Our Readers' Opinions
October 16, 2009
Review the constitution


Editor: The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, made this observation in her lecture on “Human Rights” challenges for the 21st Century.

I think she said: “We recognise that democracy alone is no guarantee that the rights of all persons will be protected, and the history of all democracies bears this out.{{more}} Nor is the constitutional entrenchment of human rights in itself a guarantee that they will not be violated in practice.”

Professor Robinson was not speaking against a bill of rights in the Constitution; no, she was promoting all the democratic instances that we want in our Vincentian Constitution. She spoke of “the importance of creating strong, independent national human rights institutions to provide accessible remedies, particularly for those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

Listening to Mary Robinson and Parnel Campbell they speak the same thing, so the Vincentian Constitutional Bill 2009 is heading in the right direction when it comes to Human Rights. Just to receive further commendation from the UN Commissioner, she goes on.

“Frequently these institutions for protecting rights are Human Rights Commissioners, but in many countries, drawing on traditions originating here in Sweden (where she was speaking) they are related to or identified as a human rights ombudsman or ombudsperson.”

Let me pick out two points that we might read but not notice. Commissioner Robinson is convinced that our 9 pages and 19 sections on Vincentian Human Rights need to be accompanied by a “strong Independent National Human Rights Commission or ombudsman/person.” Our Constitution is weak in the Human Rights Commission that it speaks of in Chapter 4 and Chapter 11. I invite readers to examine for example the much spoken of Human Rights Commission. The Constitution does not set up the Commission; it leaves that to the Parliament. I do not give Parliament (dominated by one side) the credit of being able to set up a “strong, independent body to monitor the State. What redress on action can the Commission provide? In section 47 (1) and (2), the commission ‘may make a recommendation to the Attorney-General’, and ‘may make a written representation” to others… Section 143 also exposes a weak Ombudsman; such new institutions need to be reformulated in the Constitution. There is ever the question of whether a “Public Authority” who may be investigated is sufficient broadly defined in Chapter 1.

To return to the former President of Ireland, Commissioner Mary Robinson, she raises a concern in these works.

“It may seem unrealistic to expect nation states to willingly establish National Institutions which have, central to their mandate, at the core of their work, the role of monitoring the behaviour of the State and its employer and of holding Government accountable. However, I believe Nations now understand better the link between respect for Human Rights and achieving the security and stability essential for sustainable Human Development.

Vincentian Human Rights need us as citizens to study the Constitution, not just listen to others. The Human Rights Commission needs to be independent, strong and set up not by Parliament but by an executive President.

Let us review the Constitution. November 25 is unreasonable. I would like next to deal with Parliament.

Oscar Allen