Pillay welcomes human rights progress in Barbados, calls for action on remaining gaps
Text of statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the end of a 3-day mission to Barbados
Good morning, and thank you very much for coming.
This is the 1st-ever visit to any of the English-speaking Caribbean countries by a High Commissioner for Human Rights. I am very happy to be here, and celebrate this as the start of a new relationship. I would like to thank the Government of Barbados for inviting me and for its hospitality.
I want to stress that no country in the world has a perfect human rights record, and – as High Commissioner for Human Rights – it is my duty to point out the areas where work is needed to ensure the rights – economic, social and cultural, as well as civil and political – of everyone living in this country are fully protected.
Since 2008, that process of trying to identify the human rights gaps in the systems and practices of each and every country in the world has been significantly boosted by the adoption of a system known as the Universal Periodic Review, or UPR. Under this system, each of the UN’s 193 Member States is reviewed by its fellow states once every four years, and a series of concrete suggestions for improvements in the protection of human rights are made. Progress – or lack of progress – will then be examined during the next cycle which starts in the next few months. Barbados was reviewed in 2008, and 21 recommendations were made, 15 of which were accepted. The desire to assist Barbados fulfil those recommendations before its second cycle of the UPR review takes place in the first months of 2013 has been a point of reference for my visit here.
Since arriving on Tuesday, I have held meetings with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, and with members of the Cabinet and other senior officials, including the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the Ombudsman. I have also met with the Leader of the Opposition and senior judicial figures including the Chief Justice of Barbados and the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice. I have also met with members of some 20 civil society organizations who are active in the field of human rights and heard from them directly some of the challenges faced by the country in implementing its international human rights obligations and reflecting them into consistent laws and practices.
From my various meetings, I was able to observe Barbados’ long tradition of democratic dialogue, with highly qualified individuals (a literacy rate of 99.7%), a vibrant civil society, and very high human development, reaping the results of the investment it made in its people, providing them free education, and looking out for their economic, social and cultural rights since independence. As such, Barbados rightly plans to achieve developed country status as soon as possible, but, in order to do so, it needs also to fully empower every member of society, especially the most vulnerable and excluded, so as to fulfil this legitimate aspiration.
From these meetings, I could also see that several of the challenges Barbados itself had identified in the preparation of its national report to the UPR in 2008, still remain to this day - including: “issues relating to discrimination, stigmatization and marginalization;” “the lack of adequate sanctions for sexual harassment;” and “the psychological and physical impact which domestic violence has on children.”
It was also evident that some of the priorities identified by the Government in 2008, such as the prevention and control of HIV; preventing crime; eradicating domestic violence; ensuring the rights of migrants; and combating human trafficking, will require continued attention, in order for Barbados to fulfil its human rights commitments while at the same time achieving the development goals it seek.
Furthermore, I did not come here solely to remind Barbados of its international obligations, but also to offer my assistance, in addressing persisting problems Barbados needs to tackle, including citizen security; sensitizing civil society to discrimination against women, the disabled and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; developing programmes for human rights education and conducting campaigns to raise awareness on issues like domestic violence, and corporal punishment; and undertaking efforts to put an end to violence against women, and deal with sexual harassment.
I have encouraged everyone in government and outside it to establish a comprehensive human rights dialogue and converge around a national human rights action plan which is a step very much in line with best practices. Human rights require the coordinated participation of ample sectors of government and civil society to be adequately addressed. They also require the establishment of an independent National Human Rights Institution that is a key element of the national human rights protection system, especially for vulnerable groups or victims. Barbados has committed to upgrading the Ombudsman’s Office in line with the relevant international standards, and, when it does so, Barbados could become the 1st Caribbean country to establish one of these key independent institutions.
I have urged the Government to step up its efforts to incorporate international human rights law into national legislation, including establishing legislative definitions of discrimination based on gender, race or sexual orientation. In addition, Barbados has to ensure not only that laws conform to international norms but that they are adequately implemented and translated into corresponding day to day action.
Domestic violence against women and children, and sexual harassment, occur all over the world. However, reports suggest that they are particularly serious problems here in Barbados and in other Caribbean countries, and rape is shockingly commonplace. The authorities need to adopt more effective legislative measures to combat these very destructive forms of behaviour and crimes, and to undertake public awareness programs to tackle the underlying discriminatory attitudes that permit them to continue.
In essence these are law and order issues, even when the violence takes place within the family and in the home. Wider law and order issues, and especially the conduct of the police, and the delays in the administration of justice have also been topics of discussion during my visit.
While in some areas, laws and enforcement of laws need strengthening, in other areas they may be unduly harsh. This is especially the case with regard to corporal punishment, and even more so with regard to the death penalty. Globally, the trend is very much to move towards a moratorium and eventually the total abolition of the death penalty. As a former national and international judge, I fully subscribe to the view that serious crimes demand serious sentences. But the death penalty is fraught with problems, and its supposed deterrence value has never been supported by the facts. I welcome the Government’s commitment to abolish the current mandatory death sentencing, and urge it to carry this out as quickly as possible and then move on towards a moratorium and eventual abolition. The fact that there has not been an execution in almost 30 years is clear evidence of the readiness of society to move in this direction.
Discrimination also needs to be tackled. International human rights law is clear: no one -- no one at all -- should be discriminated against because of the group they belong to, and that of course includes discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation or identity. While this may be unpopular with some segments of the population, it is the responsibility of Governments to show firm leadership on issues relating to all forms of discrimination.
In general, I urge everyone in Barbados – the government, parliament, the ombudsman, the academic community, the NGOs, the media, and the general public – to work hard continuously and unremittingly in order to establish a stronger culture of human rights and respect for the dignity of every human being. This was the strong desire expressed by the Caribbean population in the first victimization survey recently carried out by UNDP.
As I leave Barbados, I am pleased also by the level of support and cooperation from the Resident Coordinator as well as her UN Subregional Team. My office is committed to working more closely with the Resident Coordinator in support of the government’s efforts for the further promotion and protection of human rights, and for the mainstreaming of human rights within the UN Subregional Team. I also hope that the positive example of engagement and cooperation by Barbados with OHCHR, could inspire and be followed by other Caribbean countries.
(source: Scoop News)