Opposition parties have concern with Anti-Terrorism Bill

ROSEAU, Dominica, Aug 21, CMC – Dominica’s two main opposition parties have expressed concern at the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill as the government says it is now in the process of reviewing recommendations and comments on the legislation.

Both the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) and the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) say they have written to Attorney General Levi Peter within the stipulated deadline for recommendations and comments.

Peter, speaking on the state-owned DBS radio last week, said that the comments which were received before the deadline will be addressed and, if they are believed to be suitable, will be applied to the Bill.

“The deadline has passed. The comments that were received have been addressed and will be responded to or addressed in the coming days and weeks… It’s being dealt with,” Peter said.

He confirmed that there were “comments received from a few entities” and that acknowledgments had been sent out and that it is “an indication that their comments or their recommendations have been reviewed and if deemed appropriate, will be taken on board”.

But the UWP said it had submitted its position in a letter dated July 25, two days ahead of the deadline given by the government.

In its letter, the opposition party said the proposed legislation “in its published form, contains several provisions that by their intent, effect and purpose, collide with several of the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution of Dominica”.

The UWP argued that the “provisions respecting investigation of offences also have implications for privacy rights,’ noting that “it is well established that the constitutional thresholds for limiting expressed human rights are very high”.

The parliamentary opposition said that it has been well established that “human rights are universal, intrinsic, interdependent and inalienable,” and “in the event of a conflict between Dominica’s human rights obligations and its obligations under the terrorism related treaties, Dominica is bound to give priority to its human rights obligations.”

The party also states that the Bill contains two different definitions of “terrorist act” and that there is need to reconcile the two.

“Additionally, the definition of “terrorist act” as set out in clause 3 of the bill is very broad. The resulting offences would be far reaching to capture public meetings, protests, demonstrations, stoppages of work and other lawfully held dissent actions accepted as legitimate means of ventilating grievances in a democratic society, as well as target legitimate opposition parties,” the UWP wrote in its letter.

It said that this is ‘extremely troubling having regard to the proposed penalties…which are very significant” given the labels used by government ministers to label the opposition parties.

The party said that the proposed legislation could be improved if the confusion “respecting the definition of “terrorist act” is removed” and that “more importantly, there is the need to clarify the context in which the offences are committed”.

For its part, the DFP in its July 13 letter, “given the present climate of extreme political mistrust in our country, it would be wise for the Government of Dominica to seek to place sufficient “guarantee” clauses into the Anti-terrorism Bill including those like the one above, in order to allay fear associated with political mistrust.  It is better to seek peace than to create contention”.

The party said that it was also concerned about the measures relating to the detention of people under the proposed legislation.

“This is of concern to everyone, because of the possibility of being arrested under the wide provisions….Under our constitution, there is a limit of 72 hrs that one can be detained without being brought before the court and given the opportunity to be heard.”

Section 43 of the Anti-terrorism Bill allows a police officer (with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecution) to go before the Court ex parte and obtain a detention order.

“We recommend that this section of the bill be adjusted and the provision be made consistent with what is required in the constitution,” the  party said, noting also that the proposed legislation also allows for persons to forthwith disclose information that they have that can assist in the prevention of a terrorist acts or in securing the arrest or prosecution of another person of an offence under the Act, or any offense under any other law and which also constitutes a terrorist act.

“The Bill notes that a person who fails to comply with this is guilty of an offence.  It should be noted firstly that many people could be charged under this section given the wide exceptions to protest and demonstrations as discussed previously.

“Secondly, the act does not allow for the protection of persons who may wish to provide information yet it obligate persons to make such disclosures. Some person may be reluctant to provide information due to fear for their safety. We recommend that this provision be reviewed in relation to how such matters may be best addressed,” the DFP said.

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