Wah Yuh Know Bout Human Rights?

There aren’t many of us who haven’t heard a lot about the term “human rights” bandied about recently. Whether it’s about African and Middle-Eastern refugees in Europe, African-Americans in the United States, or children in Jamaica, whether it’s termed “migrant rights”, “civil rights”, or “children’s rights”, all of these fall under the human rights umbrella.

What are human rights?

The United Nations Human Rights Commission defines it as, “[the] rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.” We don’t have to do anything to deserve these rights.

All UN member states, among which Jamaica is counted, ought to have and enforce laws which encode these principles, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). However, trans Jamaicans, as well as other groups, know that the reality–both legally, and in daily life–falls far short of these ideals. Is the gap irreparable? Do we have no recourse? Absolutely not.

Many activists and civil society groups push for law reforms that are informed by the principles set out in various regional and international treatises. (Voices for Equal Rights and Justice is one example of a coalition doing just that: SOA Review (PDF).) Indeed, Jamaica is a signatory to most of them. The first step towards claiming the rights due to us is to know what they are! Here are three major examples.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The American Convention of Human Rights

This is the Organisation of American States’ international human rights treatise. Jamaica, as an independent state in the Americas–the Caribbean along with North, Central and South America–is a member and signatory. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights is the OAS body which promotes and enforces the rights set out in the convention. Coupled with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, it promotes and enforces human rights in the Americas. The rulings from the court are advisory.

We know the treatise is a lot to take in (link). The American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man is a more digestible version (link).

In 2014 a Rapporteurship was created to handle LGBTI rights. Tracy Robinson, a Jamaican, is the current rapporteur.

Yogyakarta Principles

A varied group of international human rights experts met in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in November 2006 to adopt and present the Yogyakarta Principles. This is not a new human rights treatise in and of itself, but a guideline which ably shows how broadly accepted documents like the UDHR apply to persons of all sexualities and genders. With it one can demonstrate how our own constitution–specifically, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms–can protect the rights of all LGBTI persons; highlight how any prejudicial language or clause inserted contradicts its spirit; and justify amendments and supportive legislation.

This vid on the launch of the Yogyakarta Principles in Brazil gives great insight into its genesis and purpose.

After all this, you may wonder if there is a point to such organisations if they have no hard power to force states to obey all such laws. We can look to our own lives as the answer. Peer pressure has its own influence. In the society of nations, if enough consensus forms around a particular issue, it is likely to spread. There are reasons that even nations with the most questionable track records make great effort to participate and protect their image. These organisations and the materials they produce also give advocates on the ground effective tools in which to help articulate their message.

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