JIS News

Contrary to the practice of placing the focus on civil and political rights which Western governments deem more important than economic, social and cultural rights that are the main thrust of Southern governments, all these rights must serve as the basis for full national development, says human rights specialist, Ms. Maarit Kohonen.
“Human Rights in development is not simply about job creation or increasing the Gross Domestic Product of a country. It is a process, and the process is as important as the outcome,” she explained. And, when the consideration for human rights concerns are factored in community and national development efforts, these “provide an analytical framework and a useful benchmark,” Miss Kohonen noted.
Ms. Kohonen was representing the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights at the recent two-day symposium put on by the Ministry of Justice and the Northern Caribbean University at the university campus in Mandeville. She has served on various investigative missions in several countries, including Rwanda, Bosnia, Herzegovina, East Timor and Cambodia.
Speaking at the caucus sessions on “Human Rights and Development”, the UN specialist told participants that the empowerment of citizens was one of the cornerstones in the upholding of human rights and, by extension, its role in development programmes. She counted literacy, access to shelter and health care among the tools of empowerment which, when fulfilled, enables community and national development “for a peaceful, secure and healthy life” for citizens.
It is in the spirit of individual empowerment that, Ms. Kohonen said, Jamaicans should make every effort to familiarize themselves with the Bill on The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and to contribute to the upcoming deliberations on this Bill. She hailed the inclusion of the right to education in the document which, she told the audience, was not provided for under the present constitution.
Attention to non-discrimination and equality within the society are also critical human rights components in furthering development, Ms. Kohonen maintained. This, she continued, would necessitate the participation of those affected with HIV/AIDS and the disabled; but cautioned that “everything must have a balance.”
The UN specialist stressed that people’s basic human rights, such as the right to life and freedom from torture, are universal, irrespective of geographical location. She went on to argue the notion that the torture of any accused by members of any national security force ought not to be tolerated because it is a “cultural practice.”
Ms. Kohonen also emphasised the need for accountability in the development process, saying that effective mechanisms must be in place for both the security forces and the justice system. Such systems are essential as people generally do not know their basic human rights or are unaware of where to go to seek redress when their rights have been violated, she explained. Furthermore, she expressed support for any initiative to introduce students to the constitution as this would create greater awareness of some individual’s rights, in spite of the legal jargon contained in such a document.
The UN specialist, in responding to the question of death penalty posed by a student in the audience, stressed that human rights laws do not prohibit the death penalty; but the international community wants to ensure that the accused received a fair trial and all the avenues of appeal were exhausted. She emphasized, however, that human rights conventions do not permit the execution of pregnant women and children 18 years old and under.