom are in peril that we must put our other differences and come together to defend our democratic rights. Those rights are what make all the things we have enjoyed about our country possible.
“We are on a dangerous slippery slope that leads to the restriction of democratic rights and the growth of fear amongst the people of their government. When people generally fear their government, that is no longer democracy; it is authoritarianism! Let no one seek to persuade you otherwise”
“This is not just my opinion; it is the view of many of our people. This is why I am so encouraged and hopeful that people will take a stand a join their brothers and sisters in peaceful protest action in Kingstown on Thursday, September. 9”.
In a press release on Tuesday, 24 August, the Public Service Union said its membership voted to take industrial action during September 7 – 10, 2021, in response to the government’s amendment of the Public Health Act.
The union’s release also said that at a meeting held with nurses on Wednesday, 18 August 2021, the nurses decided to withdraw their services during this same period to protest the amendments, which have implications for their fundamental rights and freedom.