ST. VINCENT:- Lawyers for the president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA), Nicole Sylvester, has written to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves giving him 24 hours to apologise for comments he made about their client or face court action.
Gonsalves, a lawyer, speaking on the campaign trail Monday night, said Sylvester, also a lawyer, is an activist for the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and that his party will oppose her participation in a local group monitoring the general elections next Monday, Dec. 13.
“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 Rights Association in St. Vincent because Nicole Sylvester is, for all practical purposes, an NDP activist and so is Jeanie Ollivierre. I want to make that plain, absolute plain,” Gonsalves said in Rose Place, Kingstown.
Gonsalves said the SVGHRA “inveigled” itself in the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism (NMCM) during the Constitution Referendum last year.
“…you can only have independent persons acting as observers or monitors. I want to make that point absolutely clear. …[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’s lawyers said that she is not an “NDP activist” nor is she affiliated with any political party and Gonsalves’ comments are defamatory.
“In seeking to allocate our client to your perception by alleging that she is an NDP activist and that she is incapable of monitoring the elections by inferring that she will be biased you are defaming our client’s professional reputation and her character, ethics and her oath which she upholds above all – without fear or favour,” the lawyers said.
“…our client Ms Nicole Sylvester participates in local, regional and international organizations where her fairness, independence in all matters and her upholding of the rule of law are viewed as a beacon for others and her viewpoints are heavily relied upon by these organizations.
“You are seeking to defame our client and in so doing attempting to deny and deprive her from being a monitor which will be a grave injustice…” the lawyers said.
The lawyers said their client “has always sought to uphold her oath to carry out her duties as a barrister-at-law without fear or favour” and has represented “persons on both sides of the political fence”.
“In the circumstances, our client requires from you as a matter of urgency (within twenty-four (24) hours) a full and unequivocal retraction and apology in terms to be approved by us, and an undertaking not to repeat these allegations.
“…If we have not received a satisfactory reply within twenty-four (24) hours hereof, our instructions are to issue a Claim Form. In the meantime, our client reserves all her rights,” said the letter from Caribbean International Law Firm, of which Sylvester is also a partner.
“Is the Prime Minister alleging that Ms Sylvester cannot act independently and that she will interfere with the election process?” the lawyers said.
They noted that Dominican Anthony Astaphan, who as counsel for the Ottley Hall Commission of Inquiry, “ought to be independent and unbiased”, has said that Vincentians should vote for the ULP.
The lawyers also said that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Colin Williams, held an office in the Labour Party.
They, however, said they do not doubt that the DPP has the calibre to do his job but said “the Prime Minister would appear to have double standards”.
They said that Sylvester, who has been president of the SVGHRA for about five years, “will continue to uphold justice for all”.
“She has served as a monitor in past elections and will continue to answer the call for fairness. She believes in the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and will not allow the Prime Minister or anyone to impugn her character, whether it is by political means or otherwise,” they said.
“Be always mindful that no man may be so high that he be above the law,” the lawyers added.