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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Jamaica

22 August 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined sixteenth to twentieth periodic reports of Jamaica on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Wayne McCook, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Charter on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which was adopted two years ago, provided for the comprehensive protection of economic, social, civil and political rights and also covered the rights of the child, the right to a passport, rights relating to the environment, the right to legal aid, and the right to vote. Constitutional provisions were underpinned by mechanisms of human rights protection, including the Office of the Public Defender, the Independent Commission of Investigations, the Child Development Agency and the Office of the Children’s Advocate. Jamaica’s National Cultural Policy, introduced in 2003, was an important measure taken to promote and protect cultural diversity.

During the interactive dialogue, the Committee praised Jamaica for the significant progress it had made since its last review in the fight against racial discrimination, particularly in the fields of healthcare, reconstruction, unemployment, economic growth and education. The Committee also expressed its admiration for Jamaica’s significant contribution to world sport. Experts asked the delegation about statistical data on ethnic communities, including refugees, the Maroons and the Rastafarians, women’s role in politics and public life, the Jamaican patois dialect, and human rights training. The creation of a National Human Rights Institute, Jamaica’s reservation to the Convention, participation of civil society in the drafting of the report and measures to combat trafficking in persons were also raised.

In concluding remarks, Nourredine Amir, Country Rapporteur for Jamaica, said that the delegation had given precise answers to all questions posed by Committee Members. Jamaica should study the recommendations made by the Experts on the implementation of articles four to seven of the Convention and respond in due course.

The Delegation of Jamaica consisted of representatives from the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 22 August, when it will begin its consideration of the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Sweden (CERD/C/SWE/19-21).

Report

The combined sixteenth to twentieth periodic report of Jamaica can be found here CERD/C/JAM/16-20.

Presentation of the Report

WAYNE McCOOK, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that since its independence in 1962, Jamaica had been firmly committed to strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights. With a population of over 2.6 million persons of African, European, East Indian, Middle Eastern and Chinese ancestry, Jamaica was a multi-racial society which attached great importance to cultural diversity. Two years ago Jamaica adopted the Charter on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which provided for the comprehensive protection of economic, social, civil and political rights. The Charter also covered new rights, including the rights of the child, the right to a passport, rights relating to the environment, the right to legal aid, and the right to vote.

Jamaica attached great importance to building on the fundamental provisions set out in its Constitution, which were applied without discrimination in the courts. Constitutional provisions were underpinned by human rights protection mechanisms such as the Office of the Public Defender, the Independent Commission of Investigations, the Child Development Agency and the Office of the Children’s Advocate.

No complaints addressed to the Independent Commission of Investigations were about racial or ethnic concerns, and in no case had race or ethnicity been raised as an issue of concern put to the Public Defender. The absence of complaints was not due to ignorance on the part of the population of the existing mechanisms or the result of a lack of access to courts. Civil society organizations had been most effective in their advocacy of existing mechanisms, both in the wider society and within Government institutions. No issues of racism and racial discrimination had been raise by the organizations engaged in advocacy on behalf of civil society.

Jamaica’s National Cultural Policy, introduced in 2003, was an important measure implemented in a bid to protect cultural diversity in Jamaica. The policy encouraged the transfer of knowledge on Jamaica’s diversity to Jamaican children. Also, in collaboration with China, India and African countries, it promoted cultural agreements for closer cooperation and the annual celebration of National Heritage Week in October. The National Cultural Policy took steps to ensure that rural communities, children, the elderly, the poor, and other vulnerable groups were given the opportunity to enjoy and participate in those activities. Many public-sponsored cultural activities were either free or required minimal access fees. Education in culture and the arts was offered at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

Jamaica upheld the universality of the protection of human rights and recognized the importance of ensuring that the rights of non-nationals in particular were effectively protected. Nationals of the Caribbean Community, of which Jamaica was a Member, had the right to free movement within the community under the Caribbean Community Act. The rights of other non-Jamaicans, including refugees and victims of trafficking in persons, were protected under the Charter of Rights, so that those persons had access to services on an equal footing as Jamaican nationals.

Questions by Experts

NOURREDINE AMIR, Country Rapporteur for Jamaica, praised Jamaica for the significant progress it had made since its last review in the fight against racial discrimination. In the area of health care, over 26 public hospitals and clinics met the needs of the population, and extended fully institutionalized vaccination programmes. The direct participation of the State in economic activity had caused the unemployment rate to drop significantly and the growth rate to increase. Major reconstruction efforts had been made following the devastating effects of the 1980 cyclone. Despite the recession, Jamaica had achieved good figures in terms of life expectancy and had almost universal State school attendance. The Country Rapporteur also thanked Jamaica for contributing extraordinary athletes to world sport.

The Jamaican Constitution protected the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens without discrimination based on gender, colour of skin, ethnic origin or religion, the Country Rapporteur said, adding that the report did not clarify how constitutional provisions could be amended. In what way could the articles of the Convention and the recommendations made by the Committee be incorporated into the Jamaican constitution? He also asked about Jamaica’s reservation on the Convention, and whether it concerned Article 4.

The Country Rapporteur turned to freedom of movement, and said the law on unskilled workers could lead to a discrimination case regarding the right to free movement. A refugee policy had been recently adopted to guarantee the rights of refugees, and measures had been taken to prevent trafficking in persons, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The geographical situation of Jamaica and the massive inflows of refugees from neighbouring Haiti and Cuba made the country a potential transit country for trafficking in persons. What was the situation regarding trafficking in persons? Was there a law to deal with the victims of trafficking? The Country Rapporteur noted that de-centralization of birth and death registries had helped to tackle the problem of statelessness.

The report did not contain a breakdown of data by gender or ethnic group, nor did it contain any information about the numerous minority groups living in Jamaica, such as Irish, English, Scottish, Chinese and Spanish. What was the status of those groups under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms? The Charter should be amended so as to be brought in line with the Convention.

Crimes committed against women and children, including rape, were a major cause for concern, especially since those crimes often occurred within communities. Violence and rape were undermining Jamaican society. What was the government doing to deal with those issues?

An Expert asked the delegation to describe Jamaica’s historic vision of the consequences of slavery. How was history, especially the history of slavery, taught at school? Concerning the country’s cultural policy, detailed information was requested on it and on the current living conditions of persons of African descent.

There was the perception in some countries of the region that, despite having a large population of African descent, racist attitudes still persisted in Jamaica. Could the delegation comment on that point? Noting the prohibition of songs with obscene lyrics in Jamaica, an Expert asked whether it was also possible to ban songs with racist references in their lyrics.

Jamaica had placed a reservation on accepting any obligations to introduce judicial processes which went beyond what the national constitution provided, said an Expert, who asked whether that reservation related in particular to aspects of Article 4 of the Convention. Did any parts of the Jamaican Constitution clash with any articles of the Convention? An Expert said that the Charter on Fundamental Rights did not cover all grounds for discrimination, and said that Article 4 of the Convention should be incorporated in the national legislation.

Given that more than 90 per cent of the population were persons of African descent, an Expert wondered how that affected the other ethnic groups living in the country. He also asked whether any indigenous groups were recognized in the Constitution.

As the local Jamaican dialect was not taught in schools, was it just an oral or spoken dialect without a written form, an Expert asked. If so, then specific measures should be taken to ensure that the dialect did not die. Another Expert asked whether the Jamaican patois was spoken by everyone in Jamaica, in addition to the official language of English.

Procedures for issuing identification documents to refugees and for establishing their marital status needed to be improved, because long delays in issuing asylum seekers with papers impacted negatively on the enjoyment of human rights. What was Jamaica doing to tackle that problem, given that it received a large number of refugees? When was the law about refugees and asylum-seekers expected to be adopted? The Expert also wanted to know whether extra-judicial killings targeted persons of a specific ethnic background.

An Expert said that Jamaica, which kept very close ties with Africa, was the most African of all American countries. He also hailed the country’s contribution to world sport. He said that the definition of “racism” in Jamaica’s report appeared to be different from the definition used in other countries. Could the delegation explain how it defined racism? The definition of racial discrimination in Article 1 of the Convention should be taken into account.

Trafficking in persons was a difficult issue to tackle, and Jamaica was in a geographical area which allowed for the free movement of persons and, therefore, was a high-risk area for trafficking. What specific measures was Jamaica taking to deal with that problem?

How were women treated in politics, an Expert asked. Was there a quota for the participation of women in the Senate? Were there awareness-raising campaigns to promote the participation of women in public service and politics at every level?

Concerning economic rights, health, and education Jamaica had made tremendous progress in those areas since the submission of its last report in 2001, an Expert commended. Was health care available to populations living in remote parts of the country?

Jamaica was to be commended on the progress it had made in the promotion and protection of human rights, said an Expert. Concerning the 2012 census mentioned in the report, could the delegation provide more information on the situation of the Maroons and on possible cases of discrimination against them and against other minorities?

The fact that no cases of racial discrimination had been brought to court could be due to a fear of stigma or because racial discrimination was hard to prove or because victims had no trust in the police force or justice system. It could also be due to indifference on the part of the authorities towards issues of racial discrimination. The complete absence of cases of racial discrimination being brought to court should be investigated further.

An Expert said that Jamaica’s report was exceptional, in that it was very clear, concise and well-written. It was understandable, he said, that Jamaica did not disaggregate data by ethnicity, given the country’s ethnic composition. The Expert asked Jamaica to consider withdrawing its reservation on the Convention, which would involve adopting a law criminalizing the superiority claims of any one race over other races. Bearing in mind that Jamaica was a Member of the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean, did the country have cultural agreements with Latin American countries?

Jamaica was an admirable country in many areas, including education, said an Expert. Reservations placed on certain articles of international instruments were worrying and raised the question of the relationship between international and domestic law. The Expert asked whether there were any signs of segregation in the areas of housing, education and employment.

An Expert said that Jamaica had found one of the most effective ways of combating racial discrimination, through athletic prowess and music. According to the Charter on Fundamental Freedoms, anyone who was a victim of racial discrimination had the right to go directly to the Supreme Court to seek reparations. Had that right ever been invoked? The Expert also asked whether human rights training was offered at school.

Response by Delegation

All persons in Jamaica, without distinction as to nationality or citizenship, were entitled to their fundamental rights and freedoms, which were guaranteed by the Constitution. Concerning the different national communities of Indians, Chinese and Spaniards, data was not disaggregated by ethnic origin so no exact figures were available in that respect. Members of those communities had their own practices and celebrated their own holidays, such as Chinese New Year and the Indian Arrival Day, in addition to national holidays, but no distinction was made on the basis of ethnic background.

The constitution and laws of Jamaica provided for freedom of discrimination on the basis of colour, religion, ethnicity, political opinion and social class. Advocacy of ethnic or religious hatred, which constituted incitement to hatred or violence, was prohibited by the law.

Measures had been taken to enable the Broadcasting Commission to ban music with racist lyrics or any public statement which was abusive or derogatory of skin colour, religion or ethnic origin. The dissemination of racist ideas was prohibited and persons may be subject to arrest for using racist language.

History was taught at all levels of education and there was an official Jamaican week and Jamaican day celebrated in February. During National Heritage Week various events were organized to promote history and educate children on the origin of their ancestors. There was also a structured multicultural and multiracial teaching programme whose objective was to familiarize Jamaican children with traditions and customs of all communities living in the country.

The delegation said that there was no precise figure of the number of Maroons in the country because they did not live in separate communities. There were four distinct communities of Maroons in Jamaica but they were all part of Jamaican society and lived as Jamaicans citizens. They were regarded as indigenous peoples but, as they had been brought to Jamaica as slaves, they were not seen as the original inhabitants of the country. Maroons had access to all levels of education and all national services on an equal footing with all other Jamaicans. The same applied to the Rastafarian community, which was totally integrated in Jamaican society and had full access to State facilities.

The delegation said that Rastafarianism was a religious movement. There were Rastafarians who were not of African descent, although many of its principles of that movement were closely associated with Africa. In the past, schools did not admit students with dreadlocks but that policy had changed and Rastafarians could attend school regardless of their hair-style. Besides, dreadlocks were no longer exclusively associated with Rastafarians.

Concerning measures to reduce violence and rape, the delegation said that the Community Renewal Programme, which was approved in 2011, planned and implemented strategies to tackle issues of violence, focusing in particular on law enforcement and community empowerment. It was clear that addressing problems of violence should begin by addressing underlying social concerns first, and, in that respect, it was important to engage in community enhancement.

Jamaica collaborated with police officers from other countries, such as the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, and Trinidad and Tobago, and engaged in data collection and information sharing to combat trafficking in persons. A Crime and Security Strategy had recently been adopted to address the security challenges faces by Caribbean States, and a set of priority actions was being developed to deal with trafficking in person. Furthermore, the delegation said that Jamaica had a number of agreements with other Latin American and Caribbean countries, such as Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil. It also maintained close working partnerships and collaboration projects with Argentina and the Dominican Republic.

Several measures had been taken to combat trafficking within Jamaica, including an Act adopted in 2007, which outlined the offence of trafficking in persons, and relevant proceedings and penalties, and was fully compliant with international and United Nations standards. In 2013 the Act was amended to expand its definition of exploitation and was supported by other legislation, such as the Sexual Offences Act, the Child Pornography Act, and the Cyber Crimes Act. Trafficking victims were offered full assistance by State bodies.

Concerning extrajudicial killings, neither of the two main State bodies concerned with the issue had received any complaints of racially motivated action on the part of police officers or concerning extrajudicial killings.

The Government National Refugee Policy of 2009 included a section on the rights and duties of refugees and ensured that identification documents were provided to all citizens, including refugees.

The delegation said that 33 persons had been granted asylum status in the past ten years and enjoyed the same privileges as those who were permanent residents in the country.

Data on the minority component of emigration was not readily available. Concerning the freedom of movement of workers, skilled workers had the right to move freely within the Caribbean territory and seek employment. For that right to be applied to unskilled workers, too, the Heads of Government of Caribbean countries had to consider the matter, which could not be decided by Jamaica unilaterally.

Responding to the question about statelessness, the delegation said that, as all Jamaicans were entitled to identification documents, including a passport, there were no issues concerning stateless persons which needed to be addressed.

The reservation placed by Jamaica on the Convention related to the acceptance of obligations going beyond the limits of the obligations already included in the national constitution. So whenever the Convention granted a right which the Jamaican constitution did not guarantee, Jamaica would not guarantee that right either. The main reason for that reservation was uncertainty about the interpretation of Article 5 of the Convention. The absence of legislation did not create injustice for anyone, which is why there was no racial discrimination in Jamaica. The reservation did not imply a hierarchical precedence of domestic legislation over international law.

Concerning the establishment of a single Human Rights Institution, the delegation said that Jamaica had no human rights institution other than its courts, and was of the view that it had sufficient mechanisms effectively supported and structured to protect the human rights of all its citizens. The Government had not taken a decision on establishing a single National Human Rights Institution, and the matter was still open to consideration.

Every citizen of Jamaica had the right to vote in fair and free elections. That right was guaranteed by the Constitution, which protected the right of access to the polls for all.

Regarding the question of skin colour, the delegation said that Jamaica was well aware of its past but in contemporary Jamaican society there was no manifest concern in terms of opportunity and access depending on skin colour.

The delegation reported that human rights instruction had been made an integral part of instruction for the country’s security forces.

Concerning Jamaica’s National Cultural Policy, it promoted cultural development expression, cultural identity construction and consolidation, and the preservation of cultural heritage through international cultural agreements and exchanges.

While English was the language of instruction, the Jamaican patois, which combined West African languages and elements of European languages, was spoken by the majority of Jamaican citizens. The dialect was transmitted from one generation to another and was used widely in all cultural activities and in the media. While not taught in schools, the patois continued to have a life of its own among Jamaicans. Discussions had been taking place about creating a written form of the dialect.

Concerning gender and politics, the delegation said that women had always played an important role in Jamaican society, in all aspects of life. Regarding women in key Government positions, the delegation said that women currently held the positions of Prime Minister, Auditor General and Chief Justice. Over 12 per cent of Parliament Deputies, over 20 per cent of Ministers and Senators, and 28 per cent of mayors were women. In Government departments 56 per cent of employees were women.

The delegation said that Jamaica had taken numerous initiatives to educate the public on the dangers of skin-bleaching and such products had been banned from the Jamaican market.

Comments by Experts

An Expert wondered what had been the residual impact of slavery and skin colour on Jamaican society. Could the delegation provide more information on that and explain what the Government was doing to address that issue?

During a recent visit to Jamaica, an Expert said that she had identified a connection between ownership of businesses and a lighter skin colour, and asked the delegation to comment on the matter.

Concerning the status of refugees, what was the number of asylum applications received? What measures had been taken to ensure the protection of Haitian asylum seekers who had recently returned to Haiti?

On human rights education, the Expert asked whether training offered in human rights contained a specific element of racial discrimination.

An Expert also said that the Committee hadn’t received any shadow report or documents from Jamaican civil society organizations. The involvement of non-governmental organizations in the production of reports to the Committee was extremely important and should be actively encouraged.

Regarding skin-bleaching, an Expert said that the problem was not specific to Jamaica or the Caribbean but it was a general problem among persons of African origin. It was a manifestation of serious identity issues which went far deeper than an aesthetic improvement.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said there was no institutional structure in Jamaica which facilitated business activity for persons of a lighter skin colour or of a certain background. The predominance of tourists from North America in the north of the country meant that significant numbers of Caucasians worked in the service industry there, including hotels and restaurants in tourist areas. Jamaica consistently pursued a policy of empowerment of the people, not a policy of segregation. Information about ownership of public and private companies was publicly available.

Extensive consultations with civil society organizations were held in relation to a wide range of State activities, and the Government always welcomed and benefited from the input of non-governmental organizations.

Concerning the repatriation of Haitian refugees, all necessary measures had been taken to guarantee their protection and safe return to their country.

Employment agencies solicited applications for posts in third countries and sought the best skills available. Job advertisements were published and the only criterion used in the screening of candidates was the set of skills offered.

Members of civil society organizations delivered some of the human rights training courses to the security forces. Jamaica had taken a forward approach in order to sensitize its security forces to human rights issues.

Concluding Remarks

NOURREDINE AMIR, Country Rapporteur for Jamaica, concluded that sensitive issues had been raised during the two-day debate and many positive trends had been identified. The delegation had given precise answers to all questions posed by Committee Members. The Constitution and the Charter for Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which were repeatedly referred to during the presentation and interactive dialogue, were the two pillars upon which the Jamaican society was solidly founded, and they both contained elements of the Convention. Jamaica should study the recommendations which would be made by the Committee on the implementation of articles four to seven of the Convention and respond in due course.

WAYNE McCOOK, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for the attention it had paid to Jamaica’s report and reiterated that Jamaica attached a great deal of importance to the Committee and its work. Jamaica had benefited from the professional support of the Experts and highly valued their questions and comments. The Committee’s recommendations would be transmitted to the Government and would be given full consideration. Gender representation in the delegation, 75 per cent of whom were women, was indicative of the important role that women paid in Jamaican society.

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