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Jamaica to account for how it handles human rights issues

Published:Thursday | October 13, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this 2006 photo a sex worker known as Chocolate strikes a pose along Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay as she tries to woo prospective clients. She was among several women who offer sex as a business in the tourist capital then.

Jamaica is to account for how it has been handling human rights issues such as gender discrimination and those relating to persons living with disabilities when it attends the 118th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee conference, which will be held in Geneva next week.

The country will also be called upon to respond to issues concerning vulnerable groups such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community when it makes submissions at the conference.

Jamaica ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1975. It establishes in international law the right to life, liberty; protection from torture, cruel and degrading treatment, and discrimination; and the freedoms of expression, assembly, religion, and a range of other rights. The ICCPR is legally binding. Adherence is monitored by the UN Human Rights Committee - an independent body that conducts periodic reviews of countries.

Ivan Cruickshank, programme manager at the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, who was among the presenters addressing journalists at a briefing yesterday, said there was urgent need for Jamaica to implement a comprehensive framework to address vulnerable groups such as persons living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and vulnerable groups.

He noted that this was among the issues that continued to linger from previous review sessions.




"The major concern is that HIV and health are not protected using any legislative framework. The committee went on to further enquire about the instituting of anti-discrimination legislation within the absence of some comprehensive health protection by the constitution. They asked to what extent the HIV work policy is being monitored," he said.

"There is the issue of redress. There's a national HIV reporting redress system. That system is housed with an NGO (non-governmental organisation). It's not owned by the Government, and so it doesn't have the resources that are required to give an effective and comprehensive redress," he continued.

"So even though, since 2005, we have had 267 reports coming into the system, very few of those cases have been resolved. It doesn't have the mandate to command redress from any entity that is identified as offending. What is needed is a redress system to be integrated as a national system owned by the Government, with the mandate that redress can be received by those who complain."

He said the ongoing delay in fast-tracking the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill into law has presented significant challenges in providing more protection for vulnerable groups.

The OSH Act will represent an upgrade to the existing Factories Act and will include areas such as the rights and duties of workers. It will impose sanctions and recommend compensation for on-the-job injuries.




"The other challenge we have in relation to HIV and health relates to the legal barriers for key populations, including young people and adolescents, who continue to be at a disadvantage in terms of service delivery because of the legislative barriers. It's a similar situation with key populations such as sex workers and men who have sex with men," he said.

"Key issues that we would like the committee to re-emphasise with the Government are to move towards an overarching anti-discrimination framework and to move speedily to implement the Occupational Health Safety Act," he said.

Susan Goffe, human rights advocate, and George Young, who represented the advocacy group Stand Up Jamaica, also gave presentations.