Saturday, March 28, 2015

An Orwellian state of affairs-Is there any Justice in Paradise?

George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm is a cogent reminder of the need to be ever vigilant as ordinary citizens.  The book which is a political allegory, is based on Russia’s 1917 Revolution.  That revolution overthrew an autocratic system and put in place a set of people who were thought to be more benevolent with ideas for fairness, justice and prosperity. What started out as a promise of a free and just society became a brutal dictatorship and misery for ordinary people.  

In Orwell’s story-Animal Farm- the animals live for years under duress until they find the courage to strategise and overthrow the farmers, their masters. What began as a hopeful experiment ended in disillusionment with the pigs assuming leadership of the farm and enlisting the protection of the dogs. At the end of the novel, as the ordinary animals who do the majority of the work peer into the Great House, they can no longer differentiate between the pigs and the humans. Such became the behaviour and mannerisms of the new leaders that they only served to protect their own selfish interests.  

The most enduring line of Orwell’s novel is the saying, ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others’. It highlights the fact that many countries start out with peaceful and democratic ideals, yet inequality festers and the law is in favour of the most powerful. The pigs in Animal Farm demonstrate this point as they continuously changed and manipulated the rules to suit their needs. Such rules were reinforced not by the consent of the people but through brute force in the form of the well-trained dogs.  

Though written in 1945 Animal Farm has an enduring lesson for our societies. The rights of ordinary citizens are frequently trampled while justice is swiftly meted out when they transgress the laws they have no say in. In our Caribbean scenario, St. Lucia is presently facing a scandal of enormous proportions. A recent independent report revealed substantial evidence of extra-judicial killings by members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. No senior officials have been suspended or charged and families of the victims remain in the dark on justice and compensation.

In Jamaica, less than two weeks ago two policemen were involved in the shooting of an unarmed civilian who they claimed was resisting arrest. However thanks to video evidence the two were identified. Jamaica’s Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) issued a press release stating that one officer was charged for murder while the other was charged for perverting the course of justice. Had it not been for the video capture of the situation there would likely be no arrest.

One can only imagine how the family of the deceased must feel having his life taken so callously and unjustly. After years of police brutality and extra-judicial killings, Jamaica has managed to resolve some of these issues by appointing independent bodies to oversee wrong doing by law enforcement officials. A people cannot feel safe knowing that the authority of the state instead of being used to protect them is actually used against them in unjust ways.

Under the Constitution of Barbados the right to life is guaranteed except where a court imposes a death sentence for a criminal offence or in justifiable instances such as the defense of a person from violence, the defence of property or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained.

With the 50th anniversary of independence approaching and talks of completing the independence project by becoming a republic, Barbadians must critically reflect on what really is the rule of law and whether justice actually exist.

The death of Selwyn Knight is clearly an unconstitutional act. What is even more worrying is the glaring delay in justice, the lack of transparency and the obvious double standards in this matter. Were it a civilian who had pulled the trigger on two plain clothes policemen, justice would have been executed swiftly and severely.

However as Orwell reminds us, some are more equal than others. The lesson for ordinary Barbadians is not to become complacent as the animals in Orwell’s allegory did. By the end of the story with the treatment the animals received they became disillusioned and could not distinguish between their current leaders and their former masters. Having independence does not guarantee a free, fair and just society. We must be ever cautious that history does not repeat itself.  

May Mr.Knight and his family find justice !

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