Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL – Rule of law guarantees freedom

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We are often reminded that we are living in a global village with the consequence that what happens in other countries affects us in our neck of the woods, and that we should draw lessons from these events in order not to make the same mistakes.   It is in this context that recent events in Britain and the United States command our attention, if only because of related developments on the local scene.The Saville enquiry in Britain and the firing of General McChrystal by President Obama make the same point. The military power of the army is subject at all times to the overriding authority of the civilian power. The right to bear arms as a member of a defence force or an army does not give the military, however powerfully armed it may be, the right to disobey the civil laws of that country. So the British soldiers who shot unarmed protesting civilians are answerable in the first place to the ordinary law of the land.By parity of reasoning and principle, President Obama is commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces, as a matter of law and constitution; and as such, is the superior of any general in the United States. That is the impact of civil law of the United States, and it is an immutable principle on which all democracies are based. It is therefore the paramountcy of the rule of law and not the rule of weapon that principally guarantees our freedom. Disrespect, expressed or demonstrated, for the commander-in-chief therefore is the ultimate threat to the rule of law and is met with the severe penalty of requested resignation.It is just as well that all members of our disciplined forces, such as police officers, continue like their brothers in the other forces, to remember that they operate under the overarching principles of the rule of law. The strictures delivered by a High Court judge recently in a case where an accused walked free after an alleged beating at the hands of police officers, is, thankfully, a relatively rare event, but it is a careful illustration of the superiority of the law and legal rules, particularly during investigation of breaches of the law itself.The death of United States Senator Bird at the ripe old age of 92, until his death still a sitting member, should be a lesson to us about change and healing in human society. The senator who started out as a youthful member of the feared Klu Klux Klan, an organisation devoted to the hatred of Blacks, vehemently opposed the Civil Rights legislation in 1964, but ended up as a friend, supporter, and admirer of Senator Obama as Obama fought his way into the White House.Similarly, in the past three weeks, articles in NATION publications have been tracing the evolution of certain districts such as Belleville and Strathclyde from “apartheid Whites-only enclaves” into integrated areas where people of all kinds of ethnic backgrounds now live together under the protective umbrella of equality of law guaranteed by our Constitution.Clearly the law helps to change people’s attitudes, but it is now obvious that just as societies in Britain and the United States change and become more multicultural and multiethnic, our small island is undergoing similar changes in smaller and tighter living space.In order to maintain peace and good order as our society changes, we will have, like Senator Bird, to exercise greater tolerance towards our neighbours and pay more than lip service to the meaning of “loving one’s neighbour as one’s self.”The late senator came to see the light and to respect the laws which established and respected the rights of others. Each one of us, whether in or out of uniform, would do well to remember that. It makes for a better society.

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