by Mary Francis – Coordinator of the National Centre for Legal Aid & Human Rights
This year International Human Rights Day is being observed in a world ravaged by the deadly COVID 19 pandemic resulting in erosion of human rights on a massive scale, with loss of employment and coercive states of emergency and other lock down measures deployed by Governments the world over.
Here in St. Lucia the perennial social and economic deprivation felt by so many marginalized citizens has been exacerbated, thus exposing the systemic deficiencies in the society.
Now more than ever is the time to build a new St. Lucia by erasing the deficiencies.
We hear of Programmes launched and labelled RECOVER ST. LUCIA. The Prime Minister at every turn speaks of building a new St. Lucia.
The question is how? This requires Government and people, meaning Civil Society, working together in partnership, so as to ensure that St. Lucia is built on solid rock and not on sand. Government must appreciate and recognize the work of N.G.Os.
It therefore requires that Government’s Policies and programmes are people centered, such that the protection of peoples’ human rights becomes the cornerstone in building a new St. Lucia, where we all can recover from the ravishes of the COVID 19 pandemic.
We in St. Lucia have felt the restriction on our liberty and right to assembly under the earlier State of Emergency and now under the COVID 19 Act albeit, in the interest of public health and safety.
Our Institutions have taken a blow, the Justice System in particular, with further limitation imposed on the human right of access to justice, as a result of the structural incapacity of the Courts to have physical hearing of cases.
At least many of us can still go about our daily lives whilst observing the protocols – but think of the high level of Pre Trail detainees at the Bordelais Correctional Facility.
These detainees are human beings and their plight must be recognized by the Government. The greatest lesson taught in this time of grave deprivation, is the necessity for the establishment by Government of a National Human Rights Commission fully funded with sufficient human resources.
This must be emphasized because in the present climate, the deficient capacity of Human Rights N.G.Os has been exposed in their failure to capture abuses of Human Rights by the State during the lock down period.
In a new St. Lucia recovering from COVID 19, a National Human Rights Commission will remove the conflict presently existing whereby the State which is duty bound to protect our rights, is quite often in breach of the rights of poor citizens, who then find themselves in an unjust situation where the State is staunchly defended by the Attorney General against the poor citizens, the same State which is duty bound to protect the rights of the citizen.
This injustice must not exist in a new St. Lucia post COVID. It must be firmly addressed.
The National Centre For Legal Aid And Human Rights – adopts the Theme chosen by the United Nations for this year’s Human Rights Day – which is “RECOVER BETTER – Stand Up For Human Rights.”
The Statement from the United Nations is worth recording which reads thus:-
“This Year’s International Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID 19 Pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better, ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address failures exposed and exploited by COVID 19 and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systemic and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.
10th December is an opportunity to affirm the importance of Human Rights in rebuilding the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity under United Nations Human Rights generic call to action “Stand up for Human Rights” (UNITED NATIONS website).
As Director of the NATIONAL CENTRE FOR LEGAL AID AND HUMAN RIGHTS INC. I call on Government to heed this call to action by the United Nations, in implementing the Plan labelled Recover St. Lucia.
It only makes sense, it is the right thing to do. Government must put Justice first, make the protection of all Human Rights – civil, political, social and economic its priority.
I call on Government once again to establish a National Human Rights Commission.
Without Justice there can be no peace. St. Lucia still awaits the resolution of the 2011 Police killings. Let’s not forget this. Let’s all STAND UP FOR HUMAN RIGTS.
Headline photo caption: Mary Francis