It was nothing short of awe-inspiring to sit in the home and the presence of The Honorable Stanley Moore – Justice of Appeal of the Republic of Botswana, Justice of the Supreme Court of Swaziland, Senior Justice (Retired) of the Northern Region of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and Senior Resident Judge (Retired) Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court – British Virgin Islands – for this interview.
Your profile is mind boggling to say the least. You have been part of the judicial system in Guyana, Swaziland, Botswana, British Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Grenada, have I left anywhere out?
St. Kitts, Nevis.
What was the hardest part of your process in your achievements so far?
People have asked me, what do you attribute to your success? And the answer is very simple. I regard myself as a persistent plodder. I have been inspired by many people. I have been assisted and mentored by many people and I am still being assisted and mentored now by many people younger than me, because I am a perennial student. I celebrated my 80th birthday on July 1st and I still feel like a ninth grader with a thirst for learning new things and acquiring new knowledge. The frontiers of knowledge are always receding. We never get there. Nobody is ever complete in so far as knowledge goes. All of the so-called geniuses that I have met have one characteristic in common, they are highly gifted people but they all worked harder than anybody else and I think one characteristic that I share with very successful people is that I work quite hard, and that, together with your God given talents which I attribute to my ancestry; my father, my mother and my ancestors going back, contributes to this. I think genealogy has something to do with it but that’s the gift and talent that you get and what next happens is what you do with that talent, or what you make of it. On my 70th birthday my younger brother Dr. Carlyle Moore, who is a professor of physics at Morehouse College in Atlanta summed up my life very well. He said, “He did the best he could with what he had.” That explains what I have achieved so far.
Who has been your biggest inspiration and why?
The two great inspirations of my life are my mother, the late Olive Isabella Moore, nee Walcott and my mother’s father George Agar Da Costa Walcott. If forced to make a decision between those two I would probably say my mother but my grandfather is the greatest motivator I’ve ever met. He was always pointing you upward. When I was 9 years old he would come up to me and say, “I congratulate you,” and when I would ask, “What for sir?” he would say, “For coming events my boy. Coming events cast their shadows before.” It was not until many years later that I discovered that that passage came from the book by Charles Dickens “Bleak House,” and that is only one example of the great depth of knowledge that my grandfather had.
He was a cobbler by vocation, but both of my grandfathers were outstanding figures in my life. One was a cooper and one was a cobbler. Each one, in his own way, implanted in me great lessons that inspired me. As I said, I benefitted from their genealogy. My grandfather was extremely well read and well-spoken for one who was in essence a craftsman. My grandmother, his wife, was a historian and when I turned 9 years old she started telling me about events that led up to the First World War, the assassination of the Arch Duke and so on. They had newspapers in their home from days when not too many homes had that. My two grandchildren read voraciously as well. This reminds me of the kind of voracious reading I did as a child. I read Grimm’s fairy tales nonstop without putting it down. I suppose that it is those little things that my grandfather noticed. For as long as I can remember I have always had the gift to articulate very clearly. This may have led to my career in broadcasting, drama and acting, and of course which led to my being presented with the Eric Crowther Shield in Lincoln’s Inn, London, England. I won that shield for being student advocate for the year.
You have heard very many cases I imagine. Which one stands out most in your mind?
That’s easy to answer. There is a case which I did recently in Swaziland. It stands out because it involves the Constitution of Swaziland, which is fairly new. The constitution only came into effect in 2005, so a number of issues calling for the interpretation of the constitution were now coming up for determination by the Supreme Court. I wrote the judgment. The reason why I take so much pride in it is not only that it called for the interpretation on such an important issue of the constitution but it also allowed me to express my views on the question of gender equality. In this traditional society of Swaziland there are lingering elements of feminine inferiority. They still have practices where, upon the death of a man, his widow is immediately set upon by his relatives and literally turned out of her home with her children and they literally seize everything that they have while the widow is left destitute and set adrift. Harsh as it is, it happens up to now, so I spoke very strongly and very vigorously about the views which I share and hold very dearly about the capacity of women, about gender equality, and against any form of discrimination whatsoever against women, simply because they are women. In fact, I am convinced that this millennium, if not this century, will see the evolution of women to their true position of leadership in the world, in every conceivable area that you can think of. The process is well on the way. In every university that you can think about, women have reached at least parity with the faculty as well as among the students and in many cases they have gone beyond parity. If you look at the grades which are now coming out you will find that the majority of the leading achievers are women.
In the year 2000 at the University of the West Indies in Mona, the then Governor General of the Bahamas Sir Orville Turnquest gave the feature address. He discovered that, of the graduating students, 28% were men and of the top 10 graduates, 7 were women. The same thing took place when my daughter was graduating from the Hugh Wooding law school. 10 prizes were offered. Nine were won by female students.
What are your views on what is happening in the Dominican Republic with the Haitians at this time?
It is a terrible thing! It’s a serious breach of international law. It is a savage and barbarous and barbaric retrograde action. It is racist. The Dominican Republic has a very racist pigmentocracy. They place great store on pigmentation. One of the tests that they apply to any situation is the light meter test to see how light you are. For them to pass such a law as they did with retrospective effect, to render those people who already had statehood or status as Dominican Republican citizens, those who do not technically qualify for state nationality, all those Haitians will now be rendered stateless. That this sort of thing is happening in 2015, is one of the most barbarous, retrograde, retroactive bits of state craft that I can think of.
Here is what happens to the migrant in any part of the world I can think of. The migrant does the jobs which are dirtiest, least well paid, dangerous, hard, uncomfortable, where people are exposed to the elements and literally, the jobs that nobody else wants to do. These are jobs that are usually turned down by self-respecting nationals. So when those Haitians went to the Dominican Republic, it was brute labor that they went to do and they provided a very necessary element in the labor market which benefited the economy of the Dominican Republic. But the world is becoming increasingly mechanized with robots being introduced and the hand labor of people is becoming less important, therefore, it is what I call a case of human jettison. People who are not now needed are just being dumped overboard, so to speak. This is what happened in the days of slavery where a ship with a cargo of slaves became overloaded. The ship encountered difficulties and what the captain did literally, was to dump the people overboard and then claim from the insurance for the loss of his cargo. Hence the expression – human jettison. That is what the Dominican Republican government is now doing to the people of Haiti, from whom they received a benefit when it suited them. If they were White people, I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that they would not have had this policy of expelling these people at this stage.
What’s the resolve in your mind, because Haiti is currently going through their fair share of challenges at this time? Do you see Haiti absorbing that number of people?
Haiti has had an enormous capacity for suffering. I can’t think of any country in the world which has undergone as much suffering as Haiti and this is from the time they had the impudence of defeating Napoleon and his army. They are still paying a penalty up to now for wresting their independence from imperial France. But if it comes to them absorbing these people they will. I think they have the magnanimity in their hearts to do so. One of the odd things about poverty is that some people who are steeped in poverty have an incredible capacity for generosity. Whatever they have and however little there is, they still revel in their hearts to share it. And of course, it’s no secret that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. But if those people are literally dumped at their borders I don’t believe Haiti will throw them in the sea or slaughter them.
In 2008 America had half a million more prisoners than China which has 5 times America’s population. The Black race is being especially targeted to be allegedly fed into a system that is a very profitable, organized entity in this country. Where do you see this going and what would your advice be to youngsters to try and walk the narrow path?
Let me tell you what I use to tell youngsters in Guyana, my native country. If you dress in a certain manner and by your body language and your externals you advertise to the world that you belong to a certain sub-culture, you’ll attract the attention of the police. If there is a report that somebody has been robbed, you will be stopped if you have a certain external appearance and it’s up to you. You have a constitutional right to belong to that sub-culture, but if you do, you should be prepared to attract the attention of the police. If you must go out at night do not go out alone, go out in the company of at least one woman. The more women that you go out in the company of at night, the safer you will be. If you go out at night, do not go out in the company of another man. The more men you are in company with at night, the greater the danger you face to run into problem with the police, and that I believe is a universal principle, particularly if you live in certain high crime areas and you belong to certain levels of society.
America is my country. I am an optimist. I believe the glass is half full rather than half empty. I think people in the United States have come a long way to reach where we are now but we still have a long way to go. We haven’t reached perfection.
Every time I look at a Black American, I am filled with pride for what they have achieved since they first landed here to now. What they have achieved as a small minority in the ‘60s alone, a majority of Black people in South Africa did not achieve until 1994. We have reached a stage here now where a minority of Black people has produced a President and several cabinet ministers. Unfortunately the story of Black achievement is not sufficiently well told except in sports and entertainment. But if you go around the universities of this country, you will find lots of tenured professors in every area. I think it’s the first time in the history of this country that we have had two Black Attorney Generals in succession. It’s a work in progress. I think there is awareness now in the United States that incarceration has been used excessively as a means of dealing with criminal behavior. This was not an accident. There are laws which deal with minimum sentences for certain offences which are being addressed now by President Obama and Attorney General Holder. In fact President Obama gave amnesty recently to certain non-violent offenders who have been imprisoned for petty offences.
In my native country, Guyana, one of the first things that the new President David Granger did, was that of granting amnesty to a number of people who would fall in that same category, where alternatives to imprisonment could have been used and explored and applied. Imprisonment in my view is not to be used as further punishment of people. Programs in rehabilitation need to be further developed and the business of warehousing people in prisons has caused the debate that is currently going on. It may be noteworthy that America is not the only country with high prison populations. The United Kingdom also has excessively high prison populations. So, it should be borne in mind that once you begin to commercialize something and there is profit in it, you then run the risk of people behaving in a certain way, i.e. people looking after their self-interest. I believe somewhere in this country a case came to light where a judge received a benefit for every person that he sent to a certain privately owned prison. The good news is that this matter is being debated in this country and I believe that somewhere along the line we will turn the corner.
Another area where perhaps there was not a unanimity of view but where there is now a clearer view, is that people in possession of small amounts of cannabis (the user amount rather than the trading amount), should not automatically be sent to prison, and more so, that they should not be sent to prison for long periods of imprisonment. Experiments for decriminalization of cannabis have been going on in many parts of the world in particular the Netherlands and other areas of Europe and that process has already begun in the US, in Colorado and Washington among others. So if you remove that route to prison, it means that a number of people will no longer be sent to prison for what essentially is a non-violent offense.
The time has come when we have to give more consideration to these sentences and to alternative forms of treatment of offenders rather than imprisonment, especially where there is community service and so on. This area is a work in progress and I have no doubt that with the way in which the US has developed in the areas of human rights ever since slavery; that we will eventually get there. The prison question will be addressed. I never despair. As I said, I am the optimist – the glass is half full as people continue to address this whole question of imprisonment. The other thing which is now being debated is this question of capital punishment. I think the United States is moving in the right direction on these issues as well.
My last question to you is, given the ratios that you presented earlier in terms of male and female graduating out of college, and given the fact that I am personally concerned about our young men, especially coming from a culture such as mine, where men pride themselves on being the head of the house; where is government, institutions, society, even parenting going wrong. What advice would you give generally in terms of how we can begin to address those differences?
I have a great respect for women. We have to respect their abilities and their human rights, and again, this is a work in progress. Remember that there was a time in this country when women couldn’t vote. In fact Black men got the right to vote before White women. My personal view is that if one gender has any claim of superiority over the other gender, I think women are superior to men, if indeed that is so. I discovered that when I was 3 years old while I was fumbling to tie my shoe lace. After much fumbling and eventually making a bow which unraveled after two steps, it brought to mind the little girls tying their bows behind their head. I also started making a note of the condition of little girl’s books where they had birds and flowers and everything neatly in order and boy’s books were full of ink and dog ears.
The matter came to a head in high school. My high school was co-educational and the competition though healthy, was fierce. We were pacing each other toward excellence. A couple months before the examination we boys had a meeting and decided that if we were going to keep up with the girls, we would have to stop sport, stop cinema and everything other than beating books to keep up and so we did, but after months of doing that which seemed to us boys as grueling work, we managed to keep up with some of the girls but none of us could beat Mavis Henry who was the brightest girl in the class. Women are now anchors on many television stations. These women are spitting out numbers and assessing trends and doing it easily. That is the portent of what is coming.
When I met my wife she was in a traditional female role, she was a secretary then, at the University of Guyana where I was a lecturer. She got the opportunity to work in a bank, then in the army as a civilian assistant to the commander, then as a faster promotional route she became embodied as a soldier, then an army officer, and then took up flying in the army as one of the first women in the country and eventually commercial flying, an area dominated by men up to present. She is now retired and that field is still dominated by men. There is only one female pilot to every eight male pilots in the country right now. But the person who is now in charge of the United States Air force Academy in Colorado Springs is a woman. That is the new reality in areas once dominated by men i.e. science, engineering and so on.
Here’s another example: When I was the Attorney General of Montserrat, a project was being developed involving construction. Everything was signed off after all the geologists took soil samples etc. Before work started however, a woman came out from England and did her own investigations and discovered that the rocks in Montserrat were not suitable for that project and the whole thing got cancelled. Now, any scientific subject that you could think about, chances are that you will find women at the very top of it all. So, when my son was in high school, I suggested that he learn to type. In those days only girls learnt to type. Now he is an ace at typing on the computer.
So, sometimes when women fret, I console them in saying, not to worry, just continue to do what you’re doing because inevitably, your quality will take you to the top. I want to add that I am going to work free and enthusiastically for Mrs. Clinton and I hope to celebrate the election of the first female President of the United States. I know money has to be raised and so I will put in some funds there gladly. I was happy to have met the two outstanding women, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, who have been Chief Justices in the State of Florida, two very impressive and distinguished ladies. I say again, that is the current trend of things.