Mon | Jun 17, 2019

David Comissiong | A Nobel Peace Prize for CARICOM?

Published:Sunday | March 17, 2019 | 12:13 AM

The 30th Inter-sessional CARICOM Heads of Government Conference ended in St Kitts on the February 27, 2019, with the staging of a press conference.

And guess what was the very first question posed to the head table comprising Prime Minister Timothy Harris, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque, and Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith by the assembled press corps?

Well, if you guessed that it was a question about the deadly military confrontation that is currently taking place between India and Pakistan in the skies above the disputed Asian region of Kashmir, you would have guessed correctly!

The journalist who was first off the mark wanted to know whether our CARICOM Heads of Government had discussed the dangerous breach of the peace that had occurred in Kashmir that very day and whether CARICOM was going to issue a statement on the matter.

As you would imagine, this question caught the CARICOM trio by surprise, but I would wish to advise them – and all other CARICOM leaders and officials – to expect to have many such questions posed to them in the future.

TAKING NOTICE

You see, ever since our CARICOM Heads of Government not only issued their January 24, 2019, statement on the crisis in Venezuela (declaring that the Caribbean is a zone of peace and insisting that a process aimed at a peaceful settlement of the dispute must be pursued), but also followed up the statement by enunciating these peace-seeking principles at meetings of the United Nations Security Council and with the UN secretary general, people all over the world have started to associate CARICOM with a ‘diplomacy of peace’ and to see CARICOM as the champion of a ‘zone of peace’ concept in international affairs.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that in a contemporary era characterised by conflict, tension, egregious breaches of international law and order, and the easy recourse to unilateral attack and military aggression, that the recent bold and courageous CARICOM championing of the principles of peace and dialogue has made many governments, institutions, and people sit up and take notice.

Indeed, since the publication of my recent article declaring that our Heads of Governments’ statements and actions in relation to the crisis in Venezuela constitute ‘CARICOM’s finest hour’, I have actually received letters making the case for the conferring of a Nobel Peace Prize on CARICOM!

No doubt, such a sentiment is a bit premature, but if our CARICOM is able to maintain its unity and courage and to so continue to champion the twin concepts of a ‘diplomacy of dialogue’ and the notion of the Caribbean being a zone of peace that it is able to facilitate a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the crisis in Venezuela, why shouldn’t such an achievement attract the highest international plaudits?

It is against this background, therefore, that I would like to draw to the attention of my fellow CARICOM citizens that this notion of a zone of peace is an international law concept that Caribbean leaders – both secular and religious – have helped to develop and champion over an extensive period of time and that it is, therefore, a concept and a philosophy that we Caribbean people could justly lay claim to.

ZONE OF PEACE

So let us embark on a brief examination of the history of the international law concept of a zone of peace.

The roots of the term ‘zone of peace’ are to be found in two 1971 international instruments that constituted efforts to extricate two regions of the world from entanglement in big power rivalries during the Cold War – the 1971 UN General Assembly Declaration decreeing the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and the 1971 Declaration of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, declaring their intention to “keep South East Asia free from any form of interference by outside powers”.

However, the term was given a more universal applicability when in 1978, the United Nations General Assembly held a special session devoted to disarmament and resolved to establish “ zones of peace in various regions of the world under appropriate conditions to be clearly defined and determined freely by the states concerned in the zones, taking into account the characteristics of the zone and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

And to their credit, it was the political leaders of the Caribbean who immediately took hold of this newly established general legal concept and engaged in a process of giving it concrete and specific content and applying it directly to our Caribbean region.

In October 1979, for example, at the Ninth Regular Session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, Grenada (under the leadership of late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop) co-sponsored a resolution that called on all states to recognise the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace “and to devote all their efforts in appropriate regional and international forums to the advancement of this concept.”

Subsequently, the Committee of CARICOM Ministers of Foreign Affairs – at their sixth meeting held in Grenada in June 1981 – reaffirmed its intention to have the Caribbean declared a zone of peace and established a working group to formulate measures to give effect to the zone of peace concept.

The Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) then got into the act, and in April 1982 they, too, adopted a resolution which urged our CARICOM Heads of Government to establish a zone of peace in the Caribbean, “including the ratification of any treaties which may be necessary to ensure this”.

Furthermore, with the return to power of Prime Minister Errol Barrow of Barbados in 1986, the drive towards the confirmation of the Caribbean as a zone of peace was given a tremendous boost when, in his July 1986 speech to the opening ceremony of the CARICOM Heads of Government conference in Guyana, the Barbadian national hero stated as follows:

“My position remains clear that the Caribbean must be recognised and respected as a zone of peace … I have said, and I repeat, that while I am prime minister of Barbados, our territory will not be used to intimidate any of our neighbours be that neighbour Cuba or the USA. And I do not believe that size is necessarily the only criterion for determining these matters. It is important to let people know where you stand … in what is a moral commitment to peace in our region.”

And finally, in the year 2014, our CARICOM member states joined together with other sister states of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States to issue the Havana Declaration, definitively declaring our region a zone of peace in which the core principles of self-determination, non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, and a commitment to resolve disputes peacefully through dialogue and negotiation would be rigorously upheld, and in which a ‘culture of peace’ would be assiduously cultivated.

To the credit of the current cohort of CARICOM Heads of Government, it is precisely these core zone of peace principles that they have advocated in their statements on the Venezuela crisis and in the ‘Montevideo Mechanism’, which they have proffered as a procedure for negotiating a peaceful and lawful end to the crisis.

Stay the course CARICOM! A grateful world will ultimately commend you for preserving the very foundations of the system of international law and for championing the indispensable value of peace.

- David Comissiong is a citizen of the Caribbean. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.