US will not lift sanctions on St Lucia without credible progress
CASTRIES - The United States has made it clear to the new government in Saint Lucia that the ongoing failure to bring to justice those responsible within the local police force for gross violations of human rights prevents the US from reconsidering the sanctions imposed on the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) under the Leahy Law.
“We have made it clear to the current Saint Lucian administration and prior administrations that the government of Saint Lucia’s failure to bring to justice those responsible within the RSLPF for gross violations of human rights through credible judicial processes and prosecutions, where appropriate, prevents the United States from reconsidering the suspension of assistance to the RSLPF,” a State Department official said on Tuesday.
As a result of “credible evidence of extrajudicial killings of 17 people in 2010-2011 by the RSLPF”, the US Department of State suspended assistance to the local police and cancelled the visas of a number of senior police officers, denying them travel to the US.
“In accordance with Department policy and US law, those foreign security force units credibly implicated in gross violations of human rights are ineligible for US assistance, unless the Department determines and reports that the host government is taking effective steps to bring those responsible to justice,” the State Department noted.
Newly elected Saint Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet recently returned from a controversial “courtesy call” on US Ambassador Linda Taglialatela in Bridgetown and announced plans to establish a tribunal, with one member from Britain, one from the EU, one from the US and two from Saint Lucia, to look into the matter and present a road map moving forward.
“We are encouraged by Prime Minister Chastanet’s statements that he is considering the establishment of a tribunal or other forum in which to address the credible allegations of extrajudicial killings committed by RSLPF personnel,” the State Department spokesperson added.
However, some local observers consider any such tribunal to be mere window dressing by the Chastanet administration and would still not represent any tangible progress towards prosecuting anyone for those crimes, as the US demands.
Meanwhile, recent reports of the brutal rape of a British doctor while on vacation in Saint Lucia have raised concerns over the safety of visitors to the island and whether the US and Britain may be prompted to issue a travel warning to their citizens.
Sexual assault and violent crime generally is an ongoing problem in the island, a situation that was publicly acknowledged by former prime minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, who claimed there were serial rapists on the loose in the island, but nothing of any significance appears to have been done about the situation.
In particular, there are currently over 400 unsolved murders in Saint Lucia – an island with a population of just 180,000 in a close-knit community. This ratio is almost four times higher than that in the US since 1980 and, in Britain, which recorded 537 homicides in 2013/14, would equate to some 140,000 unsolved murders – something that would produce public outrage in the UK if there were a total of 140,000 murders in recent years, let alone unsolved ones
In this regard, the State Department said it has no higher priority than the protection of US citizens overseas.
“An important part of that work is keeping US citizens informed while traveling, working, and living abroad. The State Department uses a variety of information tools, including country specific information, travel alerts, travel warnings, emergency messages, and security messages through Facebook, Twitter, and the smart traveler enrollment program (STEP) to keep US citizens up to date. We continue to monitor conditions through our embassies and consulates across the world and will use these tools as necessary to keep US citizens informed,” a State Department official said.
However, the country specific information published by the State Department in relation to Saint Lucia hardly reflects the gravity of the situation and says merely:
“Crimes, including murder, rape, armed robbery, petty street crime, automobile break-ins and burglary, do occur. Do not leave valuables unattended in public areas, unsecured hotel rooms or in rental homes.”
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) current travel advice in relation to crime in Saint Lucia is equally out of touch and states:
“Most visits are trouble-free, but there have been incidents of crime including murder, armed robbery and sexual assault. You should maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as you would in the UK and make sure your accommodation is secure.”
The FCO also responded that it continues to monitor the situation in Saint Lucia carefully and claimed that its current travel advice already makes reference to the risks associated with travelling to Saint Lucia, and advises sensible precautions, but at the same time acknowledges that tens of thousands of UK citizens visit Saint Lucia each year and return without incident.
“The Foreign Office constantly reviews its travel advice to ensure that it is up to date, and that it accurately reflects the risks to UK nationals travelling to particular countries,” an FCO spokesperson said.