Sun | Apr 22, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | Holness, rights and wrongs

Published:Saturday | February 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
File Prime Minister Andrew Holness should be a champion of human rights, argues columnist Jaevion Nelson.

The Holness administration's focus on economic growth over the last two years is commendable. It is really encouraging to see all these economic related projects (finally?!) being (fully?) implemented. However, while I applaud the Government for their stick-to-itiveness, I remain deeply concerned about the dearth of attention to human rights and social justice as a priority for human, social and economic development.

One sincerely hopes the same kind of leadership and decisiveness can be demonstrated by the Government this year to fulfil their human rights obligations. We cannot afford to continue ignoring the critical role the protection, promotion and fulfilment of rights play in ensuring economic growth and development.

It is, therefore, rather sad that neither government nor civil society seems to understand (or care about?) the symbiotic relationship between the two. Consequently, Government myopically focuses attention and investments largely on their thrust to improve the economy while non-governmental organisations advocate for people's enjoyment of their rights. Seldom is there a discussion about the two and how we can address the rampant abuse of rights and limited access to redress that are characteristic of life here in Jamaica to the benefit of our economic development goals.

The United Nations Development Programme tells us "human development is essential for human rights, and human rights are essential for human development". The Government must, therefore, consider the implications of inaction around human rights if it intends to take us from "poverty to prosperity" and ensure the full and wholesome development of each individual towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well becoming a developed country as articulated in Vision 2030.

If the State fails to address the plethora of challenges around securing economic rights by ensuring people are paid liveable and fair wages, for example, some families will never be able to take care of their basic needs for clothing, food, shelter, as well as their health and education expenses. These persons will undoubtedly have to depend on the State for support through a number of government-funded welfare and assistance programmes.

 

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If the State fails to address inequality, women will continue to be denied opportunities and paid 40 cents less for a dollar than men, people from low-income communities will continue to be subjected to limited job opportunities, and subpar educational outcomes will persist among children from poor communities. If we fail to protect the right to life, our hospitals will continue to spend millions of dollars each year to care for victims of violence that could be used to invest in communities.

These and other human-rights challenges all have an impact on our economy. If we were able to control crime and violence, for example, the country would grow by five per cent, according to news reports.

On Friday, October 7, 2011, in a commentary titled 'Will Holness be a pro-rights prime minister?', which was published in this paper, I suggested that Jamaica was "most desperately in need of a prime minister who will be pro-rights". I made the suggestion on the heels of Holness' endorsement as the successor to Bruce Golding, who was stepping down as prime minister (at the time).

A pro-rights leader is critical because Jamaicans need someone in Parliament who will "take bold steps in ensuring that the human rights of all Jamaicans, including the most vulnerable and marginalised persons, will be protected and widely promoted" without any distinction whatsoever.

The rampant breaches of rights that we hear about and witness every day, including those perpetrated against the poor, LGBT people, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, and low-income workers such as household workers and security guards, must not continue unabated.

Several years later, Holness has an opportunity, his own mandate, to stand up more boldly for rights and social justice. This is an opportunity that he must not squander. He should help engender greater appreciation for respect for rights and embark on a human-rights project that will fully protect the vulnerable, marginalised and voiceless in this country.

If there is to be economic growth and development, it has to be inclusive, and the protection, promotion and enjoyment of rights must be seen as critical to such efforts. The Planning Institute of Jamaica, which has responsibility for Vision 2030, must be mandated to play a more active role in this regard.

Perhaps this is an initiative the Partnership for Prosperity, which is chaired by the prime minister, can take on as a project. I commit to lend my support and time to any such project that will promote inclusive growth and development.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human-rights, and economic- and social-justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com, or tweet @jaevionn.