In 2024, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines should commit to greater protection of human rights. Through a number of domestic and international instruments, SVG has obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights.
According to the United Nations, “The obligation to respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights”.
The Constitution of SVG which is the supreme law of the land, provides for the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of every person in SVG. It provides for the protection of the right to life, the protection of the right to personal liberty, protection from slavery and forced labour, protection from inhuman treatment, protection from the deprivation of property, protection from arbitrary search or entry, provisions to secure protection of law, protection of freedom of conscience, protection of freedom of expression, protection of freedom of assembly and association, protection of freedom of movement and protection from discrimination based on descriptions such as sex, race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, and creed.
Apart from the Constitution, various domestic laws that aim to protect a range of human rights have been enacted in SVG. However, there still exist many laws on the books that violate human rights, and the Constitution needs to be reformed in order to better protect the rights of all persons in SVG.
Additionally, as far as I am currently aware, though SVG appears to have a National Follow-up and Reporting Mechanism in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the State has not established any specialized Independent National Human Rights Institution in line with the UN Paris Principles Related to the Status of National Institutions. In the proposed 2009 referendum, the establishment of a Human Rights Commission was proposed, but since the referendum failed, it does not seem like many, if any steps have been taken to establish this institution in SVG.
Apart from its domestic laws, SVG is involved in the United Nations human rights system and the Inter-American human rights system. Under these human rights systems, SVG has signed, ratified, and/or acceded to a number of human rights treaties.
According to Article 2 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), a treaty “means an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation”.
Under the United Nations human rights system, SVG has signed, ratified, and acceded to many treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, etc. However, important conventions such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure, etc., remain unratified or not acceded to.
SVG’s treaty ratification status is even worse under the Inter-American human rights system, which is the regional human rights system governing States that are members of the Organisation of American States (OAS). SVG has only signed, ratified, and acceded to very few treaties under this human rights system. An example of a treaty under this human rights system that SVG has ratified is the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará). Conventions such as the American Convention on Human Rights, Protocol of San Salvador”: Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”, the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance, the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the Inter-American Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, etc., remain unratified and/or not acceded to.
Despite the Constitutional protection of various fundamental rights and freedoms and SVG being a party to various international human rights treaties, SVG is faced with a multiplicity of human rights issues. Many people’s rights, including those of women, children, the LGBTQIA+ community, and persons with physical and mental disabilities, continue to be violated, harassment and discrimination continue to be serious issues of concern, and various forms of abuse, violence, and exploitation are prevalent in SVG. There is also cause for concern about the unequal protection of men and boys in comparison to women and girls under various laws in SVG, such as the Sexual Offences Laws.
It is now 2024, I continue to encourage the State, the Government, and the people of SVG to do more to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. It’s time that SVG honors its international human rights obligations.
Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Lawyer with an LLM in International Human Rights Law. He is also the Founder and President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]