HUMAN Rights December 10th is observed universally in recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a seminal document promulgated by the United Nations on December 10th 1948, which has shaped seven decades of Universal Human Rights for all people, everywhere, thus ushering Human Rights as an integrated, indivisible system, which has now become the core of human development and the mainstay of good governance and democracy, as recently enunciated in the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Yes the world has come a long way in recognizing the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings, however, media reports also indicate the frequent violations of human rights by Governments upon which the duty rests to promote and protect human rights of its citizens, consequent on their ratification of core United Nations Conventions which protect the Right to Life, Right to Liberty and the Right to non-discrimination, Right to adequate housing, Right to health, the Right to a clean environment and many others.
Human Rights Day is a time to pause and reflect on the protection of human rights, in St. Lucia, and to raise awareness of the many issues which impact negatively on the enjoyment of our human rights as guaranteed in the Constitution of St. Lucia, and articulated in the United Nations Conventions ratified by our Governments which brings to mind the two important Conventions which have been ratified to date by St. Lucia, namely (1) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW; (2) The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). There are others which await ratification by the Government. Once ratified as done in the 2 mentioned, the Government’s duty is to implement the Conventions by changing and reforming the Laws, and introducing policies to underpin those laws. In addition, new structures and procedures must be designed to ensure compliance for the protection of women and children.
The question is how well is St. Lucia doing as regards compliance. In the absence of adequate data collection, on the part of relevant Government Agencies, meaning the Justice Department – the Courts – Police, Department of Gender Relations and Human Services, assessing the status of human rights protection for women and children is a guessing game.
Whilst the responsibility and the duty to protect and enhance human rights is that of Government, in order to ensure compliance, the role of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) is very important in raising awareness of the Convention obligations through education, advocacy and data collection. Consequently Government must recognize NGOs as partners in playing a vital role in ensuring good governance, by their monitoring of the actions of public servants who are charged to carry out the policies designed to change and uplift the lives of all citizens. Unfortunately there is insufficient recognition by Government of the important role of Human Rights advocates who are persons on the ground with ears close to those whose rights are violated by insensitive and some public servants who abuse their authority with impunity. We all know from Media Reports of the violence, Police brutality, deaths in Police Custody, the violation of the right to health, administrative injustice experienced from arbitrary decisions of Public Servants in key Departments of Government such as Planning Department, the Customs to name a few. The result is the diminishing of human rights in all its dimensions rather than enhancing human rights.
Another important duty placed on Government as a result of its ratification of United Nations Conventions/Treaties; mentioned above, is the duty to report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva every 4 years, indicating the steps taken to full implementation, referred to as Universal Periodic Review which all countries of the United Nations are subject too. It is worth emphasizing that Government must listen to the voices of Human Rights advocates and to the members of NGOs/Civil Society Organizations, because of their independent monitoring role and their closeness to grassroots people. Advocates for Human Rights must not be seen by the State apparatus as “busy bodies,” out to embarrass the Government by denouncing its policies and questioning the actions of Public Servants. On the contrary, Human Rights Advocates assist in changing the attitudes, values and behaviours of not only, state employees but the larger citizenry through their advocacy.
Human Rights are indivisible and interdependent and must be viewed as a comprehensive system of rights which enhance the dignity and worth of every human being. It is therefore the core of good governance, the importance of which has been echoed in the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) some of which are, Eliminating poverty – Good Health & Wellness, Decent Work, Building Partnerships for goals is the 17th Goal.
Fundamental Rights and Freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution originate from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (and the later European Convention on Human Rights). This Constitution has lived through 40 years, and the Human Rights record of St. Lucia is poor and must be enhanced so that the rights contained therein become reality, by broadening them in the light of present day circumstances.
In this regard Government must establish a National Human Rights Commission, thereby indicating its commitment to placing the protection of Human Rights at the centre of good governance. The time is now – for after all this is one of the recommendations contained in the Report of St. Lucia Constitutional Reform Commission, appearing as No. 45 at page 109 of the Report.
“With respect to a Human Rights Commission, the Commission recommends that a Human Rights Commission should be established.”
There is need for a National Human Rights Commission, to provide greater monitoring of human rights protection by the State/the Government and its employees especially the law enforcement Department. In this regard the Commission will strengthen the limited capacity of NGOs to monitor and advocate for implementation of United Nations/Treaties as well as protecting the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
It must be stated that in 2015, St. Lucia’s turn before the Human Rights Council in Geneva during the Council’s Universal Periodic Review, in reviewing St. Lucia’s Report, the Council recommended that Government establish a National Human Rights Commission.
The call for a National Human Rights Commission must be adhered to by Government. Of grave concern should be the lack of access to justice to remedy human rights violations by state officials. It is highly unjust that a citizen whose rights have been breached by the State, charged to protect the rights of that citizens, should be denied access to the Courts due to indigence. In such cases a National Human Rights Commission properly staffed will be an avenue for access to justice. Furthermore such a Commission can carry out research and data collection.
There is much work to be undertaken to advance protection of Human Rights in its broad spectrum as an indivisible, interdependent system of Rights. There is too much poverty, too much neglect of the marginalized persons in St. Lucia, unemployment, police brutality, Police killings of citizens unresolved. Governments exist to protect its citizens by implementing policies, procedures, and building institutions which express commitment to the fullest enjoyment of Human Rights, which is the art of good governance.
Government must lead by example, in instilling the values of respect and dignity for all and building a merituous society, and laying a proper foundation for the youth comprising the majority of the population, and without adequate avenues for being heard. It is with youth in mind that the United Nations 2019 Theme for Human Rights Day reads “Youth Standing Up for Human Rights.”
Whilst it is important to draw the youth, in standing up for Human Rights, on this Human Rights Day, as we reflect on St. Lucia’s record, everyone must stand up for human rights, whilst also embracing the responsibility of respecting the rights of each other so as to achieve a peaceful, democratic St. Lucia, where protecting human rights as an interdependent, indivisible interrelated system of Rights is accepted as the art of good governance.
STAND UP 4 YOUR RIGHTS.
This call goes out to all citizens on this Human Rights Day 2019.
Mary M. Francis
& Coordinator of the National Centre For Legal Aid And Human Rights Inc.