Letter of the Day | Human rights training urgently needed for parliamentarians
THE EDITOR, Madam:
On Sunday, July 12, Carolyn Cooper wrote a piece titled ‘Delroy Chuck’s overpass at the cashier’. In it, she outlined Minister Chuck’s blunder and inappropriate utterances during two sittings of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on the proposed Sexual Harassment Act with regard to employers putting measures in place to protect employees from third-party harassment and the 12-month stipulation in which reports of sexual harassment should be made. In her article, she referenced Chuck’s socialisation as a boy growing up in the 1960s, who was brought up believing that men should proposition females in a certain way.
A similar inappropriate comment was stated earlier this year around the bill by fellow committee member and government Senator Kerensia Morrison, who mentioned that when it comes to harassment, the lines are blurred as sometimes she feels good when she is walking on the road, being complimented, describing it as being “beautifully harassed”.
LACK OF SENSITIVITY
In 2014, during a sitting of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament reviewing the Sexual Offences Act and other related acts, opposition Senator Lambert Brown relegated the issue of marital rape to the institution of marriage being subjected to the “filling out of a form every night for consent”.
On the same issue, Delroy Chuck indicated that a charge of marital rape would result in the “immediate collapse of the marriage”.
While it is expected that as individuals, each person would have his/her opinion on issues, as a member of a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, one would hope that there be open-mindedness employed while hearing and deliberating over submissions from members of the public and civil society organisations. Committee members also need to be guarded in their utterances on sensitive issues affecting vulnerable groups.
These biases and inappropriate utterances by various members of Joint Select Committees of Parliament, beg the questions: how are parliamentarians chosen to sit on these committees? Are there criteria, and if so, what are they? If not, why aren’t there any? And, what qualifications do these committee members have to hear submissions on particular issues?
Aside from the information around the procedures of the Parliament that new parliamentarians receive, as manifested in the current handbook for parliamentarians, there is an urgent need for the updating of this handbook and orientation of all parliamentarians in human rights, the issues affecting vulnerable groups, and the laws that infringe on the rights of the citizenry. There are several non-governmental organisations well positioned to help with updating this parliamentary handbook and provide the requisite training.
Parliament should not reopen next year without these things occurring.