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Standing up for human rights in the Caribbean

By Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño From Caribbean News Now

Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño

This is a particularly special year, as the Commission is celebrating its 60th year and it is the first time in our history that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is holding a period of sessions in Jamaica and in a CARICOM country.

We have chosen to do so at the premier regional Caribbean university, The University of the West Indies, at their regional headquarters. When we hold sessions away from our headquarters in Washington, it allows us to bring the mechanisms of defense, protection and promotion of human rights directly to people of the Americas.

It is important to recall what the IACHR is and the work we are doing and have been doing in the Region.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS) whose mandate is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. Those rights are, but not limited to, the rights of women, children, Afro-descendants, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, migrants, and refugees. Further, the Commission promotes the protection of the freedom of expression; and of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in their individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly, who do not represent their countries of origin or residence. During its history, the Commission and the standards developed by the Inter-American system has benefited greatly from the regions brightest lawyers, scholars and diplomats including, my sister in human rights Margarette May Macaulay (Jamaica), Tracy Robinson (Jamaica), Rose-Marie Belle Antoine (Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago), Sir Clare Kamau Roberts (Antigua and Barbuda), Peter Laurie (Barbados), Jean Joseph Exumé (Haiti), Sir Henry Forde (Barbados), Patrick Lipton Robinson (Jamaica), John S. Donaldson (Trinidad and Tobago), and Sir Oliver Hamlet Jackman (Barbados).

By 1961, the Commission had begun to carry out on-site visits to observe the general human rights situation in a country or to investigate specific situations. Since that time, we have carried out more than 100 visits to 25 OAS Member States, including Jamaica, The Bahamas, Suriname, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. In relation to its visits for the observation of the general human rights situation of a country, the IACHR has published more than 80 country reports to date.

This is the first time the Commission has held a session in a CARICOM country; we have nonetheless worked closely with all of the Caribbean countries. Just a couple of months ago, we conducted a series of promotional visits to Barbados, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.

While the Inter-American Commission generally covers all the states in the Americas, this session has been an opportunity to focus especially on the Caribbean. We wanted to take this opportunity to engage and interact with the States and the peoples of the Caribbean. This historic event is in line with the Commission’s Strategic Plan 2017-2021, where we identified as a challenge the need to reinforce our work for the protection and promotion of human rights in Caribbean countries and in response to that, we designed a specific program for the attention and collaboration with the Caribbean countries.

In its 2018 Annual Report, the Commission had the occasion to appreciate the progress in the Caribbean, but also identify various challenges such as, violence and citizen security, situations of discrimination and violence faced by women and children, the effects of natural disasters and climate change in the most vulnerable groups of the population, the protection of migrants’ rights, among others.

From May 3-10 the Commission had its periods of sessions where we convened high-level meetings with all CARICOM countries and public officials from Jamaica, Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Haiti participated. We also held a dialogue with more than 50 civil society organizations from Jamaica and the region. The Commission will also hold internalmeetings and hearings on the most pressing human rights issues to the people of the Americas.

The hearings in Kingston, Jamaica, took place between May 8 and 10. We held a special dialogue session with civil society organizations. It was the occasion for all civil society members to address the Commission, present their opinions and concerns on IACHR’s work and suggestions on how to improve going forward. We welcomed the attendance of all public hearings by the general public and representatives of the press.

I would love to end with the words of the most famous musician of Jamaica Robert Nesta Marley, more commonly known as Bob Marley, “Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your rights!”  In order to do this, we need to have better engagement and more collaborative work with all stakeholders, common people, state authorities, civil society organizations, media and academia. So this is our call to “Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your rights!”

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