Monday, May 16, 2011

St Vincent and the Grenadines concludes UN human rights review

News Publisher 5/16/11 6:31 AM
Reprinted from Caribbean News Now!

GENEVA, Switzerland -- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) made concluding remarks before the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday, becoming the 172nd country to have its record on human rights reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review process that began in 2008.

SVG’s progress in education, housing, health and development was praised by members of the Human Rights Council.

However, some countries also asked SVG to consider abolishing the death penalty, and to remove any legal provisions against the crime of buggery. Countries also asked the government to strengthen its protections of the disabled, juveniles, and victims of domestic violence.

The Universal Periodic Review involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 members of the United Nations. It provides an opportunity for all countries to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The countries are evaluated based on a national report provided by their government, as well as information from the reports of independent human rights experts and groups, human rights treaty bodies, and non-governmental organisations.
The two-person Vincentian delegation to Geneva, Switzerland was led by Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves of the Permanent Mission of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations. He was joined by Doris Charles, Minister Counselor of SVG’s High Commission to the United Kingdom.

SVG presented its national report to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, 10 May, 2011. In introducing the national report, Gonsalves told the Council that SVG was proud of its “rapidly developing and improving post-independence human rights record.” The ambassador reminded the Council that SVG’s history was scarred by both slavery – “that most inhumane of human rights violations” – and the genocide of the Garifuna. However, he pointed out that “In modern times, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has largely solved, and spectacularly so, many of the ethnic and racial tensions that bedevil other States.”

“The descendants of the slaveholder, the enslaved and the indigenous live in peace and relative harmony with each other, and with the more recent immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and Europe,” said Gonsalves.
He also pointed out Ambassador Betty King, who was in the Council chamber to hear SVG’s presentation. King, the Vincentian-born Ambassador of the United States in Geneva, was called an “illustrious member of our Diaspora” by Gonsalves.

The Vincentian ambassador told the Council about the growth of democracy in SVG since independence. He recounted the free and fair elections and peaceful transfers of power that have been typical of the country’s development. He also told the Council about the diversity of successive Vincentian governments, which have featured women, the youth, and prime ministers of different ethnic backgrounds.
Gonsalves also described the fundamental rights and freedoms protected by the Vincentian Constitution, as well as the additional human rights protections that were included in the proposed new Constitution, which was defeated in the 2009 referendum.

“Unfortunately, the required referendum on the Constitution became a political football as the scheduled 2010 General Elections approached,” said Gonsalves. “The opposition, which formerly supported the Constitutional reform effort, withdrew from the bipartisan process, and the discussion of the document took on a sharply partisan political tone that made sober and informed debate unexpectedly difficult.”

“On reflection, the State too, could and should have done more to ensure that the constitutional debate did not become hostage to more short-term political calculations,” said the ambassador.

In a rigorous two-hour question-and-answer session between Gonsalves and the members of the Council, 33 countries asked questions and made recommendations to SVG.

Responding to questions on the death penalty, Gonsalves explained that recent judicial decisions made it extremely difficult for executions to take place in SVG, where the death penalty has not been applied in over 15 years. He later asserted out that a majority of the world’s peoples still live in countries that impose capital punishment.
A number of countries called on SVG to repeal all laws that criminalise sexual activities between consenting adults. However, Gonsalves pointed out that Vincentian laws prohibited incest, prostitution, buggery and other sex acts that could involve consenting adults, and that there was no public or legislative appetite to revise any of those provisions.

Many Council members congratulated SVG for its poverty reduction strategies and focus on health and education. They also praised the government for the construction of the new Belle Isle Correctional Facility and economic development.

The Human Rights Council made 92 recommendations to SVG for national action and consideration.
In wrapping-up the week-long Universal Periodic Review process on Friday, May 13, Gonsalves thanked the Council for “the warm expressions of support, solidarity and recognition of the strides and efforts being made by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the field of human rights; and the progress we have achieved in national development and the ennoblement of the Vincentian people.”

He told the Council that SVG could immediately accept 49 of the 92 recommendations, many of which were already being implemented by the government. He explained to the Council that another 26 recommendations would require further study by the government and wider consultation with the Vincentian public before making a response. The remaining 17 recommendations, which dealt mainly with the death penalty and laws relating to buggery, were not accepted by the government.

The president of the Human Rights Council praised SVG for its progress in the field of human rights and congratulated the delegation for their comprehensive responses to the questions and recommendations of the Council.

Ambassador Bente Angell-Hansen of Norway, who represented one of three countries with primary responsibility for recording and reporting the positions of SVG, extended her “sincere appreciation to Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves for the effective and constructive participation of his country in this review.”

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