Stand up for human rights

Four persevere, finally welcomed to the Church
December 1, 2020
Christmas present… and in the past
December 1, 2020

Stand up for human rights

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

Thursday, December 10 is Human Rights Day. The theme, Recover Better— Stand Up for Human Rights relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring human rights are central to recovery efforts.

“We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.”

December 10 “is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity” (UN).

Pope Francis has made a “heartfelt appeal to all those that have institutional responsibilities, asking them to put human rights at the center of all policies…even when that means going against the current” (2018).

If we are to abide by Treaties we have signed; if we are to respect/promote the dignity of the human person and achieve the common good, we must embrace all God’s children.

The media rang to ask me what my feelings were when I first saw images of the Venezuelan children behind bars in a police cell. I must admit that I had become emotional.

I accept that T&T does not have the capacity/resources to accommodate millions of migrants who may wish to come to our shores. It is because of this that we need a clear, humane policy regarding how persons who do arrive seeking refuge will be treated.

Once we have porous borders, desperate persons will seek to come. And since those who traffic in persons seem to operate without being brought to “book”, they will continue to exploit the situation.

There are many questions to be answered e.g. Why are migrant children kept in police cells? What is the role of the Children’s Authority in such situations? Who made the decision to put the 11 women and 16 children, including a four-month-old baby, in the sea at night on the two unmarked pirogues to be “escorted” out of our waters by the Coast Guard without due process?

From which budget were the funds taken to pay the captains of the boats? Why was such action taken when it was known that the matter was before the Court?

T&T acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in November 2000. To date, these have not been incorporated into domestic legislation.

In the absence of such legislation, CCSJ makes a plea for the 2014 Draft Policy that was developed with the support of NGOs, such as Living Water Community, to be updated to inform procedures and practices that are humane, and to take into consideration the fundamental principle of non-refoulement.

As I think about the trauma that must have been experienced by those women and children in the cold and dark for so many hours, as well as those who have already made the perilous journey from Venezuela over the years, I recall the experiences of my ancestors.

Today, December 6, marks 162 years since my paternal forebears arrived on the ship, the Edith Moore, as indentured labourers in 1858, having spent 96 days on the journey from India to Trinidad.

Madaree (Hindu) was only 18 and Oozerun (Muslim) was 20 when they travelled with their fathers, Toffaney and Deana, to T&T as indentured labourers and were sent to Mt Plaisir Estate in Cunupia.

Today, their descendants, who are many, pay tribute to their resilience and industry. On the ship, they were supposed to receive a certain amount of food each day, but history records that this rule laid down by Britain was flouted with impunity. Their treatment during indentureship was often abusive and sub-human.

There were also those who came to our region as slaves. My maternal grandfather was the descendant of a Scottish plantation owner in Barbados and one of his African slaves. ‘Chattel slaves’ was the derogatory term used.

The history of the journey across the Middle Passage highlights the plight of the African people who were enslaved for hundreds of years.

So, being mixed, and having the blood of those who have been treated unjustly running through my veins, I have always been guided by the Holy Spirit to devote my life to build a just society/world.

The Venezuelans are not “less than”.

Let’s read Matthew 25:31–46 again.

Clearly, God’s word asks you to enjoy the present, not simply to prepare for the future: ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own; today’s trouble is enough for today’ (Mt 6:34). But this is not the same as embarking irresponsibly on a life of dissipation that can only leave us empty and perpetually dissatisfied…”

(147) Christus vivit (Christ is alive), an apostolic exhortation to young people from Pope Francis

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee