EDITORIAL – Our human rights understood
During the past week Barbados was the venue for the regional seminar on human rights co-sponsored by the Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It was an important meeting held to conduct a Universal Periodic Review and assess and address the state of human rights in the region.
It is a matter not sufficiently understood that the human rights enshrined in our Constitution are of the highest importance to our existence as human beings and members of a society in which we jointly surrender certain powers to some of our sisters and brothers to rule over us.
In return we all, governors and governed alike, subscribe to certain general rules which will allow us to be sure that our rights will not be trampled by the power which we have surrendered to.
It is these human rights which so many of us take for granted but which protect us in many ways as we go about the ordinary business of the day. Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McClean, who delivered the feature address on the opening day of the seminar, reminded the audience that Barbados attaches great importance to human rights issues.
She instanced as an example the recent enactment of the Transnational Organized Crime (Prevention and Control) Act – passed in February this year – to give effect to the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
It is just as well that the minister was able to give this information in view of recent statements emanating from the United States suggesting that these activities may be gaining a foothold in our island.
But the importance of human rights resides in more ordinary day-to-day activities. When for example, we discuss the electronic recording of interviews of suspects in police stations, we are touching on their human rights.
So also when we complain about the failure of the Government to pay promptly for lands compulsorily acquired from a citizen, we are in reality complaining about the human right to hold property, and to be paid promptly if the land is acquired for a greater public interest. And there are other rights.
The fact is that while our rights are fundamentally important to each one of us, it is only when our rights are threatened or are being denied that we cry “foul”, without recognizing that we need to give greater daily attention to the maintenance of these rights.
It is exactly what the seminar was about, and while we support such worthy efforts, we feel much more has to be done by the authorities to ensure greater emphasis is placed on exposing our youngsters, and some adult members of the community too, to their rights; for if one does not know one’s rights, one may never be able to appreciate when that right is being abrogated.
The time has come for our schoolchildren to be exposed to a structured age appropriate programme which explains the rudiments of our Constitution and focuses in particular on the chapter on fundamental rights, so that as they mature into adulthood, they are better able to understand how it is that we are ruled by those whom we select, and that we are yet able to secure our freedom from the tyrannical exercise of power.
The price of freedom is said to be eternal vigilance and the Commonwealth Human Rights Unit is doing and has done a sterling job in enhancing information flows and running checks at the national level on how well a country is doing in respecting and adhering to and promoting human rights relevant protocols and treaties.
In an ideal world, we would all have studied and adopted our human rights at the inception of the state of Barbados; but given our history, every effort must be made to ensure that the ground rules of our freedom are understood by every one of our citizens.