This year, Human Rights Day holds a special significance,as it coincides with the 65th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is widely recognised as the common standard of achievement for human rights of all peoples and nations, it is also true that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action is a historic multilateral human rights instrument, ranked among the most far-reaching in the last century. Indeed, its adoption was a defining moment and an important chapter in human rights advocacy.
Over the last two decades, the Vienna Conference has laid the foundation for many advances and achievements, including the promotion and protection of the rights of women, children, minorities and migrant workers and their families, and the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Importantly, it has also facilitated the entrenchment of the principle that human rights are universal, indivisible, and interrelated, and the recognition of the interdependence between democracy, development and human rights.
The theme for this year’s observance, 20 Years: Working For Your Rights, is therefore quite fitting, as the global community of nations continues to witness the unfolding benefits of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The commemoration provides justifiable cause for celebration, tracking the tremendous strides made and promulgating the underlying message behind the theme that, despite the advances made, our task is far from complete. We cannot truly rejoice while human rights and fundamental freedoms remain an elusive, unfulfilled dream for many fellow human beings.
Human Rights Day 2013 provides an opportunity for Jamaica to reflect on its own efforts to advance human rights at the national and international levels. In 1963, only a year after gaining political independence, our presence on the international stage was heralded as Jamaica called for the year 1968 to be designated the International Year for Human Rights, to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. We also proposed at the time the convening of an international conference to review progress in the field of human rights. This event was held in Tehran in May 1968. Our commemoration of Human Rights Day has taken on even more significance with the recent passing of global icon, Mr. Nelson Mandela, whose struggle for dignity, equality, justice and democracy for South Africans earned him worldwide acclaim and respect. His legacy will continue for years to come. Jamaica is proud of the role it played in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and as a supporter of the liberation struggles in Angola, Namibia and Mozambique.
Jamaica has an abiding commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. The country is party to seven of the nine core international human rights instruments, Jamaica’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level is evidenced by the establishment of several mechanisms including the Office of the Public Defender, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), all aimed at securing the rights of our citizens. The Charter on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms adopted two years ago, provides for comprehensive protection of certain economic and social rights as well as established civil and political rights. It is noteworthy that while the Charter reinforces some provisions of the Constitution such as the right to equality before the law, it also introduces new rights, including the rights of the child, the right to a passport, rights relating to the environment, the right to legal aid and the right to vote. All the rights elaborated are enjoyed by all persons, without distinction of any kind. This is in keeping with our commitment to a socio-economic model, as envisaged in the Vision 2030 National Development Plan, whereby Jamaica becomes ‘the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business’ for all.
Mindful that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the inherent birthright of all human beings, Jamaica is pleased, as a member of the United Nations family, to reaffirm our ‘faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women.’ As we look to the future, Jamaica commits to upholding the principles which formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Convention and Programme of Action, in our pursuit of a peaceful and more prosperous world.