In May 2003, I voted to select a parliamentary representative for the fourth time in my life. However, this time my voting experience was different. While driving away from the polling station, an unexpected wave of emotion engulfed me and I struggled to understand why. Memories of the stories of people whom I had read about during this past year flooded my mind, and then I understood what was happening to me. I had, up too this point, taken my right to vote for granted.
For the first time since I became eligible to vote, the real meaning of the oft-repeated phrase “universal adult suffrage” began to dawn on me, and I began to appreciate the sacrifices made by others to secure this right for us. This phrase had a superficial meaning for me, and it did not nurture an appreciation for our system of government. It was not until I had read the historical accounts of life experiences under repressive dictatorships, while conducting research for various articles for this newspaper column, that I began to see the true worth of our system of government. Every 5 years, Barbadians get the opportunity to effectively demonstrate their confidence or lack thereof in their elected representatives, and regime change can occur in Barbados literally overnight and without violence.
The voter turnout in our recent elections was reportedly low. Perhaps active participation in the voting process would be greater if we were made fully aware of the contrasting repressive environments within which others are forced to suffer. Admittedly, such experiences may be challenging for us to relate to. We have enjoyed living under a working democracy for decades, while others have had to suffer for generations under a dictator, whose agents can forcibly remove them from their homes, and torture, rape, or kill them for any reason. We enjoy some freedom of expression, while others risk horrific consequences if anything that they do, say, or write can be interpreted to mean dissent.
I am therefore extremely grateful for our system of government. I have been writing these articles for almost one year now, and had I been living under a dictatorship, then ‘they would have come for me’ a long time ago.
Had I expressed ideas that could be interpreted as opposition to the government’s policies in Burma, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe, then I would most likely have been imprisoned, mercilessly tortured, or killed. There is general consensus among human rights organisations that these nations are currently led by the world’s most repressive regimes. Incredibly, the governments of China, Cuba, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria are members of the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission – a body responsible for monitoring and condemning any human rights violations in other nations, including Barbados.
Had I written favourably about Christianity in China, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Northern Nigeria, or Egypt, then I would most likely have been imprisoned and tortured.
If I refused to convert to Islam in the African nation of Sudan, then I would most likely have been tortured and killed, and if I were a woman or a child, then I would most likely have been sold into slavery. If I practised Christianity in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, then I would most likely have been imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced to death.
The atrocities committed by repressive dictatorships around the world are well documented. What then could Barbados’ response be to such governments? There are at least three responsible actions. Firstly, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs could be mandated to try to influence responsible governance in nations led by repressive regimes.
Secondly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could warn Barbadians that they risk imprisonment, torture, and death if they try to assist persons living under repressive regimes while visiting such countries. Thirdly, the Government of Barbados could lend or increase its support for any lawful international efforts that would provide relief to our fellow human beings, who are currently being tortured or slaughtered for doing things that we do lawfully and take for granted.