Highlights — 05 January 2016 — by Adele Ramos
More CARICOM countries should join the CCJ, says Belize PM, as he assumes chair of CARICOM

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 31, 2015–Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow assumes chairmanship of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the start of the New Year, 2016.

Barrow—Belize’s first Prime Minister to win three consecutive terms in office and who also served as chair of CARICOM from January to June 2009—will assume the rotating chairmanship from Prime Minister of Barbados and Chair of CARICOM, the Rt. Hon. Freundel Stuart, for a period of 6 months, from January to June.

“[Stuart’s] guidance during the past six months has been highly appreciated by his colleague Heads of Government,” Barrow said in his incoming message.

Barrow called on more CARICOM countries to join the region’s indigenous court, the Caribbean Court of Justice, which has been Belize’s final appellate court since June 1, 2010.

“A significant element of his resolution as the New Year dawns is encouraging more Member States to join Belize, Barbados, Dominica, and Guyana in making the Caribbean Court of Justice their final court,” a statement from the CARICOM Secretariat noted.

“During my stewardship of the Community, I look forward to more Member States joining the four of us in the Appellate Jurisdiction of the CCJ,” Prime Minister Barrow said.

The CCJ operates under both an appellate and original jurisdiction. This year, it ruled on the historic Maya land rights case, leading to the resolution of a decades-long dispute by getting the parties to work out a consent order while the court held its first itinerant sitting here in Belize.

Under its original jurisdiction, the court is also hearing a challenge by Jamaican national, Maurice Tomlinson, LGBT activist, challenging the immigration laws of both Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, which, he argues, restrict his right to freedom of movement due to him as a CARICOM citizen.

During its sitting in Belize, the CCJ this year also agreed to hear Belize’s first death penalty challenge and its first criminal appeal from our jurisdiction in the case of Gregory August.

The sitting of the CCJ in Belize provided Belizeans, including scores of interested parties in the Maya land rights case, with a rare opportunity to witness courtroom proceedings without having to travel overseas, which would not have happened had Belize kept the Privy Council as its final appellate court.

“The Court brings a regional ethos to judicial decisions and lessens the cost of appellate litigation for those countries which no longer have the Privy Council as their final Court,” CARICOM’s 2015-2019 Strategic Plan says, pointing to “the slow rate of accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its appellate jurisdiction.”

In his remarks, Barrow expressed enthusiasm for the continued implementation of that 5-year Community Plan and for increasing the pace of CARICOM’s wider reform.

“We will be making our governance arrangements more flexible and dynamic. We will be continuing efforts in the coming year to revise those arrangements for our integration movement to become more effective and relevant to the needs of our people,” said Barrow.

He also emphasized the strength in unity in achieving CARICOM’s plans, mentioning as an example the manner in which it rallied to attain the objectives of the three major international conferences in the past year, most recently at the COP 21 climate change conference held in Paris, France.

“The binding decisions taken on Financing for Development, the 2030 Development Goals and Climate Change, have great potential to boost our growth and development and bolster our resilience. It is therefore in our interest to use our coordinated foreign policy to advocate at every opportunity for urgent implementation of those decisions. In so doing, we will be seeking the support of our International Development Partners, as well as other Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS),” Barrow stated.

CARICOM Secretary General, His Excellency Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, is scheduled to visit Belize next week, as Belize—a member of CARICOM since May 1971—takes over leadership of the regional organization.

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