CCJ President praises Caribbean jurists for their “outsized role” in international law

The Honourable Mr. Justice Adrian Saunders
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(CMC) PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders, says the Caribbean has always played an “outsized role” in the field of international law as the region recognised five Caribbean judicial officers and legal professionals who have made significant contributions to the development of international law.

Speaking at the first ever Eminent Caribbean Jurists Gala and Awards Ceremony here on Monday night, Justice Saunders said it is not by accident that the realm of international law had identified as the first area in which the jurists would be honoured.

The event was organised by the Caribbean Court of Justice Academy for Law, the educational arm of the Trinidad-based CCJ and was established to, among other things “promote the recognition of judges and other legal practitioners who have made a consequential and lasting contribution to Caribbean jurisprudence, and to memorialise that contribution”.

The Guyana-born former Secretary General of the London-based Commonwealth group, Sir Shridath Ramphal, the Jamaican judge Patrick Robinson from the International Court of Justice; Trinidadian justice Anthony Lucky of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea and Guyanese nationals, Ambassador Dr Bertrand Ramcharan of the United Nations Refugee Office and Professor Duke Pollard, who served as a judge on the CCJ, were the five jurists honoured.

Justice Saunders said the CCJ, established to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court, has a special relationship with international law and that quite apart from its work as a final appellate court, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas mandates the Court’s judges to apply “such rules of international law as may be applicable” when interpreting the Revised Treaty which governs the regional integration movement, CARICOM.

“But even beyond this responsibility, we at the CCJ are forever conscious of the fact that international law is of the most profound value to the people of this region. In the first place, it is international law that paved the way for the countries of CARICOM to free themselves from the grip of colonial rule.”

Justice Saunders said it is international law that secures the region’s integrity as mini-States in a “volatile world” and that it also provides a framework for states like Guyana and Belize to resolve border disputes, with far more populous and powerful neighbouring states, “in ways that are peaceable, respectful and based on predictable rules.

“It is to international law that we must turn if our small and vulnerable island states are to meet the existential threat posed by climate change. It is an international legal order that allows my own country, of only 110,000 souls, proudly to take its place, in January next year, as a member of the UN Security Council alongside and with the same single vote as the mightiest nations on earth,” The St. Vincent and the Grenadines born jurist noted.

But he said, come to think of it, the Caribbean has always played an outsized role in the field of international law, noting how he had been struck “by the leadership young Jamaica gave to the world in re-igniting the global debate on international human rights throughout the 1960s”.

He recalled also it was Jamaica’s then UN Ambassador, the late Sir Egerton Richardson, whose “unstinting efforts and dynamism guided the world community” as Jamaica became the main broker of progress in UN human rights diplomacy from 1962 to 1968.

Justice Saunders said that the respect and acclaim the international community has had, and continues to have, for Caribbean jurists have continued un-abated.

“How many of our students here assembled know that Trinidad and Tobago’s A.N.R. Robinson first proposed and was instrumental in the creation of the International Criminal Court? Or that one of our honourees today, Sir Shridath Ramphal, headed the Commonwealth as Secretary General for three consecutive terms, from 1975 – 1990 during which time he deftly shepherded the Commonwealth’s efforts to end apartheid and minority rule in Southern Africa? Sir Shridath is, and I venture to suggest will forever be, the longest serving Secretary General of the Commonwealth. “

He said there are many other examples of the Caribbean playing a leading role in international law, recalling that in the early part of this century, the UN had two international tribunals trying suspected war criminals for crimes against humanity.

“One tribunal was based in Europe, the other in Arusha, Tanzania. These courts were staffed by some of the finest judges in the world. At one point the President of the one in Southern Africa was The Right Honourable Sir Dennis Byron of St Kitts and Nevis while simultaneously, the President of the one in The Hague was a Jamaican, His Excellency Judge Patrick Robinson, another of our honourees tonight. “Ironically, at that precise time, when the international community was recognizing the brilliance of our Caribbean jurists and was grateful to have them lead these important tribunals, many in the Caribbean were and some are still entertaining doubts about the capacity of the Caribbean Court of Justice,” Justice Saunders said.

He said this is why the award ceremony has taken on added significance, noting “it is not enough for our outstanding jurists to be acknowledged and recognized outside the Caribbean.

“Here, in the lands of their birth, we must promote them. We must extol their glorious accomplishments, their struggles and trials, the manner in which they overcame adversity, the nature of the obstacles they had to cross.

“This is a responsibility that goes way beyond complimenting and eulogising them. It does much more. An essential source of the strength of any civilisation is an enduring awareness of the history of the struggles and achievements of its people.”

Justice Saunders said that succeeding generations “must never blithely take for granted the institutions, the gains, the rights they enjoy, blissfully unaware or uncaring of the fact that these are all precious legacies; hard won fruits of the sweat and sacrifice and struggles of people like our honourees.

“Without that appreciation, we will always be at risk of undervaluing our potential as a people, of lacking confidence in our abilities, of thinking and expecting that others must do for us what we are perfectly capable of doing for ourselves,” he added.

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