Country matters

| 11/07/2008

By Gordon Barlow – Posted Friday, 11 July 208

Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins by
saying, everyone has the right to take part in the government of
his country.
  However, Cayman is not a “country” as the
United Nations uses the word, and nor are Britain’s other overseas
territories. We are not nations. We are parts of the “country” of
Britain.  So the right to take part in the government of our
country means we have the right to vote in Britain, and the right of
equal access to public service there. Fancy that!

Gibraltar is also a British Overseas Territory, with an FCO-imposed
constitution much the same as Cayman’s. Yet in Gibraltar, a mere six
months’ residence is enough to establish the right to vote. I don’t
think the residents of Gibraltar can vote in UK elections, but they do
vote in European Union elections as part of a specified English
electorate.

Gibraltar’s six-months-residence qualification was set by the European
Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled, in effect, that every genuine
immigrant is entitled to vote in the local elections of his own little
section of “his country”. He has the same rights as a new resident of
any small town on the mainland of Britain, who is of course entitled
to vote in his local elections. Why isn’t this ruling followed in
Cayman? Why do our immigrants have to wait twenty or thirty years
before being allowed to vote?

For centuries (since 1713, in fact), Gibraltar has been a crucially
important British naval base, but in today’s world it simply isn’t as
important as it used to be. With regard to all the overseas
territories, the FCO determines each one’s importance to Britain’s
national interests (as interpreted by the FCO), and in these days of
the European Union, Cayman is reckoned to be of greater strategic
value than Gibraltar.

Our offshore tax-haven and financial centre are vital to British
national interests inthe Caribbean region. We residents of Cayman are
in the happy position of being allowed to benefit from this situation.
We have a surfeit of excellent jobs, and our standard of living is
high. The price we pay for this comfort is 1) we have to stay a part
of Britain, and 2) we have to leave it to the FCO to decide what
access we have to the fundamental human rights set out in the
Universal Declaration.

In Cayman, Article 21 is flouted openly and unapologetically. It may
seem surprising, but the FCO is on many issues actually on the side of
the anti-human-rights people here. There is some huffing and puffing
at the moment by the FCO’s Parliamentary oversight committee, but
that’s just for show. 

Article 21 declares, the will of the people shall be the basis of
the authority of government.
But in respect of Cayman and its
local government, the FCO has not wanted this to include the will of
first-generation immigrants. There won’t be universal and equal
suffrage
in the foreseeable future.

It’s interesting to speculate whether Britain will ever follow the
lead and logic that France exercises in respect of its overseas
territories. In St Martin, French Polynesia and the rest, the
residents have no separate colonial status to speak of. They can and
do vote their own respective local Island legislatures, as well as
electing their own representatives to the French Parliament in Paris
and to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Until that happens in Cayman – or until we become independent, and
therefore officially a “country” – Article 21 of the Universal
Declaration is likely to remain a dead letter in these Islands, pretty
much.

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