HRC says let voters choose

| 11/02/2009

(CNS): The Human Rights Committee (HRC) is beginning a campaign to persuade government to allow voters to choose whether the right to non-discrimination should be a free standing right as originally proposed in the draft constitution or the limited right as it now sits in the new document. Following the final round of constitutional talks, the committee said that the compromised bill of rights, which came out of the second round of talks, does not guarantee equality for all. The desire to prevent equality to gay and lesbian people has also placed many other groups,  such as the disabled, women and children, at risk, said the HRC.

“At the heart of every valuable constitution or bill of rights throughout history, there has been the principle that all persons are equal and entitled to equal treatment before the law. The draft Cayman Constitution has abandoned that idea,” the committee said. As a result it is seeking support from the community to show government that voters want to make the choice themselves as to whether the non-discrimination right in Section 16 should stand alone or apply only within the confines of the bill of rights, and that it should be presented as a choice during the May referendum.

The HRC explained that the original Section 16 of the draft Bill of Rights statedthat the government should not discriminate against anyone at any time. “The right to equality was originally included as a ‘free-standing’ right and applied in all areas of daily life, including healthcare, housing and employment. This meant that it could not be restricted and made to apply only to certain rights and not to others,” the committee added.

However, before the second round of constitutional negotiations, the government changed Section 16 because it said the Cayman Ministers Association (CMA) and the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) were concerned about conferring rights on gays and lesbians.

The HRC said that the change was accepted by the UK government because they were told that the majority of the Caymanian people are not ready for full equality. However, the committee explained that, as a result of that decision, the Constitution does not protect anyone from discrimination by the government in relation to healthcare, housing, employment, access to public spaces, the provision of social services or anything else which is not listed as a specific right in the Bill of Rights.

“Anyone who is the victim of discrimination in these other areas has no constitutional remedy against the government. There would be no free-standing right to equal treatment by the government,” the HRC pointed out.

During the final round of talks in London, HRC chair Sarah Collins presented a strong argument on why it would be folly to allow the compromised non-discrimination section in the bill of rights, not least because of government’s persistent failure to address very serious human rights abuses that already occur in the Cayman community.

“A number of the HRC’s reports and recommendations highlight the potential for serious human rights violations to go unchecked in the Cayman Islands,” Collins stated. She added that there were inefficiencies in the current framework for addressing HR violations and that it was not wise to leave this within the hands of government in the absence of a clear constitutional framework.

“For over ten years, if not more, female members of the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands have been asking for the extension of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,” Collins said, adding that while government has now said it intends to develop legislation for its implementation there is no good reason why it has taken so long.

“The fact that the women and girls of our country have waited this long for a human rights instrument that will give them the ability to protect themselves from discrimination, without any legitimate explanation for the delay and the lack of urgency in dealing with the matter, demonstrates the absence of any sense of priority on the part of successive governments to protecting residents of the Cayman Islands from discrimination,” Collins stated.

She also used the example of the treatment of juvenile offenders to further illustrate the inadequacies of government in addressing very fundamental human rights abuses. She said the HRC had identified in a report given to government a significant number of human rights concerns arising out of the detention of children, including girls as young as 13 years old, at HMP Fairbanks, which is an adult facility.

“The detention of children pending trial, the lack of access to legal advice at or before trial or at sentencing, the imprisonment of children in an adult facility and the severe lack of appropriate facilities for juveniles accused of crimes, were all areasaddressed in this report.”

Collins explained that the issues gave rise to prima facie breaches of numerous international instruments and while the report was published in early 2007, the HRC has still not received a substantive response from or on behalf of the government, despite repeated requests. She also said that the Children’s Law which was passed in 2003 is still awaiting enabling legislation six years later and the government has again not responded to HRC requests regarding the delay.

Collins listed a number of issues regarding discrimination where the government had simply failed to act and said that the HRC had a legitimate concern that unless non-discrimination was a stand alone right, the Cayman people were vulnerable to government continuing to practice discrimination against them.

The committee lamented the fact that the change to Section 16 meant that government is now also at liberty to pass further legislation that could be discriminatory.  In its campaign statement it revealed examples of what could happen if Section 16 is confined to applying only to the bill of rights and not everyday life.

“A disabled person could not compel the government to put in wheelchair ramps or handrails to allow access to public buildings or facilities, including schools, a  woman or a native Caymanian will be unable to compel the government to pass equal pay legislation, and men could not compel the government to introduce paternity leave or other equal employment rights,” the committee said, noting that a gay or lesbian person could be denied healthcare by the Health Services Authority and government could refuse to hire a Caymanian as a tour guide because his  ‘accent’ is too difficult for tourists to understand.

“The government could discriminate in relation to government housing on any basis, even your race or colour, and there would be no obligation for the government to ensure equal or fair treatment for mentally ill persons, children, the elderly and a range of other vulnerable groups,” the HRC added. “We are asking the government to include the two alternative versions of Section 16 in the referendum and allow people to choose for themselves, rather than taking that choice away from us.”

The HRC said the people should be able to choose between the original Section 16 (free standing right) or the new Section 16 (right to equality limited to the Bill of Rights) and they are asking people to sign a petition that will be presented to government.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    We need more women like Sara Collins and the other members of the HRC to stand up and look out for the interest of us "Caymanians". Well done HRC members, thanks!! 

    I will not be supporting the Constitution as is, and I am aCaymanian woman and a single parent!!

     

     

  2. Anonymous says:

                                                     MONDAY 30 JANUARY 2006

    Leader of Government Business, Kurt Tibbetts, last Thursday issued the Government’s response in a press statement, which reconfirmed a 2001 policy based on human rights:  In response to the scheduled visit [of gay cruise], the Government has reconfirmed the policy of non-discrimination first established by the Cayman Islands Government in 2001 and regards it as consistent with this jurisdiction’s recognition of human rights.”

    In the statement, Mr Tibbetts said the policy is also part of the Bill of Rights in the country’s proposed new constitution. 
    The Government confirms its support of a Bill of Rights being enshrined in our country’s proposed new constitution and notes that the formal adoption of such a Bill will make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of, inter alia, race, age, religion or sexual orientation.”
    The Leader of Government Business said the wishes of the Caymanian people had to be respected but it had an equally important responsibility to make difficult decisions.” 
     
    WEDNESDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2009
    Madam Speaker…We, as the representatives of the people, have done our duty and have delivered.   …
    However, we recognized from the very outset that if constitutional modernization was to be .. successful, it had to secure the widest possible support from the population.
    The most controversial aspect of this entire constitutional modernization exercise has been the content of the Bill of Rights. The UK has mandated that a Bill of Rights must form part of any new constitution.. The struggle has always been to draft a Bill of Rights which would satisfy the UK that it met all its international obligations under the various conventions and treaties to which it is a signatory, while at the same time respecting Caymanian sensitivities, moral standards and values.
    Madam Speaker, successful negotiations are characterized by spirit of compromise. That has been especially true of these recently concluded constitutional talks. All parties made concessions in order to reach agreement on a document that everyone could support. The Government has not achieved everything it pushed for, neither has the Opposition, the Chamber of Commerce, the Cayman Ministers Association, the Conference of Seventh day Adventists or, indeed, the Human Rights Committee. But that is the way negotiations work.
    I say to the HRC, half a loaf is better than no bread at all.
  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s wrong and unlawful to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion or age…" FCO Website

    I must applaud The HRC staff for standing up for the rights of all in The Cayman Islands. The quote above came directly from The FCO website, so if this is the view of both The FCO and HRC, why was it not adhered to? I think this is a very fair question to pose to The FCO. Let us hope the following statement is a view into the future… a first step

    "I am delighted that we have been able to work together to produce a draft new constitution for the people of the Cayman Islands, for whom this will be an important step forward.  I welcome the inclusion of the Bill of Rights as a first step in raising awareness and strengthening respect for and the protection of human rights.  I congratulate the Cayman Islands delegation on their determination to secure the best deal for the people of the Cayman Islands, whilst retaining their links to the UK."  -Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron 06-Feb-2009

     

     

     

     

  4. Guy P. Harrison says:

    Andre Ebanks, Melanie McLaughlin and Sara Collins showed that there really is greatness within Cayman on Talk Today this afternoon. 

    I applaud them for caring enough about others to give their time and energy in this way. Their obvious wisdom and goodness was a breath of fresh air and nothing less than inspirational.

     

    All Caymanians who care about others and think our constitution should have a real bill of rights should not give up. So long as we have people like Andre, Melanie and Sara among us there will always be hope. 

     

    As a society we need to take a deep a breath, take a step back, and do the right thing. I believe there is enough compassion within our people to recognize that promising protection and fairness for all people is the only way to go. 

     

     

     

     

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Kirk Tibbetts, the people of the Cayman Islands will not settle for half a loaf!  We have the opportunity to ensure that the Bill of Rights is done properly the first time and covers EQUALITY for all. We will not settle for nothing less. 

    Sara, Melanie and the entire HRC Committee, thank you for the time that you are putting into informing the community of the many important things at risk and having your beloved country at heart.  The leaders of the PPM and UDP are a bunch of unloyal bullies and thank you for being strong minded and standing up for what is right.

    To my fellow Caymanians reading this, please take the time and look at the big picture, spread the word and inform your family and friends of the consequences! Let’s VOTE!

  6. Richard Wadd says:

    It is rather amusing to see such Debate on what could very well be nothing more than a ‘Pipe Dream’.

    The real question should be, ‘How does ALL of this (Constitutional Debate) REALLY measure-up to the Rules and Guidlines set out by the European Union (EU).

    As a British Overseas Territory, do we not fall under the umbrella of the EU, and if so, then ANY Constitution that the Cayman Islands has MUST comply with EU directive, FULL STOP !!

    It would be very interesting to have an in depth ‘Legal Analysis’ of this.

  7. Sara Collins says:

    I would like to thank you all on behalf of the Committee for your supportive comments. It means a great deal to me to see that there are many of us who feel the same way and to see democracy and freedom of speech in action.  Your words and your stories are inspirational to us.

    If you would like to learn more or  to receive a copy of the petition, please email equalitycayman@gmail.com or join the Facebook group.

    I will endeavour to answer the questions raised in the various comments asap.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I will certainly sign the petition to allow/ask for Free Standing Rights against ALL discrimination!

    I would also like a vote on Horizontal Rights (so that ALL parties are not allowed to discriminate against others). There is as much, if not more, discrimination by private parties/sector as government…one has to wonder if Special interests (Churches and Big business) has lobbied government to not include Horizontal Rights?

    I have been discriminated against here before, both times by Private sector business…both instances to do with the right to Healthcare. When i took my concerns to the Health Practioners Board and  to my attorney i was told i could "write a report, but there is no law against it". The companies involved and it’s owners/CEO were from overseas. So here i was…as a citizen of the Cayman Islands being discriminated against by foreign interests in my own country…and my own government and local attorney telling me "it’s wrong but legal". What’s most ironic is that had these acts of discrimination happened in the home country (USA) of the business owner…then i would have had legal recourse…but not here! I’m sure i am not alone in this…so i think it is high time that we have a "Truly Modern Contitution" one that we (and our children and grandchildren) can be proud of.

    Also of interest is the announcement just now by Government that even if/when the new Contitution comes into effect, that it will take another three years for the Human Rights section to come into effect. The reason given by the Government is that it will be soooooooo bad to drop this on the people of this country without them being educated about what these new Human Rights mean and how they affect us. This suggests to most sound minds that they (Government) has "the cart before the horse" then. And might also suggest this is the way "some" factions of our society wants it (some want the people to not know) thus the effort by some to beat the drums against "Gay Marraige" whenever anyone speaks of Human Rights. The marraige law already takes care of this concern. Human Rights, especially the right to not be discriminated against is a Basic Contitutional Right of any and all truly modern and forward thinking societies!

    Here’s an idea: How about NOT having the vote for Contitutional Modernisation this May/20 (where it can well be confused with election/party interests) and spend the next year or two "educating the people about Human Rights" before voting (mid-way between elections..May/11).

    Another thing…i was astonished to listen to the Leader of Government Business (in the Legistrative Assembly) speak in such a disenting and disrespectful tone about the HRC not being willing to compromise it’s position. While we know this is inaccurate…what many (including LOGB) need to appreciate is that Human Rights cannot be compromised any further than done already…or those rights left won’t mean anything.

    Don’t get me wrong…i believe the Governments of these islands have done some good things for our country…but i really don’t believe it’s in "the best interests of the people of the Cayman Islands" to not allow the people to vote on this  "Modern" contitution without asking (by a vote) if we want: Free Standing Human Rights that will protect ALL against ALL discrimination…anything less can not truly be called "Modern"

    I hope the powers that be will give the people the opportunity to vote on this in a truly democratic way…Cayman is ready!…and so are her people!

  9. Anonymous says:

    This is so obvious. I am astonished that we are even having the debate or to ask the government to let us choose equality. Of course we want a free standing right of equality – !!!

    On what basis do the government think otherwise – or would inform the UK that we are not ready to come into the 21st century? Shall we just remain a backwater for bigots and child molestors?

    The government started constiutional reform on the basis that we are mature enough to take more of a role in our country’s affairs – this newly enlightened nation of people must also understand and respect the need for basic human rights.

    Well done Mel, Sara and HRC: so proud of you for representing Caymanians positively and in such a polished manner – and on such issues of national importance.

    I really hope you resign the HRC and run for election so that you can lead the country – we need people like you – bright, young, professional – on all matters affecting Cayman, not just human rights. You guys are too good a resource to only address human rights abuses. God knows we need it!

     

  10. noname says:

    Did you get a chance to listen to Sara, Melanie and Anthony on Talk Today? While the issues at hand are frustrating – it’s refreshing to hear a group of young educated Caymanians articulate  these important issues.

    How do we get someone like Sara to be our leader? What changes do we need to make to attract people like her to lead Cayman into the future. It’s obvious that she has the countries best interest at heart and is a true inspiration .

    We need to stand up and support Sara and her team as they fight for our rights and the rights of our children.

    Sara for PRESIDENT!  but we’ll settle for Governor!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I hope Ms. Collins or a reader of this will be able to answer my question. I thought the underlying reason for the roll over policy is due to the UK Law which requires us to give citizenship after a number of years. Is this not the same UK Law that we follow which requires human rights? Don’t we in the end have to accept the UK human rights law?

    I thank Ms. Collins for bringing us out of the dark ages. As for the church that should be preaching love, how can you support discrimination against anyone.

     

    • Ebanks the Plumber says:

      The reason most churches are able to preach discrimination is because they adhere to Old Testament values, eg an eye-for-an-eye, sexual orientation intolerance, hatred of people who don’t belong to the tribe.  OK, they draw the line at stoning to death and not wearing clothes made of more than one fabric, but that’s cherry-picking!

      I suspect that there are more Christian values to be found in the HRC than there are in any packed church on a Saturday or Sunday.

  12. Kimberley Davis says:

    Don’t those who fight for the right to discriminate see that it’s a double edge sword they swing. One day they may wake up andfind they suffer as a result of that blade… or even more likely – their children – and their children. Is that the type of legacy they want to leave?

    Look around. Have you seen Cayman (or Caymanians for that matter) lately?  Cayman is a multicultural society. Regardless of immigration status, we live and work together as a community of many people. Why would we want to thicken the lines between us?

    The world is increasingly global. The job market increasingly competitive. We need to accept  who we now are as Caymanians – open our minds, respect each other and educate our children. The world is moving forward with or without us.

    LET’S VOTE!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Let’s get the new Constitution so we have more clear rights than we have now. After all, we have made it this far without any constitutional rights and I for one do not think our relations with Government entities is too bad. Then when these new rights have settled in, everyone understands and is used to them, and we see them in action, there may be more impetus to add or change.

    If we now embark on an argument on some ‘minor’ issues, we will likely miss the bigger prize. The new Constitution can always be amended in the future via specific referenda. I do recall that the cry against the previous proposed referendum questions was that it was too complicated (rubbish in my opinion) but now here we go again.

    Be careful HRC with your "campaign" and utterances or you may get nothing at all, i.e. keep the existing constitution with zero specified rights. Then what have you achieved?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Well done HRC!  I fully agree – can anyone seriously tell me they want to leave it up to government to treat people fairly? Ans: N.O.  Year after year they ignore the Pines and Sunrise’s needs so that they are barely scraping to get by, like animals!!  I am all for holding government accountable and if this is a way to do this, then it is obvious we should have it. 

    But people – we cannot expect government to WANT to give us power to hold them accountable and that’s why they changed this law! We have to demand it !

    W A K E  U P  MY PEOPLE!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Sara Collins running for office would be the best thing to happen to Cayman – she is far more qualified than every single one of the incumbent MLAs including Cabinet.  Have you considered the basic high school/ middle school level qualifications of most of the MLAs?

    Most cant even run their little outside businesses successfully (Hampstead).

    And most of them do not even speak (Osbourne, Capt Eugene?).  And those that do talk sound so dumb and unprofessional.

    Sara could run circles around all of them – I hope she does run! we need fresh people instead of more of the same.

     

      

     

  16. Anonymous says:

    I will sign the petition also. I think the point is that the majority may ultimately vote one way or another but how can we decide how they feel without allowing them to have the choice? Who says they speak for the majority without actually allowing the people to have a vote? If that isn’t handled with care, it begins to look like dictatorship. The majority of people may or may not agree with the HRC on this but only votes will tell. I also wonder why the majority gets to decide how they should treat minorities. If there is a small group that the majority doesn’t like for some reason, then the outcome maybe a foregone conclusion. However, I  hope we can assume that the majority in our wonderful country will all want fairness for children and the elderly and the disabled, even if there are really people who want the other vulnerable groups to continue to be discriminated against. However, since we are having a referendum process on this at least let it be a truly democratic one. That would be a wonderful reflection on the true spirit of our country. Let that true spirit shine.

  17. Anonymous says:

    CNS your other articles on this site says the Childrens LAw was tabled in 1994 – but the HRC has said 2004 so which is it? that is a big discrepancy!

    CNS:  In Long wait for Children’s Law, we quote a letter written by Ms Mary J Lawrence and published in the Compass whichsays that the bill was first passed into law 14 years ago, but was later re-written and the new law was also passed in the LA and signed by the governor. The HRC is referring to the second law.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Truthfully I am not surprised by this type of move by government to cater to the churches’ crazed homophobia.

    I have to keep asking how the churches can keep claiming that they represent and CONTROL the majrity of the voters in Cayman – is this even factual or proven or just a age-old bluffing tactic? Personally I dont believe that is the case.

    I will support this petition.

    • Anonymous says:

      Perhaps Ms. Collins should run for office on a pro-human rights platform. This would be the acid test of whether her/the HRC’s stance has the majority support from the voting public.