Building Blocks for Parliamentarians handling their Roles as Advocates for Human Rights, Equality and Justice.Read Now
This blog is the third in the series of Equality and Justice for All. It was necessary to do a "double -take" after realizing that it was necessary to set the scene more concretely. The role of parliamentarians will therefore be tackled in two instalments. This week's focus is on What are the building blocks required by Parliamentarians to undertake their roles as Advocates? Next week's will focus on How?
In an era where 192 Countries, including all Caribbean Community Member States have committed to achieving the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Parliaments as one of the key state institutions have critical roles to play. As the democratically elected representatives of the people, parliaments have the honorable task to ensure government by the people and for the people. Through their key legislation, representation and oversight functions, parliamentarians can actively engage in the development and implementation of laws, policies and practices that promote democracy and good governance. In this way they create the enabling environment for human capital development.
National , regional and international parliamentary groupings have been established to promote a variety of causes. Most prominent among these are Human rights, Equality and Justice. A sample of these groupings and their activities include:
In addition, a series of regional parliamentary groups have been pursuing a common set of goals to advance human rights-based population and development policies and programmes, including sexual and reproductive health and gender equality. They include:
The Inter-American Parliamentary Group on Population and Development (IAPG). This network includes Canada and the US, as countries that continue to strengthen their commitment to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights for their own people, and that have a special relationship to Latin America and the Caribbean as developing partners.
The Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD). This group specifically references the 2030 SDGs and the principle of 'leaving no one behind'.
The European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF). This Forum brings together Parliamentarians committed to protecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the world’s most vulnerable.
The African Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (APF). This Forum strives to tackle issues regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights and to pave the way for a brighter future for Africa’s women and girls, where every individual has access to the healthcare, education, and the tools they need to take control of their own bodies and lives.
The causes identified with the international and regional parliamentary fora are the same as those identified with the aims of the Judiciary and Faith leaders in the Caribbean (see GOFAD Blogs June 14 and June 21, 2019). They are highlighted in Project Equality used in the sensitization sessions at the 2019 Annual Caribbean Judicial Conference and the PANCAP Justice for All Roadmap endorsed by Caribbean Faith Leaders in their 2017 Declaration and used to sensitize religious leaders on issues related to reducing stigma and discrimination.
In the case of parliamentarians, I refer to the situation I know best. It is PANCAP's sensitization sessions that revolve around the principles of Justice for All, but focus specifically on the implementation of the PANCAP Model Policy Anti-stigma and Discrimination legislation. This Model legislation approved by the Legal Advisory Committee, comprising the Attorneys General of CARICOM in 2012, has yet to be implemented in any CARICOM Country. Yet CARICOM Member States have ratified the principles of human rights, justice and equality enunciated in the Inter American Parliamentary Forum and the 2018 Commonwealth Conference.
The prospects for an accelerated response from Caribbean parliamentarians within the scope of the 2030 SDGs era, are mixed. Engagements under the PANCAP Justice for All programme have stimulated some movement starting with a Regional consultation of approximately 60 parliamentarians in May 2017 in Jamaica. Since then, there have been six national parliamentarian sensitization fora in Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago and four regional multi-stakeholder consultations. While the regional parliamentary consultations led to broad agreements for actions in-line with the legislative, representational and oversight roles of parliamentarians, the country specific sessions addressed policies for overcoming the challenges with reference to removing barriers to AIDS related stigma and discrimination and the multi-stakeholder engagements among parliamentarians, faith leaders, civil society representatives and key populations provided opportunities for reconciling differences in perspectives and fostering alliances toward the goals of ending the AIDS epidemic. Consequently, the trends have been toward positive outcomes based on providing technical assistance to parliamentarians to identify challenges, gaps and opportunities for enhancing their legislative, representational and oversight roles. These include enhancing knowledge of parliamentarians about the following:
TEST, TREAT and DEFEAT based on the UNAIDS scientific 90-90-90 targets which predicts that AIDS can be ended by 2030: if by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV are tested; if 90% of those tested are on treatment; and if 90% of those on treatment attain viral loads in the blood low enough as not to transmit the disease.
Elements of the PANCAP Model Policy Legislation: A 2018 survey revealed that only 25 percent of a random sample of regional parliamentarians were aware of its existence. Hence widespread distribution to all parliamentarians in the six target countries is expected to increase awareness and thereby help to expedite its implementation.
Specific activities related to Primary Parliamentary Roles: Based on legal assessments undertaken for each country several recommendations have emerged about what type of policies may be adopted and implemented by parliamentarians. Some examples provide a range of possibilities that will contribute toward ending AIDS:
PANCAP continues to engage and support parliamentarians through technical assistance to sustain their sensitization to critical issues; the organisational arrangements such as webinars, sharing information through its knowledge of health programmes and utilizing a variety of social media tools to increase awareness, share best practices and foster greater participation in activities aimed at supporting human rights and dignity for all.
We have hereby set the context for examining how parliamentarians are handling their roles as advocates for human rights, equality and justice, prerequisites for human capital development.
Since its inception in 2001, the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) has engaged Faith Leaders in its accelerated approach to prevention, treatment, care and support for people infected and affected with HIV. PANCAP has been conscious of the important work of religious groups in pastoral care and guidance and the widespread respect and impact that religious leaders command from their varying communities. Since its Champion for Change Conference in St Kitts/Nevis in 2004 and the follow up regional consultation of religious leaders in 2005 in Guyana, PANCAP has convened fifteen (15) national and four (4) other regional consultations involving Faith Leaders under the auspices of its Justice for All (JFA) program initiated in 2013. These activities have resulted in a JFA Roadmap, as a living document, with fifteen (15) actionable recommendations around the following five (5) principles:
♣ Enhancing family life and focusing on those in need.
♣ Increasing access to treatment and affordable medicines.
♣ Reducing gender inequality including violence against women and girls.
♣ Promoting prevention with special reference to sexual and reproductive health and rights including age appropriate sexual education.
♣ Implementing legislative reforms for modifying AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.
Among the most significant outcomes from the JFA process has been the Caribbean Faith Leaders Declaration, resulting from the Port of Spain consultation (February 1-2 2017) with ten (10) actionable recommendations. The most pertinent include:
While Project Equality developed by the Caribbean Judiciary (Global Frontier Blog June 14) is based on evidence produced by socio-legal concepts of equality and non-discrimination, Justice for All is predicated on the scientific 90-90-90 targets developed by UNAIDS in 2016, and on eliminating stigma and discrimination as fundamental to human rights. In the first instance, the biomedical-scientific conclusion is that AIDS can be ended by 2030, if by 2020, 90 percent of people living with AIDS are tested and know their status; 90 percent of those tested are on treatment; and 90 percent of those on treatment have the virus in their blood low enough as not to transmit the disease. Secondly, the results of behavioral studies illustrate that the persistence of stigma and discrimination is a major barrier to achieving the 90-90-90 targets.
In addition to the consultations, Faith Leaders across the Caribbean have undertaken a series of studies to inform actions intent on responding to the both scientific and behavioral tendencies required to end AIDS.
In Jamaica, a 2017 Mapping exercise by the Jamaica Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches had been undertaken to determine the nature of the response to HIV among churches and other religious groups. The exercise, provides a model for other countries and has led to several recommendations including:
In Barbados, a 2006 survey on awareness of pastors and youth leaders (including Sunday School teachers) in the Evangelical denomination showed that the attitudes and practices to sex and sexuality of church goers vary only slightly from the general population. The conclusions, all still relevant , pointed to a series of suggested actions to be considered by religious leaders:
In October 2017, The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Anglicans for Decriminalization hosted a two-day conference in Jamaica examining the role of the Church in anti-sodomy laws across the Commonwealth. A book, titled Intimate Conviction was published as a report from this engagement that brought together activists, church officials, and politicians from around the world. One of the main features of this volume is a biblical survey by Dr. John Holder, former Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies. It illustrates that ‘homosexuality’ is addressed only five times in the Bible and they provide the context and driving force of its interpretation. In all cases it is treated as ‘nontraditional sexual encounters’ that are not condemned. Hence, the conviction of the writers of the Bible is that there is space in God’s relationship for the non-traditional. Dr Holder’s conclusion is that “our journey through the Bible does not provide us with any overwhelming rejection of homosexuality. Given the varied contexts within which the practice is rejected, it is difficult to treat these as providing any universal condemnation” .
In 2013 Sir George Alleyne and Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antione edited HIV and Human Rights: Legal and Policy Perspectives on HIV in the Caribbean, that grappled with answers to the outstanding issues of human rights. Their conclusions were the outcome of a pathbreaking symposium of legal, public health and civil society practitioners. They illustrated that HIV attracts a wide variety of human rights abuses and the social and legal issues faced by protagonists in the HIV challenge and viewpoints of policy makers. They recommended that these contending views could lead to new and more rights sensitive laws, but required that consideration must be given to societal prejudices that militate against transformational change.
Looking to the Future
What has emerged is that faith leaders and FBOs are by no means a homogeneous group. There are many contending ideas, different responses, levels of understanding and manifest convictions especially around the issues of abolishing discriminatory laws. As a result, efforts within the PANCAP JFA programme have attempted to foster an aura of respectful dialogue on the essence of human rights among factions within the national religious organizations and between religious leaders and other stakeholders. PANCAP Forums bring together various combinations of stakeholders — religious leaders, key 'LGBTI' populations, youth, and parliamentarians. These have mainly achieved the objective of reducing tensions and challenges that impede progress to end the AIDS epidemic. A joint forum between religions leaders and key populations in Trinidad and Tobago (April 2018) led Faith leaders to identify priority areas for action and issues that require clarification. Since that time, PANCAP has been involved in clarifying terms in common usage, updating the Justice for All Roadmap and examining the proposals for rolling out Comprehensive Sexual Education in accordance with the concerns of faith leaders and in line with CARICOM’s Health and Family Life Education.
Another joint forum between Faith Leaders and Key LGBTI populations in February 2017, agreed that Faith Leaders should “create spaces of hospitality” and welcome “the other in their otherness” while making efforts to reach out to the marginalized. At the same time, key populations are required to show appreciation for differences among religious leaders and denominations and engage in respectful dialogue. In short, the PANCAP JFA programme has evolved with due regard for the differences within the religious communities and in recognition of their vital role in reducing stigma and discrimination.
Indications are that litigation in the courts based on the principle of equality for all is most likely to rule that criminalizing same sex relations between consenting adults is unconstitutional. This has already been the case in Belize, and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, and increasingly in Africa and recently, India. The Judicial process may yet act as a catalyst for either accelerating factionalism among religious denominations or reconciling these differences through the principles of Justice for All. Can Parliamentarians contribute to unlocking the barriers to stigma and discrimination? This is a question that will be tackled next.
Securing Equality for All in the Administration of Justice: Another Twist to Human Capital DevelopmentRead Now
This series of blogs over the next three (3) weeks will focus on some fundamental underpinnings of Human Capital Development. It commences this week with the judicial factors, to be followed by the religious and the parliamentary, respectively. This series is inspired by the work of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean (PANCAP), under the umbrella of the Caribbean Community and its Justice for All (JFA) Roadmap: https://pancap.org/pancap-documents/pancap-justice-for-all-roadmap-revised-2018-12-11/. The JFA programme engages a variety of stakeholders toward the goal of reducing stigma and discrimination, that are major barriers to ending AIDS within the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #3, "Good Health and Wellbeing" while advocating for achieving the Targets of SDG # 16, " Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions".
The Judicial Education Institute of Trinidad and Tobago (JEITT) together with the Faculty of Law, St Augustine; Institute of Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), UWI St Augustine; The UWI Rights Advocacy Project (URAP); and the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) must be congratulated for initiating the Judicial Dialogue on Securing Equality for All in the Administration of Justice, in 2017. The theme is also the title of a book edited by Janeille Zorina Matthews, a multidisiplinary criminal justice scholar and Joel Amoah, a researcher and activist on human rights and legal pluralism. Contributions to this volume are by highly regarded lecturers, researchers, advocates, legal practitioners and the social scientists. The initial dialogue has been converted into an Annual Judicial Conference which in May 2019, brought together approximately 120 Judges and magistrates from the Caribbean in St Kitts/Nevis. In this case, the focus was on Project Equality which in essence, demonstrates how the legal environment is important to human capital development. It is a sensitization process for regional judges, judicial masters and magistrates updated by evidence from socio-legal research with a view to:
Legal concepts of equality and non-discrimination. These hinge on the principle that “all humans are born equal in dignity and rights” (Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948). Hon Justice Jamadar, a contributor to this volume and soon to be sworn in as Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) presents a unique interpretation of the meaning of “being” in the Declaration. It is interpreted to mean 'life itself' to include rivers, forests, oceans, flora, fauna and the earth itself. It is the consequence of the larger vision that is truly a recognition of social, cultural, and environmental consciousness that leads spontaneously and responsibly to respect and regard equality for all in the broadest sense.
Bridging the gap in trust and fairness. Research shows that equal treatment is reflected in the structures, systems and attitudes in which individuals and communities engage. They are essential to peace and security. Hence Project Equality focuses on the historically marginalized, alienated and vulnerable groups and communities in society. Among the reasons for this are three pertinent tendencies.. First, the distrust of the state relates to a deep rooted colonial past of policing whereby 'the policed' are treated as subjects rather than citizens. Second the practice of punishing vulnerability is gradually being reviewed. Examples are the dramatic reduction in criminalization of ganga use in Jamaica, the current discussions about criminalization of HIV transmission and the recent rulings that criminalization of consensual sex between adults is a violation of the Constitutions of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago. Third, the privileging of Christianity that may result in religious dogma unconsciously influencing law making or may be disproportionately influencing the court room. Several judicial decisions (Mc Farlane vs Relate 2010) conclude that promoting the law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot be justified. The intent must be on ensuring that the needs of the most vulnerable are met and a resolve “to leave no one behind”.
Removing impediments to accessing justice. A series of reforms in the administration of justice refer to the key tenet of the rule of law and procedural fairness. They stress the principle that a model code of judicial conduct ensures that persons must be able "to get to the court room door"; must not be subject to undue impediments to having their cases heard; and must not suffer any form of vulnerability, disadvantage and social exclusion. A good illustration is the ruling of the Jamaica Appeals Court in Court of Appeal vs Hines and King (1971), on the right of a Rastafarian to begin his oath with "I swear by Almighty God, King Rastafari". This according to the ruling is "consistent with his professed belief of the sect to which he belongs". Similar groups have benefited from rulings supporting their rights to access. In 2007, Justice Bereaux underscored the importance of equal access by ordering that provision be made for facilities for people with disabilities to have access to the public entrance of the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The Jamaica Judicial code (revised 2014) states that " it is part of the judge's role to ensure proper accommodation is made for people who experience certain challenges, might have difficulties or be at a disadvantage". More recently, CCJ rulings in McEwan vs Attorney General Guyana (2018) also supported trans persons getting into the court room with what was otherwise considered 'inappropriate dress'.
Recommendation to improve access to justice and secure equality before the law for vulnerable groups. The book is replete with recommendations drawn from various countries, highlighted in the sensitization sessions at the 2019 Judicial Conference. Among them are the following codes of conduct for judges:
How these legal codes and principles for reducing stigma and discrimination match the outcomes of discussions among faith leaders and parliamentarians will follow.
Janielle Zorina Matthews and Jewel Amoah eds, Securing Equality for All in the Administration of Justice : Proceedings of the Caribbean Judicial Dialogue , Faculty of Law, UWI, Mona , Jamaica : Pear Tree Press, 2019
During the Annual Judicial Conference in St Kitts in the week of May 26, 2019, I met with Justice Mario Michel of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal and reminisced about his tenure as Chair of the CARICOM Council of Human and Social Development in 2000 while he was Minister of Education and Culture, St Lucia. We recalled the daring attempt to pioneer an integrated approach to human development for CARICOM under the theme ”Investing in Human Capital with equity". That discussion stimulated this blog and is a tribute to Justice Michel's creative leadership. It is heartening to note that the CARICOM Secretariat and its partners have revived this quest through the Human Resource Development Strategy (2018).
The Fourth Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held in Georgetown, Guyana on 4 October, 2000, deliberated on an initiative for formulating an integrated model of social policy under the theme, "Investing in Human Capital with Equity" The diagram shows, the programme areas of the Directorate of Human and Social Development deemed to be central to Human Capital Development (HCD). The logic for the integrated HCD model was predicated on the assumption of Education and Health as core areas; Culture and Labour/workforce as overlapping; gender and youth as complementary; and Sport, crime and security as intervening. The concept was to project these social policy aspects of functional cooperation in a multidimensional, measurable approach to HCD. The vision was to represent the integrated implementation of these functional areas as vital to the viability of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). One practical outcome of the HCD initiative was streamlining the annual work programme of the Directorate of Human and Social Development. Whereas in 2000, there were 54 strategic outcomes among eight programme areas, by 2004, the realignment according to the inter-sectoral matrix -planning approach adopted, resulted in 12 strategic outputs.
It is important to note that there continued to be a search for a methodology to operationalize the HCD model. The exercise was taking place at a time when CARICOM and other regions were steeped in the follow up to 1995 World Summit on Social Development, (WSSD) in Copenhagen, the largest gathering of Heads of States and governments up to that time, that resolved to put people at the centre of development. The WSSD was the precursor to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since the eight (8) MDGs established targets that overlapped with the eight (8) CARICOM HCDs, the latter concept while retained and advocated over the next 5 years, was never fully operationalized. It was superseded by the MDGs to which all CARICOM States became committed . https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/news.shtml
At the 32nd CARICOM COHSOD in May, 2018 the Human Capital Development Initiative was revived. The recommendations of the Commission on Human Resource Development (HRD) were accepted under the theme, 'Positioning Human Resource as Central to Caribbean Resilience and Development’. It established strategic priorities for improving access, relevance, equity and quality. It is intended to be a multi-sectoral-people-centered approach to development, in which human development is at the core of sustainable development. Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, CARICOM Secretary General aptly puts it:
By mainstreaming HRD, it becomes possible to realize goals related not only to the areas of human and social development, but critically, to our economic development. The enhancement of our human capital is fundamental to the success of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)".
The CARICOM HRD Strategy converges with the elements of the World Bank's Human Capital Project. It addresses deficiencies at all levels in the education system aimed at ensuring that people of the Region are adequately equipped with 21st century skills and competencies. It is aligned to the CARICOM Strategic Plan aimed at social, economic, technological and environmental resilience. Its elements also relate to targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4, which promotes “inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all” and SDG # 8 that promotes “sustained inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
These are in fact the essence of the lessons learned from the World Bank HCP that were the focus of the GOFAD Blog (May 31, 2019) Myrna Bernard , CARICOM Director of Human and Social Development , who was a member of the Commission on HRD (2018) and one of the architects of the HCD (2000) provides a useful summary: https://youtu.be/8SOeoQJbiE8
The CARICOM HRD Initiative, places emphasis also on early childhood development interventions championed by Guyana's First Lady, Sandra Granger that promote nurturing care—health, nutrition, responsive caregiving, security and safety, and early learning. It refers to empirical evidence showing that early childhood programmes may cost as little as 50 cents per child per year, when combined with existing services such as health. And it is supported by the science and economics that are clearly on the side of investing in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. The cost of not doing so is higher. Children fall behind long before they set foot in school. [Lancet’s Series, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale]. The HRD initiative is concerned that in the CARICOM region there is less public provisioning for early childhood education, especially for the 0-2 year age group, as opposed to the pre-school years. The uneven funding distribution across sectors is striking; expenditure on pre-primary as share of government expenditure on education is only 2.9% compared to primary at 34.9% and 40.3% for secondary education. Research shows that a child’s brain develops faster in the first 2-3 years than at any other time in life. These are the same attributes that are reflected in the Human Capital Project (see GOFAD blog May 10, 2019. ) https://globalonefrontier.org
Among the other elements of human capital which CARICOM's HRD actively relates to, is
the creation of cultural entrepreneurs for which it has established through CDB, a Creative Industries Innovation Fund (CIIF) facility capitalized at US$2.9M, intended to be a multi-donor fund to encourage innovation, job creation and sustainable capacity-building of the sector.
In addition, the CARICOM HRD is complemented by a regional accreditation mechanism for Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) and the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) coordinated by Caribbean Association of National Training Agencies (CANTA), designed as an integral part of the common qualification framework, preparing manpower for development across CARICOM. So far, seven CARICOM countries have fulfilled the stringent technical and other competency criteria associated with specific occupations: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guyana and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Caribbean Community Secretariat has over time pioneered several programmes of great significance. Most of these are classic examples of how small states can perform with distinction by pooling resources. Others like the human capital initiative and the related human resource development strategy are worthy tools that can transform the Region. The problem remains: moving from concept to reality which in most times is beyond the reach of the technical officers in the CARICOM Secretariat. Solving the implementation deficit is a matter of governance and leadership of member states and of political will at the regional level.