- I am pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to participate in this event to mark the 66th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
- On Human Rights Day in 2013, the international community observed the 20th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, a significant multilateral human rights instrument which is ranked among the most far-reaching in the last century
- The United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have laid the foundation for international human rights law.
Statement by Senator the Honourable Arnold J. Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, UNDP’s Human Rights Day Event to mark the 66th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts,
10th December 2014
Dr. Arun Kashyap, Resident Coordinator of the UNDP,
Mr. Matondo Mukulu, Acting Public Defender,
High Commissioners and Ambassadors,
Representatives of other UN Organisations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A pleasant good afternoon.
I am pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to participate in this event to mark the 66th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Adopted on 10th December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although not legally binding in itself, is widely recognised and accepted as the common standard of achievement for human rights of all peoples and nations, and has inspired and paved the way for the conclusion of several other human rights instruments. On Human Rights Day in 2013, the international community observed the 20th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, a significant multilateral human rights instrument which is ranked among the most far-reaching in the last century. This document 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 United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have laid the foundation for international human rights law. It is clear that over the decades, these two documents, together with the myriad other multilateral human rights instruments, have confirmed for us all many of the rights and freedoms which we now enjoy and frankly, often take for granted. These human rights instruments have laid the foundation for many advances and achievements in the promotion and protection of the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities.
The Universal Declaration, along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, collectively known as the International Bill of Human Rights, provide the legal framework for the realisation of a range of civil, political, social and economic rights. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are but a few of the core international human rights conventions which have punctuated the human rights landscape, and have coalesced the international community in its efforts to protect its citizens.
Inspired by the tenets of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), Jamaica boldly took to the international stage in 1963, only a year after gaining political independence, calling for the year 1968 to be designated the International Year for Human Rights, to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of 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, which was subsequently held in Tehran, Iran in May 1968, adopted a Proclamation which inter alia, posited a link between the enjoyment of civil and political rights as well as an unequivocal interconnection between the realisation of human rights and economic development.
Jamaica’s longstanding commitment to the international human rights agenda was also manifested in the instrumental role we played in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the support we provided for the liberation struggles in Angola, Namibia and Mozambique. These efforts served not only to demonstrate our steadfast opposition to racism and racial discrimination, but also our abiding commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. Jamaica has never lost sight of the fact that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the inherent birthright of every human being, and that respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms without distinction of any kind is a fundamental rule of international human rights law. The breach of human rights of persons in one part of the globe therefore constitutes a breach of human rights everywhere.
At the national level, the promotion and protection of human rights remain a fundamental priority of the Government of Jamaica, evidenced by its ratification of seven (7) of the nine (9) core international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The establishment over the years of a robust network of institutions which deals with various aspects of human rights further demonstrates our commitment and the importance that we attach to protecting the human rights of our nationals.
While the Government of Jamaica is pleased with the tremendous progress which we have achieved over the years, we acknowledge that there is room for improvement and therefore cannot become complacent. We continue to explore ways to enhance the protection of the human rights of our citizens and improve their daily lives. Efforts are currently underway to enhance the institutional framework for the provision of oversight in relation to Jamaica’s human rights machinery. A process is also in train to review several key pieces of domestic legislation, including the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act.
The Government of Jamaica continues to pay special attention to the most vulnerable among us. In October 2014, the Jamaican Parliament approved the Disabilities Act, which builds on our National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, approved by Parliament in 2000. This was a critical move towards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and their inclusion in areas of national development, as well as addressing the social injustices experienced by persons with disabilities.
As part of our social protection system, the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), introduced in 2002, remains one of the key initiatives being undertaken to protect the most vulnerable groups through the provision of cash benefits and economic opportunities, including skills training and access to employment, so as to improve their quality of life.
Trafficking in persons has emerged as an issue of growing concern in Jamaica in the last few years. Under the aegis of the National Taskforce against Trafficking in Persons (NATFATIP) headquartered in the Ministry of Justice, we have been undertaking several initiatives aimed at combating trafficking of our nationals. In our efforts to ensure that the perpetrators of these despicable acts are appropriately dealt with, the Government of Jamaica made several amendments in 2013 to the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act which inter alia, increased the penalties from 10 to 20 years and outlined aggravating circumstances that the Court could take into account in sentencing. A number of sensitisation sessions have been held and are being planned in order to ensure that our citizens are aware of the dangers involved. This is also crucial if we are to successfully end this scourge.
We are heartened by the fact that one of the basic purposes and principles of the UN Charter is to achieve international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. The Government of Jamaica cherishes its longstanding partnership with the United Nations system, not only in the advancement of the national development agenda, but also in relation to the promotion of human rights. We remain committed to engaging with the international community in this regard. We are in the process of finalising Jamaica’s report for submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the implementation of Jamaica’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.
At the same time, Jamaica also remains committed to its human rights obligations within the Organization of American States. We maintain that Jamaican law on human rights, especially as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in our Constitution, is fully compatible with the requirements of the American Convention on Human Rights. We also maintain that in the formulation and implementation of human rights rules — in the contexts of both the United Nations and the Organisation of American States – Jamaica is fully entitled to take into account positive values and attitudes that are of importance to the people and institutions of the country. As always, we will work with international and regional bodies to ensure the full implementation of generally accepted international norms and standards, in keeping with national court decisions and rules in international treaties binding on Jamaica.
The world has undergone immense change since the turbulent period of apartheid and liberation struggles. However, the systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms has continued unabated in different forms in various spheres of the globe; from racism and xenophobia to terrorism; from religious intolerance to abject poverty and hunger. Human Rights Day 2014, which is being observed under the theme Human Rights 365, is a call for everyone, you and me, to heed the cry of those persons for whom the realisation of human rights remains a distant dream. Jamaica will continue to collaborate with the international community in our quest to ensure that every citizen can enjoy their inalienable rights and freedoms, as envisaged by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.