Pardon confusion in Barbados

Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Photo by George Alleyne

When is an official pardon not truly a pardon; and how many times can government officially pardon some of its people?

That is the question lingering in the mouths of many Barbadians after Prime Minster Freundel Stuart recently announced his administration’s pardon of persons who took part in the island’s 1937 disturbances, which historians regard as the pathbreaker to several human rights reforms on this island, including the right to form trade unions, the right to vote and formation of political parties.

In no less a place than the country’s Parliament, the prime minister described the 450 persons who were slapped with criminal convictions for those protests 80 years ago, as leaders of Barbados’ current democracy and announced, that just over a week ago his Cabinet had “deliberated and took a decision to pardon all of those persons whose names and reputations were sullied coming out of the disturbances of the 1930s. I think that is a great leap forward for the families of all those persons named.”

One day after the PM’s announcement, the island’s leading social activist, David Comissiong, said that the nation’s elected leader was 22 years late because the process of a petition to the government of Barbados for pardoning the 1937 martyrs had begun in 1995 and completed in 1998 to coincide with an unveiling of a monument to the martyrs in Bridgetown.

Stuart’s announcement and governmental faux pas was on Feb. 16, and since Comissiong’s embarrassing reminder there has been no word on the matter from the Freundel Stuart administration.

For this reason, the questions on the mouths of Barbadians remain as to how many pardons are applicable to the same person and whether a repeat pardon is truly another gesture of forgiveness for the same perceived offence.

But Comissiong, who has been a thorn in the side of this government did not stop there and pounced on the opportunity to lambaste the Democratic Labour Party administration.

Accusing Stuart of playing games, Comissiong said, “surely he and the members of his Cabinet would have to be aware that these 450 Barbadians patriots had already been pardoned some 20 years ago — in July 1998 — by then Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands.”

“This is not the first time that this Democratic Labour Party government has played the trick of repeating (and claiming credit for) something that had already been accomplished before, he said, adding, “this DLP administration seems to have bought in to the notion that “Barbadians have short memories. That might be true of some of us, but I can assure Messrs Stuart and company that it is not true of all of us.”

Social activist David Comissiong.
Photo by George Alleyne

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