Freedom of Association

| 29/06/2008

Article 20 of the Universal Declaration is the one that in effect
declares the right of all peoples to self-determination.  It
freed all the European colonies after the Second World War, and it
guides the United Nations’ Decolonisation Committee today.

It approves Cayman’s current constitutional arrangement with Britain,
and Puerto Rico’s with the US, and Quebec’s with Canada. Equally, it
would approve any changes in those arrangements, as long as the
changes were fully agreed by both sets of peoples. In theory, it
approves of any community’s struggle to be free of an oppressive
central government. In practice, the problem is to decide exactly who in a community has the authority to exercise the right to

In Cayman, for instance, who gets to vote on the terms of its
arrangement? Who are “the people of Cayman”? Suppose the people of
Grand Cayman wanted one thing and the people of the Brac another.
Suppose one of those Islands followed the European Union’s policy of
allowing immigrants to vote and the other followed Britain’s colonial
policy for Cayman of limiting the vote to members of one particular
ethnic group.

What Article 20 says is, Everyone has the right to peaceful
assembly and association
and No-one may be compelled to belong
to an association

There is no guidance on how to interpret the words. As usual, that is
left to the signatories’ common sense and sense of fairness. It would
be silly to allow casual visitors to participate in a community’s
decision, and unfair to exclude long-term immigrants. In Britain, six
months’ residence entitles you to vote; in Cayman, the period is
upwards of fifteen years.

Article 20 was used in the USA in the early 1960s in support of the
argument that Black Americans should have access to full civil
rights.  Fortunately for the civilised world of the day – and for
the cause of fairness ever since – the argument won out, as it must
some day win out in Cayman.

The Universal Declaration is a set of ideals based on the doctrine of
fairness. It is only fair that an association of people have access to
the right to self-determination.  But it is also fair not to deny
long-term immigrants the right to belong to that same

The national interest (of real nations, that is) is the most important
factor in deciding which community is entitled to self-determination
and which isn’t. The US would not allow the US Virgin Islands to go
independent, or Hawaii; Britain might allow the British Virgins to go,
but not the Isle of Wight. Cayman? Cayman is in too strategic a
location for either Britain or the US to let it run wild – whatever
assurances we are given regarding our freedom of action.

An association is an organised joining-together of persons for a
common purpose. In most of the world, this includes employees, and
Article 20 covers their right to organise themselves into labour
unions. Employers too have the right to band together; our Chamber of
Commerce and the various trade associations are witness to our
governments’ recognition of that right. Labour unions are a different
proposition here.

Our status as a British colony allows the Foreign & Commonwealth
Office to adopt the premise that labour unions in Cayman might not be
in Britain’s national interest. The Immigration Law, in the general
power it gives to the Work Permit Board and similar, provides for the
deportation of migrant workers who might seek to start up a labour
union, or to join one. 

 Carlyle G. Corbin, St. Croix, Virgin Islands: Permit a
few clarifications on several points. The article indicates that
the United Nations Decolonisation Committee is guided by
Article 20 of the Universal Declaration (on Human Rights). In
fact, the Decolonisation Committee was created by General Assembly
Resolution 1654
of 1961, which states that its purpose was to
implement the Decolonisation Declaration of 1960. There was no
reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
There is, however, an organic link between a process of self-
determination and subsequent decolonisation, but it is not associated
with the Decolonisation Committee.

Earlier UN resolutions have addressed the issue of self-determination
in relation to non self-governing territories. As far back as
1952, Res. 635 makes reference to self-determination provisions
of Articles 1 and 55 of the UN Charter of 1945. The resolution states
that members of the UN should “recognize and promote the
realisation of the right of self-determination of the peoples of the
non self-governing and trust territories who are under their
administration and shall facilitate the exercise of this right by the
peoples of these territories according to the UN Charter.”

 There have been other resolutions to this effect, in recent
years on the universal realisation of the right to self-determination.

Finally, the article states that “the US would not allow the US
Virgin Islands to go independent, or Hawaii.”
  It is
important to note, however, that the USVI is not an integrated part of
the USA, as is Hawaii, which has achieved (albeit through
questionable means)
political integration with the US. Thus, the
USVI, and the six UK overseas territories in the Atlantic/Caribbean
have the inalienable right to self-determination under the UN Charter.
If the rule of law is to be respected, it is not for any of the
cosmopolitan countries which administer territories to “allow”
a legitimate self-determination to take place. It is for these
countries to facilitate the process, according to the internationally-
recognised standards.

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