The Organization of American States (OAS) has asked the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) to withdraw an application asking the High Court to order a member of the OAS team that observed the December 2015 general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to testify in the election petitions case.
The OAS, however, has not asked the NDP to withdraw the election petitions, as General Secretary of the ruling Unity Labour Party, Sen. Julian Francis said on his radio programme on Star FM Tuesday night.
The High Court will hear on Friday the petitions that the NDP has filed challenging the results in Central Leeward and North Windward.
Thgovernmenttn has signalled its intention to ask the court again to throw out the petitions on procedural groudsn. A similar applicaiton in March was rejected as “premature”, even as the judge said it is bound to succeed if made at the beginning of the trial.
The NDP had asked the High Court to summon Melene Glynn, a member of the OAS team that observed the elections, to testify in the cases.
But Sarah Davidson Ladly, an attorney in the Department of Legal Services at the OAS, told lawyer and senator for the NDP, Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell in an email that Glynn is protected by diplomatic immunities and cannot be summoned to testify.
“We kindly request that this petition be withdrawn in consideration of the privileges and immunities of the OAS and of Ms. Glynn in her capacity as a duly accredited member of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission,” Davidson said, referring to the NDP’s application for a summon, rather than the election petitions themselves.
“As discussed, the OAS and its General Secretariat enjoy certain privileges and immunities granted by the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines pursuant to the Agreements referenced below, including immunity from judicial proceedings. As such, the General Secretariat of the OAS, its staff, and the duly accredited members of its Electoral Observer Mission may not be compelled to provide testimony in a court of law,” Davidson said.
She, however, said there seems to have been a “misunderstanding” regarding Glynn’s availability to provide testimony in this case.
The NDP had earlier said that Glynn was willing to give testimony in the case.
Davidson, however, noted that Glynn was present during the General Elections in SVG as an accredited member of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission and therefore enjoys the privileges and immunities extended to the General Secretariat.
“Accordingly, the OAS may not send Ms. Glynn, or any other member of the Observation Mission, to provide testimony regarding their work as members of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission.”
Davidson, however, said that the OAS “understands the importance of a democratic electoral process and may provide the High Court of Justice with a copy of any of its publicly available documents, including the final written report of the Electoral Observation Mission to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which includes Ms. Glynn’s and other members of the Observation Mission’s observations.”
In its final report released two weeks ago, the OAS said the returning officer for Central Leeward, Winston Gaymes, was biased toward the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) during the final count in that constituency on Dec. 10.
The OAS further raised concerns about the incorrect application of seals on ballot, and the absence of the presiding officer’s stamp and initials on some ballots.
The NDP said the report corroborates some of the claims that it had made about the final count.
However, the OAS also said in its report that notwithstanding its concerns, its observers “did not discern any fraudulent or other activities at the Final Count which could have materially affected the outcome of the vote in which the ULP candidate won by 313 votes.”
NDP President and Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace has noted that the report did not say that there was no election fraud.
In an email to iWitness News on Wednesday, the NDP noted that the OAS has not asked the NDP to withdraw its elections petitions.
“What the OAS lawyer has said is that it is their understanding that a petition has been filed with the High Court of Justice of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines requesting that it issue a summons for a member of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ms. Melene Glynn, to testify in respect of the exercise of her functions as an OAS electoral observer in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. We kindly request that this petition be withdrawn…’
“The ‘petition that they are referring to in that sentence is obviously the NDP’s motion/application to have the OAS Observer Ms Melene Glynn testify at the trial. That is what they have asked that the NDP withdraw,” the NDP said.
The party said that in explaining why they ask for withdrawal of the application/motion for Glynn to testify, the OAS cites the agreement regarding privileges and immunities which it signed with the government before the elections, which is the standard agreement that the OAS enters into with countries before doing an observer mission.
The OAS points out that under that agreement they are protected from testifying in the trial of our election petitions, the NDP said.
“Clearly the OAS is NOT encouraging the NDP or anyone to withdraw elections petitions. In fact they state in the email their willingness to provide the High Court with the Final Report in which they condemn the irregularities at the Central Leeward Final Count. The email states: ‘Please note that the OAS understands the importance of a democratic electoral process and may provide the High Court of Justice with a copy of any of its publicly available documents, including the final written report of the Electoral Observation Mission to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which includes Ms. Glynn’s and other members of the Observation Mission’s observations’,” the NDP said.