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Nicola Cousins | Human rights are not gay rights

Published:Friday | December 13, 2019 | 12:00 AM

It is safe to say that, in Jamaica, human rights seem to be synonymous with gay rights or are perceived as a euphemism for gay rights. The moment the words “human rights” are uttered in a conversation, it is seen as a gateway to the championing of the gay agenda. What exactly, then, are human rights? Could it be that if the citizens had an appreciation of human rights that there would be less crime?

To what extent do Jamaicans know their human rights and the accompanying responsibilities? Are human rights even being taught in schools and if no, why not? How then will we begin to understand what to expect of ourselves and the governing bodies of this nation?

With the advancement of technology, the world is evolving rapidly. Already, there is growing concern about how the increasing availability of artificial intelligence (AI) will affect access to work and our ability to earn an income. Similarly, as the world moves full speed ahead into a digital future, it necessitates dialogue about the digital divide and how best to address it.

The truth is, the rise of AI is a clear and present danger to a basic human right – the right to work. Likewise, with businesses becoming digital and moving away from brick and mortar structures to cyberspace, there is a compelling case for access to the Internet to become a fundamental human right. As such, the conversations have already started in this regard.

Foreseeing that AI could deprive humans of the right to work, countries have begun experimenting with the concept of the provision of a universal basic income (UBI), where individuals are given an amount of money each month as compensation for not being able to work and earn wages. If a person is not able to work, then it is highly likely that he/she will not be able to afford suitable housing, be able to buy food and have access to healthcare and will not be able to send his/her children to school in fulfilment of their right to an education.

As human rights are interrelated, interdependent and inalienable, whatever happens to one right directly affects all other rights and sets off a domino effect.


It was deliberate that what essentially is a conversation about basic human rights began the way it did with a look at AI and its effects on access to work. This is because the term “human rights” is perceived by Jamaicans as something negative; a euphemism for an inconspicuous larger agenda that they want nothing to do with, rather than what it really is. Human rights are the basic entitlements of every human being simply by virtue of being human.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was created to safeguard these basic entitlements following the atrocities of the Second World War, at the end of which it was unanimously agreed that never again should persons be subjected to such inhumane conditions as brought about by the war. Hence, the birth of the United Nations and its role as the defender and protector of the rights enshrined in the 30 articles of the UDHR.

The key message and overarching point of this discourse is that the need for every Jamaican to know his/her basic rights and the accompanying responsibilities should transcend all other concerns. In order to facilitate the education of Jamaicans about their human rights, thought must be given to the mechanism, methodology and manner in which this can be done.

Perhaps the time is now to revisit the dialogue about the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in light of the role it would play in carrying out public education in this regard.

You see, the human rights ­conversation is broader by far than the silos into which it is usually confined – extrajudicial killings and sexual and reproductive health, for example. Instead, in light of the 71st anniversary of the existence of the UDHR on December 10, let us commit to moving expeditiously to create a culture of human rights in Jamaica. Every Jamaican has a right to know his/her human rights and ideally should learn them in school.

Therefore, I close the conversation where it started. As a country, we must equip ourselves to understand the emergent issues of this digital world but we must do so within the context of first knowing our basic human rights while accepting that human rights are dynamic and evolve as the world evolves.


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