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Jaevion Nelson: Next Government Should Prioritise Human Rights

Published:Thursday | February 4, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Far too many Jamaicans are oblivious to the fact that respect for an individual's rights, freedom, and dignity is a critical enabler to achieving Vision 2030 - The National Development Plan. I have concluded that this is the reason these matters are rarely mentioned or discussed in political discourse and speeches and included in manifestos whenever there is an election.

It is unfathomable that we - not just our politicians - place such little priority on human rights despite the constant cry for respect and justice.

We need a paradigm shift in this country. Respect for human rights must truly become a Jamaican value ('Brand Jamaica' depends on this!). This election should be about improving our (deplorable) human rights situation as much as it should be about providing jobs, stabilising the dollar, and improving our health system. These are interrelated and interdependent and should, therefore, be reflected in our policies and programmes. We must ensure that we vote for people who believe human rights are important and must be protected and promoted and will use their office to encourage greater respect for all Jamaicans without any distinction whatsoever.

Every year, there are several reports, documentaries, and news articles detailing the continuous violation of rights in this country. One would think that these publications about the inaccessibility of our justice system and slow pace of securing justice; allegations of police abuses and extrajudicial killings; people being discriminated against because of their social class; disability; sexual orientation or gender identity and/or income; young men being denied jobs because of where they live; and women being paid less compared to men for the same work done would impress upon us the need to take steps to further protect and promote rights. Instead, we bask in our privileges, ignore the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters, treat these reports as part of a sinister agenda to impose on our sovereignty, and claim that people who share their experiences 'meking di country look bad'.



Divorce your silliness! Acknowledge the problem and make a commitment to do something about the pervasiveness of bigotry that exists in our country. The reality is that these have serious implications and affect all of us, not just the people who experience them directly. Can we truly realise a vision of development if some of us are treated less than and have little or no access to our rights and avenues for redress when they are infringed?

The evidence, which many of us turn a blind eye to, shows that the rampant breach of the rights of Jamaicans who are vulnerable and/or marginalised because of their religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, social class, income, education, and other statuses has and continues to impact negatively on our development and progress. We need no better example than the unattached youth loitering in our communities; the women who had their first child when they were children; the people living in informal settlements who ended up there because of violence in their previous homes or communities; the boys and young men who wipe our windows every day at the traffic lights; the LGBT people who are homeless or had to seek asylum in Europe and North America; the people with disabilities; and families that are trapped in a poverty cycle.

Let us ensure that human rights are placed in the spotlight this election. Let us keep bigotry out of the campaign this year. We can do without the homophobia and sexism this election. Let us ensure that our parliamentarians prioritise the protection and promotion of human rights for all. Let us come together and work collectively to help our leaders show respect for all and encourage and promote equality, equity, and social justice.

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