PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad -- Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson, former prime minister and president of Trinidad and Tobago, was named the “grandfather” of international justice Thursday as the nation and international community bid a final farewell.
The country’s third president, from 1997 to 2003, Robinson died on April 9 in Port-of-Spain after a prolonged illness. He was 87.
At a state ecumenical service, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, president of the International Criminal Court, paid a moving tribute to Robinson on behalf of the court,which joined the international justice community in mourning the passing of what many called “a great statesman.”
“We take solace in the fact that his immense legacy flourishes in the form of a new system of international criminal justice that most likely would not exist today had it not been for President Robinson’s vision, initiative and persistence,” Song said.
Robinson, an Oxford graduate and trained lawyer, known by the acronym A.N.R. Robinson, was a leading advocate for the establishment of a permanent criminal court to try perpetrators of the most heinous crimes against humanity; he lobbied vigorously for the court’s establishment, which was realized in 2002 as the ICC.
The ecumenical service to mark his passing, held at Trinidad’s impressive performing arts center, was well-attended as local, regional and international dignitaries gathered and others sent solemn words of condolences.
Song said Robinson saw the ICC not as a goal in and of itself, but rather “as an essential building block of a stable international community.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s President Anthony Carmona quoted from a condolence letter he received from the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in which Ban spoke of the world’s indebtedness to Robinson for his work to establish the ICC. In the letter, Ban said, “The U.N. and people of the world are eternally grateful to him.”
The tribute of former Commonwealth Secretary General Shridath Ramphal mingled deep admiration for Robinson with reproach for his present-day Caribbean counterparts.
Ramphal said Robinson was the moving force behind the the guiding document that committed the region to a European-like, Caribbean Single Market and Economy.
“He called on the people of the region to prepare for the future, to consider how best to bring about real betterment in their condition of life and to achieve their full potential…to improve their region’s place in the community of nations,” Ramphal said.
With evident sorrow, Ramphal spoke of Caribbean leaders’ failure to live up to the document, known as the Grand Anse Declaration.
“They vowed to act, but their vows were on parchment only. In large part their vows remain unfulfilled even though more than two decades have passed since their commitment,” he said. “Small steps were taken, but they were unworthy of his big vision that would have seen [the region] economically stronger, more independent politically, and more respected internationally.”
In paying tribute to the great man, there were repeated references to his complex nature. There was also admiration for his courage.
Prime minister during the country’s bloody coup attempt by the Jamaat al Muslimeen in 1990, Robinson was held captive along with cabinet ministers for six days. On Thursday, speakers recalled how he courageously risked his own life by boldly disregarding his captors and loudly instructing the army to “attack with full force,” as his captors held a gun to his head.