Are citizens of Seychelles’ civil liberties being eroded? | 23 July 2019
Let us understand our Civil Liberties before we look at any erosion taking place. Civil Liberty is personal freedom which the government cannot abridge, either by law or by judicial interpretation without due process. Civil Liberties include the freedom of press, religion, expression, assembly, speech, movement, privacy, equal treatment, fair trial, security and life.
There are other rights such as the right to own property, to defend oneself and the right to integrity. Our Constitution guarantees us these rights and to make sure we meet international standards Seychelles is a signatory to a number of International Human Rights organisations. If we are not happy with what is happening in Seychelles we have redress via a number of international bodies. Civil Liberties goes way back to 1215 when the Magna Carta was agreed and superseded the Charter of Liberties.
Some people have asked me to explain the passing of a Bill of Law because they are confused. Please allow me to try. When laws need to be passed by our National Assembly, careful due diligence should be applied to the process including holding consultations with the public and interested parties (white paper stage) before the Bill is gazetted, which is the first stage in the process of turning the Bill into law. Once the Bill has been gazetted it is then presented to the National Assembly. In the National Assembly the Bill is adopted by being placed on the Order Paper (Agenda) which is then taken through 3 stages in the National Assembly.
The first stage is called the First Reading which is a brief process of adopting as its document so that it is tabled as a document to be considered during normal business of the Assembly. The Second Reading is when members have the opportunity to debate the merits of the Bill. Technically this stage should not take place until a week has elapsed after the First Reading, but currently members have frequently voted to forgo this rule. This process is intended to allow the public to make comments to their MNAs or direct to the Speaker of the National Assembly, hence when this stage is abrogated, the public is deprived of an opportunity to influence the decision of their representatives. Although at the end of the debate members vote to approve the Bill, it does not mean the Bill has become law. The vote is only to keep the Bill for consideration during the normal business of the Assembly.
Once the principle of the Bill has been approved the next stage is known as the Committee Stage when the Assembly turns into a Committee to discuss the details of the Bill, the different clauses in the Bill and to make amendments. This discussion stage has no time limit and members, as well as the promoter of the Bill, can speak for as long as they want or as often as they want and to propose amendments to the Bill. After any amendments have been adopted by the Committee, the same Committee has to vote to adopt the whole Bill with the amendments, if any, so that it can be placed before the whole Assembly for approval to make it law without any further changes.
In the next stage, the Assembly reverts to its formal sitting in order to vote on the document the Committee has submitted when the Bill as amended becomes law of the land. However for it to be effective law of the land, the Speaker must sign an original of the Bill that has been adopted by the Assembly and send it to the President who must now sign it and give his assent to the law, which then becomes an Act. The President has 14 days to sign it or send it back to the National Assembly for reconsideration. The President has a say in the matter but he cannot vitiate the process.
Lately, the rush to get new laws into statute have meant that procedural short cuts have been taken in order to deny the public the opportunity to make comments or contribute, for fear that the public will want to make changes that would upset some special interest groups. As a consequence of such mad rush and haste, we have ended up with new laws that contain several flaws, despite the fact that there is a Bills Committee in the National Assembly, who is supposed to nit-pick every word and meaning in each sentence of every Bill to ensure that the letter of the law is clear of any ambiguities and misinterpretations.
I was awed and flabbergasted recently when the Attorney General, on SBC TV, said that the words in the law he was discussing could be interpreted in two ways. Come on, the English language can be very precise when used correctly so how come we have passages in our laws that can be interpreted in two ways? Do lawmakers write our laws with ambiguities so lawyers can earn money arguing black is white in court? May be, who knows? I have witnessed one particular lawyer argue for 3½ hours in court recently. It is a psychological fact that a guilty person will always put up the longest and the hardest defence to avoid punishment.
The Seychelles Human Rights Commission Act 2018
This Act contains anomalies which should have been ironed out before it was assented to. Section 17 (5) states that a warrant issued by a judge is required to enter and search a property. This could be a home of someone or an office where vital evidence are perceived to be in existence and since everyone has the right to privacy, only a judge can authorise entry and search of anyone’s premises or property.
Then in Section 17 (12) power is given to a Commissioner from the Human Rights Commission or any person authorised by him, including a Police Officer, to enter and search a home or office without a warrant, simply on the premise that a warrant would be forthcoming, which makes a mockery of the Seychellois Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom.
The Truth Reconciliation and National Unity Commission Act 2018
This Bill was rushed, in a cloak and dagger fashion, to the President in State House to assent before it had gone through its proper stages of debate, consequently there are so many anomalies which need to be addressed.The new Commission cannot just accept a mandate that violates our Constitution and other laws of Seychelles and our Civil Liberties and if they do they are committing a crime. The MNAs, in particular Honourable Flory Larue, were calling for the public on SBC TV to come forward with proposals for changes to the Bill or any new inclusions while at the same time the Bill was winging its way to the President to assent. Is this not an erosion and violation of our Civil Liberties? What do you think?
The people have the right to have a say in any law that is being debated by the legislature especially when there are glaring anomalies in the proposed law which gives the high ranking perpetrators a way out from being judged for their crimes. The Constitutional Appointments Authority (CAA) has chosen a foreigner to be the chairperson rather than a Seychellois and the President has washed his hands just like in the Gospel of Matthew where before condemning Jesus to death, Pontius Pilate washed his hands with water in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood”.
What is the point of sending a law to the President who just signs it and has no say, what kind of democracy is this? Both the Speaker of the National Assembly and the President have constitutional obligations and fiduciary duties to ensure that any law passed conforms with our Constitution and if in doubt they send it to the Constitutional Court for clarification.
The new Commissioners have put out a press document explaining their mandate and how they will operate and the first unacceptable part of their document is they are giving victims or anyone 6 months to submit their claim starting from 9 August 2019. We believe that anyone with any claim should be allowed to submit their claim for as long as the Commission exists. Suppose someone with a claim is not currently residing in Seychelles, which there are many, and only becomes aware of the process after the 6 months deadline, what happens then? What happened to justice and fair play?
The Commission says it has the same powers as the Supreme Court of Seychelles
This is not true and an insult to our intelligence. The judiciary of Seychelles is an institution created by our Constitution which is the supreme law. This Commission is created by an Act passed by the National Assembly therefore it cannot have the same powers as the Supreme Court which consists of highly experienced and qualified judges and the latter is the Third Pillar of our democracy.
This Commission has been granted the power to investigate, reconcile and compensate only. It has no power to punish or imprison anyone and should not attempt to break our laws in their activities. Even during interrogation, a citizen has the right to remain silent under our Constitution, same as the 5th Amendment in America and there is nothing the Commission can do to compel someone to speak.
Holding hearings in private
Before the Bill was whisked to State House, in the dead of night, to be assented to by the President, Seychelles Truth Reconciliation and Peace Platform (STRPP) had made its views known that holding hearings in private was a way to protect high ranking perpetrators from being properly judged for their crimes. Justice requires that the victims of any crime must be present to hear any evidence being presented by a court or by the perpetrator and the public has a right to be present to witness the process in a democratic society. Private hearing is a cover up exercise.
Payment of compensations
There is no question about it that SPUP/SPPF/Party Lepep/US is the same political party, same leopard, whose members committed unimaginable atrocities on the peaceful people of Seychelles and some of our citizens were driven out of their country of birth and their homes and properties were purloined and shared among friends and colleagues of this political party, therefore the tax payers of today cannot be made to pay compensations for the odious debt of this political party. This political party owns land and property they acquired after the Coup D’état and the years that followed, therefore they should be made to pay all compensations. This would be fair and just.
Furthermore Seychellois tax payers belong to different political parties so why should they pay for the misdemeanours of one political party and what about foreigners who pay taxes in Seychelles why should their money be used to pay for the greed and inhumane activities of the political party which committed the atrocities?
Granting amnesty to perpetrators
Granting amnesty for human rights violation is illegal according to Amnesty International, however where there is a need to forgive a group of perpetrators, established to have committed political crimes then a non-prosecution commitment can be made. STRPP disagrees with the notion that granting amnesty encourages perpetrators to come forward. This is hog wash according to our research. Let us not make the same mistakes other counties have made for example in South Africa amnesty was offered as a carrot for perpetrators to come forward but South Africa’s case is not the same as Seychelles and not all perpetrators came forward in South Africa.
Healing the people of Seychelles
The way matters relating to the resolution of our Coup D’état are being handled, the shenanigans played out during the creation of the law, the appointment of outsiders to manage the process, the way in which the Commission was formed, the anomalies in the mandate, this exercise will not heal the people of Seychelles one iota. It is in fact dividing us further because we are missing an opportunity to learn from past mistakes other counties have made in an attempt by some people to appease vested interest and hide their misdemeanours instead of saying sorry. Remorse and repentance must exist before forgiveness can be earned. Our nation is nurturing a deep and very old wound that only the truth, proper reconciliation and adequate compensations will heal our nation. The Constitutional Court must give serious considerations to the way this Commission was constituted. If not the wound will fester and this is not the legacy we want to leave for our next generation.
Barry Laine FCIM, FInst SMM, MCMI, MBSCH
Seychelles Truth Reconciliation and Peace Platform (STRPP)
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Seychelles NATION newspaper.