Public Defender’s Office to expand for human rights commission
Carol Palmer, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, says come December 10, the responsibilities of the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) will be expanded in order to establish a national human rights commission in keeping with international standards.
"When it (the commission) is implemented, which is scheduled for December 10, we are seeking to ensure that the commission, or the institute, whatever will be the name of it when it is decided, will be a Category A of the accreditation process," Palmer said during a town hall meeting to bring awareness to the issue held at the Montego Bay Community College on Thursday evening.
"We have the full support and partnership of the Common-wealth Secretariat and the United Nations Development Pro-gramme," Palmer added. "We had the first national dialogue on this matter in July 2014. We have also already received Cabinet approval, in principle, for the OPD to be expanded to take on these responsibilities."
Palmer said that an islandwide education campaign had already begun, both for the general public and state agencies, to facilitate the establishment of the national human rights commission for Jamaica.
"We are not only speaking with state agencies and interest groups, but we have an importance that we have placed on what the citizens have to say," said Palmer. "We have been on a path of assessment of our human rights infrastructure. We will be fitting whatever is not already present within the structure of the new, modern and restructured OPD. We will be embarking on assessment and provision of the additional resources that the OPD will require to carry out these additional functions."
Meanwhile, Public Defender Arlene Henry stressed that the proposed national human rights institute would not replace her office.
"It is not a replacement of the OPD; it is an expansion, an enlargement of that office. If I am to enforce and protect rights, I need to have the capacity to introduce broad public education because that has to be a tool that is used in the process of protecting and enforcing rights," said Henry.
"What that could mean is that we would have to be given more resources because we do not, right now, have resources for public education, or education in our schools, human rights education that we could dovetail with civics and other social studies types of education," Henry added.
In 1991, the International Conference of National Human Rights Institutes established the Paris Principles, which include a broad mandate to promote and protect all human rights and provide adequate resources to preserve same. These were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993.