April 5, 2012
Our sovereignity and dignity must be respected

Thu, Apr 5. 2012

The incident concerning the arrest and manhandling in New York last week, of the Permanent Representative of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations, Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves, has sparked off ripples of reaction locally, regionally and on the international stage. After all, the arrest of a diplomat, fully accredited to the UN, is not an everyday affair and violates the principles of diplomatic immunity under which the diplomatic community is protected.{{more}}

In addition to the firm reaction by the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, other Caribbean diplomats at the UN have been standing by their Vincentian colleague. The Chair of the caucus of Caribbean Ambassadors to the UN, the Permanent Representative of St. Kitts and Nevis, has written to both the Secretary General of the world body, His Excellency Ban Ki Moon, and the Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN, Ambassador Susan Rice, voicing the concern of Caribbean governments over the issue. In addition, the Jamaican Ambassador has contacted the Chair of the African group of Ambassadors, seeking the support of African governments.

It is a pity therefore that right at home, the country whose sovereignty and dignity has been disrespected, narrow partisan politics is once more clouding our better judgement. So whilst our Government gets solidarity and support around the globe, some are busy here, pre-judging Ambassador Gonsalves, casting doubt on his word and integrity. How unfortunate!

In such circumstances, political leadership of the highest order is required to bring clarity to the situation and the nation needs to stand united in defence of its dignity. The most important thing about Camillo Gonsalves is not that he is the son of Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, but the fact that he represents this nation, us all, before the entire world. Any affront to him, any indignity he suffers, is an assault on our entire nation.

We may disagree as to how we should react to the unfortunate arrest and assault. Opposition Leader Hon. Arnhim Eustace, for instance, has made it clear that his party does not support legal action and prefers an “amicable settlement” of the situation. We are in agreement with Mr. Eustace that an amicable settlement is preferable. Appropriately worded apologies (in keeping with the gravity of situation) from the NYPD and the State Department, if offered, should be accepted. Legal action against the police officer should only be pursued if these are not forthcoming. It is not clear whether Mr. Eustace meant legal action against the United States, but the Prime Minister has clarified the issue by making it clear that his ‘beef’ is not with the government of the USA but with the police officer concerned.

One can also understand, the concerns expressed by the Opposition Leader over the cost implications of legal action. But to link this to supplies for the hospital, bills owed by the Government to the private sector and a host of local issues is besides the point, and may be interpreted as trying to score cheap political points.

Mr. Eustace is also on good ground to insist that here at home, we should be firm in insisting that our own police officers deal fairly and respectfully with citizens of this country. But that in no way deflects from the seriousness of the Camillo Gonsalves issue, nor does it absolve the Opposition Leader and his party from their responsibility to defend our sovereignty.

Our National hero died for that cause. We must be equally resolute in defending it, irrespective of which government is in office or whose son is our Ambassador.