Due to its rapid development after World Wars I and II, most, if not all States have been influenced in one way or another by contemporary international human rights law. However, where does St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) stand in all of this?
Compared to some of the bigger, wealthier, and more advanced nations such as the USA, UK, France and Canada, which have made the promotion and protection of human rights integral to their values and nation building, SVG is a relatively new nation, having only gained independence in 1979. Moreover, SVG is a small island developing State which significantly hampers its ability to do many things, since it may not have the physical resources or even human capital.
However, does SVG recognize human rights? The answer to this question is “yes”.
The Constitution of SVG provides for 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. Fundamental rights and freedoms which should not be limited without just cause.
The Constitution of SVG came into existence after significant development of the United Nations human rights system and the European human rights system. Based on its colonial legacy with the UK, which is a part of both of these human rights systems, the drafting of SVG’s Constitution has been influenced directly and indirectly by these human rights systems. Moreover, SVG has various laws at the domestic level that protect the rights of persons.
However, apart from its domestic legal obligations and its historical connections with the UK, SVG itself is a member of various regional and international organizations and has signed onto numerous international documents.
The two main human rights systems that SVG is a member of are the United Nations human rights system and the Inter-American human rights system.
Under the United Nations human rights system, SVG has signed, ratified, and acceded to numerous treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
On the other hand, 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 signed, ratified, and acceded to very few treaties. An example of a treaty under this 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).
As a result of signing, ratifying and/or acceding to multiple treaties under the United Nations human rights system and the Inter-American human rights system, various international and/or domestic legal obligations arise in SVG pertaining to human rights.
SVG, like many other States, has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of persons living within and under its jurisdiction. According to The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, “States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. 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.”
Today, despite constitutional protection of various fundamental rights and freedoms and SVG being a party to numerous human rights treaties, SVG is faced with a multiplicity of human rights issues. Many people’s rights continue to be violated, harassment and discrimination continue to be serious issues of concern, and various forms of abuse and exploitation are prevalent in Vincentian society.
Whether SVG is doing all that it can to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights is a whole other discussion on its own, but the obvious answer in my respectful opinion is “no”.
Today, I encourage us to learn more about our rights in SVG and I encourage the Government and people of SVG to do more to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.
Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister-at-law and Solicitor. He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]