Gov­ern­ment’s lip ser­vice to hu­man rights com­mit­ment

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Jae­vion Nel­son is a youth de­vel­op­ment, HIV and hu­man-rights ad­vo­cate. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and jae­vion@gmail.com.

THE UNITED Nations, in its bold ad­vo­cacy which has helped to shape the cur­rent in­ter­na­tional hu­man-rights frame­work, mooted the idea of in­de­pen­dent na­tional in­sti­tu­tions pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing hu­man rights. Ja­maica has not yet done so. It’s in­ter­est­ing that a na­tion that prides it­self on fight­ing for, and pro­mot­ing jus­tice for all peo­ples – at least, at one point in our his­tory – has no time­line to in­di­cate when the Gov­ern­ment in­tends to fully im­ple­ment this com­mit­ment. It is ap­palling that such an in­sti­tu­tion has not yet been es­tab­lished when you con­sider the ram­pant breach of rights by the State, pri­vate en­ti­ties, and in­di­vid­u­als.

Ear­lier this week, dur­ing the UN Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee’s fourth Pe­ri­odic Re­view of Ja­maica’s com­pli­ance to its obli­ga­tions un­der the In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights, which we rat­i­fied in 1975, Am­bas­sador McCook again ex­pressed the Gov­ern­ment’s long-stand­ing com­mit­ment to es­tab­lish a Na­tional Hu­man Rights In­sti­tu­tion (NHRI), though he could not pro­vide a date for when this will ac­tu­ally hap­pen. Na­tional Hu­man Rights In­sti­tu­tions, ac­cord­ing to the UN Of­fice of the High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights, “are state bod­ies with a con­sti­tu­tional and/or leg­isla­tive man­date to pro­tect and pro­mote hu­man rights. They are part of the state ap­pa­ra­tus and are funded by the state”.

One then won­ders why the vi­o­la­tions of the rights of the poor­est, and most vul­ner­a­ble and marginalised con­tinue un­abated. Is not be­cause the Gov­ern­ment has, in large part, failed to hon­our its obli­ga­tions? Is it that the Gov­ern­ment does not con­sider these mat­ters as im­por­tant, as cru­cial to the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment de­spite its ex­pressed com­mit­ments to pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing hu­man rights, and ful­fill­ing its obli­ga­tions in this re­gard in the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan – Vi­sion 2030? It’s rather odd how we al­low this gov­ern­ment – ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion, to ab­di­cate its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to us the peo­ple who voted them in of­fice.

PRI­OR­ITY OR NOT?

Margo Wa­ter­fall from Suri­name and a mem­ber of the Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee seemed rather dis­tressed on Tues­day as she re­minded the Gov­ern­ment that from as early as 1968, there were dis­cus­sions in our Par­lia­ment about es­tab­lish­ing a na­tional hu­man-rights in­sti­tu­tion, which was re­jected, and to which no clear time­line has been pro­vided on its pos­si­ble es­tab­lish­ment. The sit­u­a­tion begs the ques­tion of what the Gov­ern­ment truly means when it iden­tify an ac­tion as a pri­or­ity.

The Gov­ern­ment, in its 2015 Na­tional Re­port to the HRC, con­firmed that it was “ac­tively pur­su­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a Na­tional Hu­man Rights In­sti­tu­tion” and fur­ther ex­pressed in Oc­to­ber 2016 in its re­ply to the List of Is­sues pub­lished by the Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee that “ap­proval has been given by the Cabi­net for the es­tab­lish­ment of the in­sti­tute, in prin­ci­ple. The Min­istry of Jus­tice is now fi­nal­is­ing an ad­di­tional Cabi­net sub­mis­sion re­lated to the leg­isla­tive changes re­quired for for­mal es­tab­lish­ment of the NHRI. These leg­isla­tive changes seek to ex­pand the role of the cur­rent Of­fice of the Pub­lic De­fender”. If this has been done, why then is the Gov­ern­ment un­able to pro­vide an ac­tual date/time­line?

The civil so­ci­ety sub­mis­sion, which was writ­ten by Ja­maicans For Jus­tice, J-FLAG, Ja­maica Youth Ad­vo­cacy Net­work, Stand Up for Ja­maica and Car­ib­bean Vul­ner­a­ble Com­mu­ni­ties Coali­tion, sums up the dilemma that the Gov­ern­ment is ob­vi­ously un­able to see quite elo­quently: “The fail­ure of the [Gov­ern­ment] to do so leaves im­por­tant gaps in Ja­maica’s rights pro­tec­tion in­fra­struc­ture that un­der­mine the ful­fil­ment of its obli­ga­tions un­der Ar­ti­cle 2 of the Covenant [...]. The lack of a ro­bust na­tional mech­a­nism for the pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of the rights en­shrined in the Covenant has con­trib­uted the sus­tained hu­man rights chal­lenges ex­pe­ri­enced in Ja­maica. The sub­sti­tute in­sti­tu­tion, the Pub­lic De­fender, which the gov­ern­ment plans to ex­pand to form the NHRI does not ac­cord with the min­i­mum stan­dards out­lined in the Paris Prin­ci­ples in im­por­tant re­spects.”

It is cru­cial that Ja­maica es­tab­lishes an in­de­pen­dent na­tional hu­man-rights in­sti­tu­tion, and pro­vide it with ad­e­quate fi­nan­cial and hu­man re­sources, in line with the prin­ci­ples re­lat­ing to the sta­tus of na­tional in­sti­tu­tions for the pro­mo­tion and pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights (Paris Prin­ci­ples). It is high time we get se­ri­ous about rights.

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