CASTRIES, St.Lucia Feb 22—For the first time in St.Lucia’s 37 years, the Government of France boycotted the national independence day celebrations here on Monday, over St.Lucia’s dysfunctional justice system and government’s failure to implement recommendations on alleged extra judicial killing by local police.
Media reports say that the French have decided to stay away from the celebrations at the request of the European Union, as part of sanctions on the island for its tardiness in resolving the implementation of recommendations of the IMPACS report on alleged extra judicial killings by members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
A French Embassy official last week confirmed that the French would not be part of the independence celebrations this year, but declined to comment on the reason.
However, there have been reports in the electronic and print media here that the European Union is bringing pressure to bear on the French to take some form of punitive action against St Lucia over the human rights issue.
There are reports too that the United States could also be involved in pressuring the French who have been supplying training and other forms of assistance to the Police Force following the decision by the United States to stop such assistance in the wake of the IMPACS report, and allegations that local policemen had unlawfully killed a number of persons during an anti crime drive, Operation Restore Confidence, earlier in the decade.
Last month, an EU delegation that included French Ambassador to St Lucia Eric la Moussaye held discussions with the St Lucia Government to register their concern over the government’s slow pace of action on the contents of the IMPACS report.
On that occasion, the St Lucia government gave the EU team a time frame within which it hoped to address the EU concerns.
The EU also has concerns about human rights in St Lucia as it relates to prisoners, including some Europeans, being held for years without trial.
At last month’s press conference Ambassador de La Moussaye told reporters that even without impacts St.Lucia’s justice system was a matter of concern.
“I have had many meetings with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice. My President has had meetings with the Prime Minister. The issue is a problem not only for the French. I think that if we succeeded on behalf of our French citizens we would succeed for others who are for many years in prison,” he said.
Reports suggest that there are some six French citizens in prison here, including an Eric Sommier who has been incarcerated here without trial for more than four years following a boating incident. The French Ambassador told the media during the press conference that his Government could “no longer sit idly by and do nothing.”
An inquiry by this reporter has revealed that Sommier’s case is now expected to be heard at month end.
Meanwhile, increased expressions of national pride and love for country are some of the themes permeating the island’s 37th anniversary of Independence.
Apart from a slew of activities over the long holiday week end, the highlight appeared to be Sunday’s naming of the islands new Owen King EU St.Lucia Hospital, a 122 bed facility, described by Prime Minister Anthony as having the potential to be the most modern and sought after medical facility in the Eastern Caribbean.
“We therefore have a responsibility to our neighbours in the Caribbean as we search for new specialisation and for new treatment,” he told Sunday’s ceremony.
The hospital which incorporates energy efficiency considerations an EU policy priority, is expect to be officially opened later this year.
His call was also echoed by the Barbados based EU representative to the Eastern Caribbean Mikael Barfod who said that while the hospital was a gift from the EU, it was also an opportunity for the people of the Eastern Caribbean to secure modern health care.
Noting how impressed he was with the design and location of the hospital, Barfod added, “in an age of scarce resources and stifling energy costs in the region I am also very encouraged to note the many sustainable design features of the hospital.”
The EU is St.Lucia’s largest grant aid partner for development having allocated EUR 37 million toward the hospital.