Jamaica has come a far way in protecting human rights

Jamaica has come a far way in protecting human rights

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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Dear Editor,

December 10, 2019, International Human Rights Day, was an opportune time for us to reflect on how far we've come as a society and how far we have to go to secure the promise of a world where the human rights of all individuals, regardless of their racial, social, economic, sexual, gender, and other statuses or identities, are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Jamaica is no stranger to human rights abuses. Within our distant past, there is the Coral Gardens massacre, and in more recent times we remember the security forces' operation in Tivoli Gardens. Gender inequality and sexual violence continue to plague our women; homophobia and transphobia represent barriers to inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans; classism and colourism limit the access of many poor Jamaicans to employment opportunities; and many people with disabilities as well as people living with HIV face stigma and discrimination throughout their daily lives. We have a lot of work to do to bring our legal and policy framework to a space where it is more emancipatory for all Jamaicans, including the groups mentioned here.

Notwithstanding the tough road ahead, we have to recognise the fact that our Government has come a far way in its attempts to improve the human rights situation. More and more, policies are being developed using a human rights-based approach (see National Policy on Poverty and National Youth Policy). In addition, the establishment of shelters for victims of domestic violence and efforts to introduce sexual harassment legislation ought to be applauded. Ongoing reforms to the abortion laws and laws on sexual violence point to a legislature that is minded to modernising Jamaica, undergirded by a fearless judiciary which will strike down laws (regardless of its Government support) which fall short of the enshrined human rights standard.

None of this would be possible without our active civil society which has taken up the cause of human rights and has held our Government to account to ensure those marginalised voices are heard. Jamaicans for Justice, for example, continues to advocate for reforms in the criminal justice and corrections system.

J-FLAG, which celebrated 21 years in operation on Human Rights Day, has done significant work in shifting the needle so that more LGBT Jamaicans can be visible, claim their space in society, and lead Jamaica into a better tomorrow. Their tireless advocacy has seen a significant, positive shift in the general tone towards homosexuality in traditional and social media as well as government rhetoric.

Critically, J-FLAG's ability to bring dancehall and queerness closer together through their PrideJA celebrations demonstrates that Jamaicans are capable of change. It is that capacity for growth and change that will make the difference in the years to come as we all work together to secure human rights for all.

Glenroy Murray

Associate director, programmes & advocacy

Equality for All Foundation Jamaica Ltd

glenroy@equalityjamaica.org


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