By Abiola Inniss LLB,LLM,ACIArb
There are few Caribbean legal writers who may lay claim to as diverse and interesting a career in the law as Justice Donald Trotman; Judge, Attorney, writer, poet, human rights activist and internationalist. Through his book ‘Waiting for Justice ‘ the reader is allowed a privileged walk with the author along a path which branches from the personal experiences of intimate acquaintances with colourful legal characters , to narratives on Human rights and International law. There is a range from localized Guyanese to International experiences and some focus on exceptional Caribbean events such as the 1983 Grenada crisis and the Cuban refugee crisis. The book is a collection of essays which explore the diverse and intricate interconnection of human rights, law, history and politics ranging from the years 1970-2008 and is a unique combination of insight, wit and acquired wisdom which progresses with the development of the book and the author.
The book opens with a tribute to Norman Cameron, a renowned Guyanese Cambridge University trained, and scholar virtually unknown to the present generation of Guyanese and includes quotations from Cameron’s writings on philosophy and politics. There is another tribute, this time to Samuel Wilson, whom the author describes as a scholar –lawyer who was murdered in 1971 and provides interesting material for those interested in the history of the legal profession in Guyana. The focus is turned suddenly, though not surprisingly to human rights (a subject which seems to be a passion of the author) and introduces the complex subject of human rights and politics in a discussion of’ Human rights in different political systems’
The chapter which deals with the Arab gulf situation as it unfolded in the seventies and eighties and offers the reader an historical background to the crises of the period and analyses the perspectives of commentaries offered at the time by international commentators, at all times legal acuity is demonstrated in the precise analysis and concise expression of thought on a challenging area of politics, international law and history. ‘Consideration of some legal aspects of the Cuban refugee crisis’ provides an historical view of international law as it applied in challenging circumstances, students of the subject will find the discussion of extra-territoriality and diplomatic immunity as it applied to those circumstances quite instructive , particularly since legal precedent is integrated in the commentary.
The author reveals a more personal, touching interest in the welfare of children, their human rights and the law, in the essay ‘Children of Guyana’ in which the reader experiences the poet, the humanist and the father all expressed in a poignant appeal for the bettering of their welfare. The cause of the elderly is not neglected and the former Judge and head of the national Commission on the Elderly describes his hopes for the development of a comprehensive scheme which will allow the elderly to enjoy golden years in the dignity they deserve.
An even more compelling offering is made as the reader is allowed the privilege of the story of the Grenada uprising in some notes titled ‘The Grenada story of truth and reconciliation, part 1) in which the author’s experience as a commissioner, some of the findings and recommendations are detailed. The opening part of the epilogue to this narrative expresses the aspiration as follows “This story has been told so that Grenadians may know the Truth about the past in order to be reconciled now and for the future…’ Knowing the truth for the purpose of reconciliation is not an option but a Must’. (sub- quotation Fr. Mark Haynes)”
The Chapter Delay degrades punishment is something of a treatise in due process and equality at law, which is also a topic covered later in the writing. The judge publishes his preliminary ruling in the famous Guyanese case of Abdool Saleem Yaseen and Noel Thomas, March, 7, 1996 in which a civil appeal was made on the issue of the then Attorney General Bernard De Santos appearing as legal counsel. This is followed by his judgment of May 14 1996 in the Court of Appeal in which the same accused sought to have the judgment of Oslen Small J made in the High Court imposing the death penalty for murder on the basis of human rights violations during the period of imprisonment. The judgment sets out the development of the jurisprudence on the subject, the mandatory death sentence, delay in justice, the application of the provisions of the Guyana constitution and the commutation of the death penalty to the lesser sentence of life imprisonment.
In keeping with the theme the next chapter introduces the reader to the European convention on human rights and demonstrates its relevance to the English speaking Caribbean. It is a good analysis which gives some detail on the various systems with which the comparisons are made in establishing the relevance. It some ways this essay constitutes essential reading for students of human rights and international law.
The later chapters of the book discuss the subjects of peace and reconciliation and the author’s work in the field as President of the United Nations Association of Guyana and in other involvements of the same nature is clearly demonstrated in the philosophy, analyses and experiences related in these chapters.
There is little which can be said to deny the significance of the book as a major contribution to the Guyanese and Caribbean discourse on the range of issues which the author expounds and the reader is left with the feeling of having had an intriguing peek into the thoughts of a Guyanese scholar.