Small dots but big footprints: Caribbean Countries and International Organisations

Alicia Nicholls

Another daughter of the soil has been called to serve on one of the world’s most eminent and most important intergovernmental organisations. This time it is Barbados’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John who has been appointed Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr. Joy St. John, a medical doctor, joins a growing list of Barbadian and CARICOM nationals who have been called to serve in the highest echelons of some of the world’s most prestigious international bodies. Casting our minds a bit back in time, one would recall another Barbadian woman who made a notable contribution to public health issues at the international level. Barbados’ former Governor-General, Dame Ruth Nita Barrow, served as a nursing advisor to the WHO and the Pan-American Health Organisation for more than a decade. Though a midwife and nurse, Dame Nita had also served as President of the International Council on Adult Education in 1975 and 1986.

Outside of the health arena and more contemporarily, Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, former Barbados Labour Party (BLP) cabinet minister and well-esteemed environmental lawyer and negotiator, was appointed as a United Nations Assistant Secretary General. In 2010 she was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as Executive Coordinator of the UNCSD Rio +20 Conference. In the field of trade in intellectual property, Mr. Trevor Clarke is the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)’s Assistant Director General for the Culture and Creative Industries Sector. Further in the area of culture, Alissandra Cummins, the Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, is currently the Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO  (2011-2013) and had also made history as being the first Caribbean and female president of the International Council of Museums between 2004-2010.

We in the Caribbean often regard ourselves as small states. Indeed, by our geographic, demographic and economic size, we are. However, our contribution in international organisations, particularly on issues of greatest concern to us as small states,  should serve to us as a reminder that while we may appear as no more than little dots on a map, our footprint in these organisations often belies our size.  One would recall that it was Trinidad & Tobago under the leadership of then Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson which was instrumental in pushing for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Again in the field of law, eminent Jamaican law professor and former principal of the Norman Manley Law School, Dr. Stephen Vasciannie, served on the prestigious UN Law Commission whose mandate is the codification and progressive development of international law.

There are many others that can be listed but I have made my point. The ability of Caribbean people to assume and function effectively in these key positions and the faith that other nations have put in the representation of our nationals stand as testament and vindication of the solid investment that our governments have tended to put in developing our greatest resource, that is, our people.

I wish Dr. St. John all the best in her new position as she continues to fly our Barbadian and CARICOM flags high.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

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