Two Barbuda islanders are bringing a legal challenge to the London-based Privy Council as part of their efforts to halt the destruction of their homeland to make way for a golf course and luxury enclaves for the ultra-wealthy.
The case is seen as a test for access to justice in the Caribbean and concerns the construction of a private jet airport constructed at the expense of pristine forest in the wake of a devastating hurricane.
The case is being brought by Barbudan land defenders, Jacklyn Frank, and John Mussington with the support of the Global Legal Action Network and pro-bono representation from Garden Court Chambers, 3 Hare Court and Sheridans.
The US developers ‘Peace, Love, Happiness’ (PLH) backed by billionaire John Paul DeJoria and Casamigos co-founder Michael Meldman’s ‘Discovery Land Company’ (DLC) are actively involved in the airport project; they contributed 5 million USD for construction as part of their lease agreement, which specifically states a ‘first class airport is essential to the success of the project’. DLC is also behind controversial developments in Loch Taymouth, Scotland and others in the US and Portugal.
In 2017, after Hurricane Irma devasted Barbuda, residents were forcibly removed off island by authorities while US developers were allowed in; swathes of forest were ripped out for the runway that would serve controversial luxury developments.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) will consider the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss a legal challenge on the ground that the land defenders lacked standing to bring such a claim.
While the JCPC will decide on whether the Barbudans had standing to challenge the airport construction, it will have ripple effects across the Caribbean in terms of whether communities have a right to protect their homes from colonial style exploitation and abuse by foreign developers.
Antigua and Barbuda are party to the Escazú Agreement, an international treaty signed by 25 Latin American and Caribbean nations, which requires broad legal standing in environmental cases. Last year, a group of UN Special Rapporteurs voiced ‘deep concern’ about the human rights implications of developments, including the airport.
Barbudan’s who have stood up to the central government and developers on the island have been arrested, subjected to legal threats including charges of sedition and labelled by the Prime Minister, Gordon Browne as ‘deracinated imbeciles’.
DLC are also facing community resistance to their projects in Portugal, at three sites in the US, in New York, Lake Tahoe and Montana, and previously in the Bahamas over the decline of a coral reef. A Scottish community group has formed to fight DLC’s “environmentally damaging, gated community” project at Taymouth Castle, which has already breached planning rules.
DLC’s employees include Jack Brooksbank, husband of British Royal Princess Eugenie, who works for their Portugal office. Members of the Barbudan community based in the UK are expected to attend the hearing to express their solidarity.
Jacklyn Frank, applicant, and Barbudan Land Defender said, “The decision to fight against the development of the private-jet airport on Barbuda was not taken lightly. But it had to be done… We, as Barbudans, were not consulted about this development. Our environment, our culture, our history, and our right to be consulted and participate in the future of our Lands have been totally ignored.”
John Mussington, applicant, and Barbudan Land Defender said, “Over 300 acres of land which supported our livelihoods and food security as well as providing critical ecosystem services were destroyed to make way for an airport. … Barbudans only became aware, after the fact, that one of our most critical sanctuaries for the deer and other wildlife, hunting and farming areas was destroyed. This goes against our laws as well as international treaties and expectations that are the norm in any modern society. We will not accept these abuses. We stand against the injustice.”
Jasmine Rayée, Lawyer with GLAN, said: “This case highlights the importance of Barbudans acting as stewards for their island. John and Jackie are bravely standing against the short-term interests of the central government in Antigua and foreign luxury tourism developers, which endanger the fragile ecology of this low-lying island in times of a heightened global climate crisis. The same US-based developers who have cleared pristine forest for this private airstrip are also destroying mangrove vegetation and natural dunes on the coast within an internationally listed wetland.”
Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, Director of GLAN, said: “Barbuda is enduring disaster capitalism in its purest form. The two Barbudans taking a brave stand are seeking protection for their community’s right to access courts, their last line of defence from powerful, land hungry developers who are destroying the social and ecological fabric of the island. International law is on their side and potential purchasers of luxury villas should take note of the legal risks and uncertainties they are buying into.”
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