Published on Friday, 10 November 2006 00:00
The remarkable recent outburst in the House of Assembly by Chief Minister Peter Caruana in which he disdainfully dismissed criticism of the judicial system outlined in the new constitution as an attempt to â€œAfricaniseâ€ it and to â€œtaint by associationâ€ the Rock's reputation as a law-abiding country, has rightly prompted a scathing response from Africans living and working in Gibraltar. They regard his remarks not only as offensive but also as racist and have prepared a petition which they will submit, not only to Caruana, but to the United Nations Rapporteur on racism. They also plan to petition the Pan-African Parliament, asking this body to raise the matter with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association .
They argue that Caruana should apologise publicly for his remarks.
Made during the marathon House of Assembly session which finally achieved consensus on the referendum on the draft of the new constitution, these are thought to have been directed at Chief Justice Derek Schofield who served on the bench in Kenya and is married to a Kenyan. Schofield has expressed doubts about aspects of the constitution in relation to the continued independence of the judiciary .
After the Chief Justice released to the media copies of a letter which he had sent to Caruana and to the Foreign Office expressing his concerns, the local Bar Councikl sought â€œclarificationâ€ and several international lawyers threw their weight behind Schofield's arguments. One of the latter was South African-born Sidney Kentridge QC, who appeared for Steve Biko and other anti-Apartheid activists during the years of white minority rule in that country. Biko was alleged to have been killed by the South African Security Police and Kentridge's former links with the dead were apparently disclosed by the Chronicle.
Speaking during the marathon debate - which VOX did not attend - Caruana is reported to have â€œstrongly criticised those who suggest that the independence of the local judiciary needs to be adjudicated upon by a lawyer who represented Steve Biko, and fought for the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa.â€
Caruana argued that it was â€œoutrageousâ€ that people were willing to deceive public opinion by claiming that the draft constitution was worse than the previous one in making the judiciary â€œmore interferable by the executiveâ€. Those saying this were â€œuttering rubbish.â€
His remarks astonished and angered local residents who consider themselves African by birth and have also provoked a response by Gibraltarians who have expressed their outrage at the racial outburst.
Although Gibraltar enjoys a justly deserved reputation as a â€œmelting pot' of races and cultures which sets an example of harmony that the rest of the world might envy, there are darker undertones of racism among a small section of the community - possibly as a shadowy reminder of the days on military rule when Gibraltarians were regarded as second class citizens and even they looked down on Spaniards working here as their inferiors.
Though no-one suggests that Caruana is a â€œcloset racistâ€, several Gibraltarians have made a point of apologising to Africans for their Chief Minister's â€œodiousâ€ remarks, VOX was told this week.
The decision to draw up a protest petition and take their complaint to the UN by the group of local Africans - which numbers Kenyans, Malawians, South Africans and Zambians among it members - follows a meeting last Friday. Part of a draft statement drawn up at the meeting (a copy of which has been obtained by VOX) reads:
â€œWe know that the people of Gibraltar are not racist and are appalled by any form of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. However we must send a loud and clear message to any closet or cupboard racist that we and the people of Gibraltar will stand up against any individual politician or organization seeking to use race against any group or individuals to advance their political arguments.â€
The draft adds that â€œthose of us from Africa are familiar with race being used as a means of silencing members of communities, foreigners and anybody who may hold different views.â€ It says that the sort of language used by Caruana â€œis the language of dictators to distract their citicens from issues that may be in the public domain.â€ Though the term â€œAfricanisationâ€ is not in itself derogatory the context in which Caruana used it â€œhas racial overtonesâ€.
â€œThe Chief Minister of Gibraltar is not just the Chief Minister of Gibraltarians, he is the Chief Minister of all other ethnic people living and working in Gibraltar. Africans living and working in Gibraltar have the same fundamental rights as other citizens and we would expect the Chief minister to be aware of the evils of any form of racism and intolerance. â€œ
â€œWe aim to organize a petition to the Chief Minister and will call on those who share our concern about his offensive comments to join us in sending him a message that he and closet racists are out of order and do a greater disservice to Gibraltar than anyone associated with Africa,â€ a spokesperson for the group told VOX.