- Today Jamaica joins with over 200 countries worldwide in recognizing December 10 as Human Rights Day.
- On this day in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Jamaica is proud to be among the countries to have ratified both of these seminal Conventions.
MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2015 MESSAGE
Today Jamaica joins with over 200 countries worldwide in recognizing December 10 as Human Rights Day. On this day in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed Resolution 423 (V), inviting all nations and interested groups to observe December 10 as Human Rights Day annually.
This year’s Human Rights Day launches a year-long campaign celebrating the 50th anniversary of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were both adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16th December 1966. The United Nations Human Rights Office has designated “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” as the year’s theme, to raise awareness and promote the two Conventions.
Jamaica is proud to be among the countries to have ratified both of these seminal Conventions. These two instruments, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form an international Bill of Human Rights, enshrining the civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights that are the intrinsic rights of all human beings.
The Government of Jamaica is committed to its obligations under these and the five other core international human rights treaties Jamaica has ratified. Our commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms goes beyond theory and rhetoric, and is buttressed by legislation to give effect to those obligations in law.
In 2013, Jamaica abolished whipping and flogging as judicially-imposed forms of punishment. While these archaic and brutal forms of punishment were no longer being practised in our correctional facilities, the various statutes providing for them remained in place, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The three Bills which abolished whipping and flogging have ensured that Jamaica parts ways with a barbaric vestige of slavery.
In 2014 Parliament passed the Disabilities Act, creating enforceable rights for persons with disabilities to protect them from discrimination. This legislation has brought human rights home to the hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans who are living with a disability.
The Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act was also amended in 2014 to provide for the automatic expungement of past convictions for minor offences involving the personal use of ganja, and to ensure that going forward such offences no longer attract a criminal record. The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 came into effect on April 15 this year, eliminating the power of arrest and prosecution for small quantities of ganja for personal use, thereby removing what has been a longstanding source of friction and abuse between the security forces and young men in communities across Jamaica.
There has also been much work regarding the conditions under which persons are detained by the State. After the tragic killing of Mario Deane while he was in a police lock-up, the Cabinet has established a sub-committee with broad stakeholder representation to review the detention system and develop a strategic response. The sub-committee has made a number of recommendations for legislative amendments and for administrative changes to the system of detention. The recommendations in relation to bail will be subject to further technical refinement by a smaller committee led by the Director of the Legal Reform Department. The most significant immediate achievement of the sub-committee has been the modernization of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Lock-up Administration Policy, now entitled an “Administration Policy for Persons Deprived of their Liberty.” The new Administration Policy requires ongoing training and capacity building in the JCF regarding treatment of persons in custody, and sanctions for breaches of the policy, an includes a Suicide Prevention protocol for inmates who manifest suicidal tendencies, and provisions relating to persons with disabilities and children.
Our most recent human rights initiative is the Sexual Harassment 2015 Bill, which was tabled in Parliament this week. Prior to this legislation, sexual harassment was not recognised in law, despite longstanding consensus that it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. The Bill outlines conduct which constitutes sexual harassment and makes provisions for complaints to be made by persons who are victims of sexual harassment. Complaints may be heard by a new Sexual Harassment Division of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal in employment situations, or may be brought before the Courts. Additionally, the Bill also provides legal protection against sexual harassment in a wide range of institutions, and in the landlord/tenant context.
Finally, having done the preparatory work, we will soon be seeking Cabinet’s approval of the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution that is compliant with the Paris Principles, once we have completed a process of wide stakeholder consultations on the proposals.
The Government of Jamaica will continue to promote the full recognition and acceptance of basic human rights and dignity for all Jamaicans, as we recognize that the protection of human rights constitutes one of the core functions of a modern state in a democratic society governed by the rule of law.