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nicole sylvester
Human Rights Association president, lawyer Nicole Sylvester, says the group will protest any attempts to block it from monitoring the elections. (File photo)

ST. VINCENT: – The Human Rights Association in Kingstown says it will resist any attempt by the ruling  Unity Labour Party (ULP) to prevent its members from participating in a local group monitoring the general elections next Monday, Dec. 13, president Nicole Sylvester told I Witness-News on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Prime Minister and political leader of the ULP, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, told party supporters in Rose Place, Kingstown, Monday night that his party will inform the Christian Council that it will not accept the HRA as part of the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism (NMCM).

The ULP and the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) agreed in 2001 to have the Christian Council and NMCM monitor general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), in addition to regional and international observers.

Gonsalves reiterated on Tuesday that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) will send observer missions to the country and an invitation has been sent to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

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He, however, said that NDP activists, posing as human rights operatives, “inveigled” themselves inside the NMCM during the Constitution Referendum last year.

“I want to give a public notice that the Unity Labour Party will not accept as part of the monitoring exercise anybody from the Human Right Association in St. Vincent because Nicole Sylvester is, for all practical purposes, an NDP activist and so is Jeanie Ollivierre,” Gonsalves said.

Ollivierre, a former general secretary of the NDP, is the public relations office of the SVGHRA and is also responsible for education and training within the organisation.

“I want to make that plain, absolutely plain. They believe that when they go on radio … they think that when they talk that is reality. The reality is, you can only have independent persons acting as observers or monitors,” Gonsalves said.

He told party supporters that he has “spoken to the relevant person inside of our party to so communicate to the Christian Council on this matter.

“Nothing like Nicole Sylvester and Jeanie Ollivierre could present themselves as part of any Christian Council – National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism framework to do any monitoring. … You see, they don’t understand the importance of independence in an election and they do not know and understand the power of the Labour masses in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.

But Sylvester, a lawyer, who has represented both members of the ULP and the NDP in election matters, told I Witness-News that she was “shocked by the statement of the Prime Minister”.

“I am very strong in ensuring that democracy reigns,” she said.

“Clearly he has a difficulty with that but we are going to have a caucus meeting and any attempts to stop the Human Rights [Association] … and any attempt to say that I am an NDP activist, we will march and demonstrate on Friday in this country,” Sylvester said.

“…and by labelling me an NDP activist, I will seek to look at it and see if, in this climate, it is defamatory,” Sylvester said, adding that she is “not an activist for any political party”.

Gonsalves says opposition activist have “inveigled” the local Human Rights Association. (File photo)

“… certainly, if that is what he said, I need him to show me — I have never been to a political meeting, I have never stood on a platform,” Sylvester said.

She said that while she has deliberately stayed away from being involved in active politics “where the law is concerned, I am unshakeable and I have been successful”.

“When I … championed the cause of the Unity labour Party … everyone shouted I am Labour. Now I champion the cause of the oppressed, which happens to be the New Democratic Party … it is shouted I am NDP; but I will not be moved,” she said.

Sylvester said that in 1994 she represented Labour Party candidates Randolph Russell and John Thompson in court and the judge ruled that the elections were held in unconstitutional circumstances.

She further said that in 1998 she represented Mike Browne and several other ULP candidates who filed election petitions before the court.

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“I have always stood up for those individuals — the least in society — and I will not stop now. And for him to say that, he needs to look at my track record,” Sylvester said, adding that she was not “a card-bearing member of any political party”.

Sylvester was part of a team of lawyers who successfully represented Leader of the Opposition and NDP president, Arnhim Eustace, “to challenge the unconstitutionality of the Boundaries Commission, who was seeking to gerrymander and to whittle away the East Kingstown seat to ensure that [Eustace] would not have an equal chance to be re-elected”.

The team also used the courts to block the government from increasing the number of constituencies from 15 to 17, in keeping with legislations passed in Parliament this year.

“It’s an outrage. It’s an outrage,” Sylvester said of the Gonsalves’ statement.

“[This is] the very Prime Minister who asked me to be ambassador to the United Nations and I refused; who asked me to be in the High Commission in London. … He also invited me in the 90s to contest as a candidate for his party in the South Leeward constituency. I refused,” Sylvester said.

“We also have members of our executive who are … members and strong supporters of the Unity Labour Party … and that is not a concern to us because we believe that democracy must flourish. Their political persuasion has nothing to do with their rights as a human rights individual,” she said.