Fifty years after Barbados and fellow Commonwealth Caribbean countries first boldly proclaimed their independence from Britain, a University of the West Indies professor is warning that colonial laws remain on the region’s statute books.
Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, David Berry issued the warning this morning as he addressed the opening of a three-day conference at the university’s Law Faculty entitled, Legal History and Empire: Perspectives from the Colonized.
He explained that “in some of the Commonwealth Caribbean countries, we have something called a savings law clause or existing law clause, and this means that any law in force before independence, that was not changed at independence, is saved and cannot be challenged by our local judges”.
Berry further pointed out that those laws had been allowed to remain in place even though “the Inter-American Court Of Human Rights has asked Barbados and some of the other countries to change these clauses in their constitutions”.
However, he noted that the indigenous people in Dominica, Belize and Guyana had successfully managed to challenge some of the laws governing them, while insisting that in general, “we need to come together to see how we can remove these clauses from our constitutions so that the region can truly go forward”.
The historic conference brings together UWI’s faculties of law and humanities, in particular the history department.
“We are looking at the history of the empires that have shaped the Caribbean, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Danish, English and American, and for the first time we are looking from the perspective of the colonized, and how they challenged the colonial system from a legal point of view.
“I believe the Caribbean is uniquely placed to host such a conference as we suffered the worst atrocities of imperial colonization, such as slavery, the slave trade, and genocide.
“We are looking at the effects of imperial occupation and conquest throughout the entire world, in places like Africa, New Zealand, Australia and North America along with the Caribbean and Latin America,” Berry added.
Other keynote speakers include UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, who was due to address the topic, Reparations: The Greatest Democracy Movement of the 21st Century, on Wednesday evening, and Maya Jasanoff, a professor from Harvard University in the United States, who will speak on, Sovereignty From the Other Side: A people’s History of British Rxpansion, on Thursday morning.