Each year, the 1st of March is celebrated as Zero Discrimination Day.
On this day, amongst other things, we reflect on the right to non-discrimination, recognize the challenges that various individuals and groups face towards the fulfillment of this right, and advocate for change and progress so that everyone can be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their differences, in all spheres of life.
The right to non-discrimination is a fundamental human right that all human beings are born with and it is an important guiding principle in international law that States, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), are obliged to respect and uphold.
It ensures that no one is denied their rights on grounds such as race, colour, ethnicity, descent, sex, pregnancy, maternity, civil, family or carer status, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, birth, national or social origin, nationality, economic status, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, and health status, etc.
Like all rights, this right is universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated.
While SVG does have some domestic laws dealing with this right and has signed some important international treaties that protect from discrimination, this right remains largely underdeveloped.
In SVG, we have various individuals and groups of people that continue to be structurally and systemically discriminated against. Groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, women and girls, and persons living with disabilities, amongst others, face significant challenges and hurdles in ensuring respect for their rights.
In SVG, we have a Constitution that has a limited right to non-discrimination and only explicitly protects against discrimination on six (6) grounds: sex, race, place of origin, political opinion, color, and creed. This needs to change.
Additionally, though we have some domestic laws that address various forms of discrimination, there is no comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in SVG nor comprehensive sexual harassment law in SVG.
Moreover, as far as I am currently aware, domestically the State has also not established any specialized body or mechanism for the protection and promotion of the right to equality in line with the UN Paris Principles. The State should take a serious effort to do so, as well as provide such a body with adequate funding and ensure that it has transparent procedures for the appointment and removal of its members.
Internationally, SVG has signed, ratified, and/or acceded to several international human rights treaties, most of these from the UN. However, a few UN human rights treaties remain unsigned and unratified. Even worst, under the Inter-American system for the protection of human rights, many important human rights treaties such as the American Convention on Human Rights remain unratified and to date, SVG has not accepted the contentious jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to deal with human rights violations. This needs to change.
To show that it is truly serious about protecting all its people from discrimination, the State needs to reform its laws domestically, sign, ratify, and/or accede to important human rights treaties that protect from discrimination, create specialized bodies that monitor and promote human rights domestically, develop and maintain proper data collection mechanisms to study and assess the various patterns of discrimination being experienced in Vincentian society, and embark on a nation-wide educational campaign that seeks to enlighten minds and change cultural attitudes, amongst other things.
As we reflect on Zero Discrimination Day, I encourage us to continue to press forward despite the obstacles and continue to fight to ensure that all forms of discrimination are eradicated from Vincentian society so that everyone can be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their differences.
Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian lawyer with an LLM in International Human Rights Law. He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc, a 2012 National Exhibition Scholar, a 2019 Chevening Scholar, and a 2022/23 Fellow at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]