Today we join the international community in commemorating International Human Rights Day, under the theme “embrace diversity, end discrimination.” This year’s theme emphasizes the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in the first sentence of the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Sixty-one years ago, this statement established the basic premise upon which international human rights instruments have been built. Today it remains relevant.
The protection and promotion of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Jamaicans remains a priority of the Government. This priority has translated into our ratification of several international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social Economic and Cultural Rights which, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the International Bill of Human Rights. In addition to these omnibus covenants, ratified over thirty years ago, Jamaica is party to various international and regional treaties seeking to protect the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities, among others.
To implement these legal obligations undertaken at the international level, the Government of Jamaica has enacted legislation to ensure that the rights of all Jamaicans, and in particular various vulnerable groups, are given adequate protection by the law.
The principle of non-discrimination on the bases of race, colour, sex, religion, political or other opinion, birth or other status is enshrined in Jamaica’s Constitution. The new Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which has been proposed, also seeks to enhance the rights of all Jamaican citizens, by amending parts of the Constitution.
The Government will continue its efforts to train stakeholders in the law enforcement and justice systems on various aspects of and issues related to human rights protection. We will continue to give priority to this area of focus.
The inclusion of human rights education in the primary school curriculum also ensures that our children grow up with a greater appreciation for and an understanding of their rights, as well as their responsibilities towards others. By targeting children in the formative stage of their lives, we aim to create a society in which the Government and citizens work together to advance progress in the area of human rights and to tackle the challenges that still remain.
Despite our accomplishments over the years, there are still elements of discrimination within our society. Two weeks ago we joined with the international community in commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This served as a sad reminder that gender-based discrimination and violence continue to severely impact the physical, emotional and psychological well-being and development of so many of our women and girls. Similarly on December 1, we again shared in the commemoration of World AIDS Day, emphasizing the need to reduce stigma and discrimination.
As we review our journey thus far and look ahead to addressing the challenges which still confront us in the protection of human rights, and in particular, the elimination of discrimination, we continue to welcome the contributions of civil society to the cause. All Jamaicans should bear in mind that the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms is not the sole prerogative of Government. Each individual has a responsibility to respect the rights of others, because in the end, this is what guarantees a people’s full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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