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Human Rights Committee examines the state of civil and political rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in absence of a report

Human Rights Committee

6 March 2019

The Human Rights Committee concluded today its review of the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in the absence of a report, and with the delegation present.

In her opening remarks, Jinelle Adams, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission of the High Commission for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Kingdom, recognized the challenges in fulfilling reporting obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, noting that human and financial capacity was a major issue in this small island developing State.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs chaired the multi-sectoral national mechanism for reporting and follow-up and had placed treaty body reporting on its strategic priorities for 2019.  The constitutional reform process initiated in 2009 that had sought to limit the number of mandates and establish a minimum proportion of women in Parliament, had not been successful, for political reasons.  The country was the first in the eastern Caribbean to adopt a National Child Protection Policy and establish Child Development Division in 2015.  The Government enacted legislation on child care and adoption, on status of children, and on domestic violence; strived to end the epidemic of HIV/AIDS by 2030, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals; while the juvenile justice reform was ongoing, and the national policy framework on gender-based violence had been strengthened.

Committee Experts took positive note of the reforms and measures over the last decade that furthered the compliance of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines with the obligations under the Covenant and asked for an update on significant developments in the legal and institutional framework since the country’s last review in 2006.  Welcoming the setting up of the national mechanism for reporting and follow-up, Experts asked about steps to overcome the hurdles and obstacles in fulfilling reporting obligations and the progress in establishing a national human rights institution.  The delegation was requested to explain measures to ensure that the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression were strictly necessary and proportional, to inform on the implementation of the Cybercrime Act, and whether a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was being considered, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Issues of great concern included the fact that mandatory capital punishment remained on the books, that torture by state officials had not yet been criminalized as a separate offence, and that level of violence was extremely high, particularly against women and children, with civil society organizations claiming that the country had one of the highest incidence of rape in the world.

Ms. Adams concluded by acknowledging the outstanding issues that required attention, such as teenage pregnancy, sustainability for HIV/AIDS programmes, increasing the capacity of the national mechanism for reporting and follow-up, and reporting obligations to treaty bodies. 

Photini Pazartzis, Committee Vice-Chair, in her concluding remarks, said that this constructive dialogue proved the importance of regular interactions between the Committee and State parties. 

The delegation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines consisted of the representatives of the High Commission for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Kingdom, Ministry of Legal Affairs, and the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, the Family and Persons with Disabilities.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at the end of its one hundred and twenty-fifth session on 29 March.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage .

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/ .

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 6 March, to consider the second periodic report of Niger (CCPR/C/NER/2 ).

Opening Statement

JINELLE ADAMS, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission of the High Commission for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Kingdom, in her opening remarks, expressed hope that the interactive dialogue with the Committee would be of a great benefit for the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  The country was cognizant of the challenges faced in fulfilling their reporting obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, she said, highlighting that, in this small island developing State, the capacity was a major issue, coupled with increasing demands on already limited financial and human resources.  Nevertheless, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was fully committed to the promotion and protection of the civil and political rights of its people, and that was one of the reasons why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in its function as a chair of the multi-sectoral national mechanism for reporting and follow-up, had placed human rights treaty body reporting on its strategic priorities for 2019.  In that vein, the country had just recently submitted its responses to the Committee’s list of issues, to which a number of Governmental departments and non-governmental organizations had contributed, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Chambers, The Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit, among others. 

The Constitution, as the supreme law of the land, expressly guaranteed the protection of the right to life, personal liberty, and freedom of conscience, expression, association, and movement.  It further provided protection from slavery, torture, and inhumane treatment; from deprivation of property, arbitrary search or entry; from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, and place of origin, political opinions, colour, or creed; and it secured protection of the law.  Unfortunately, the constitutional reform process that had started in 2009 and that had sought to limit the number of mandates and to establish a minimum proportion of women in Parliament, had not been successful for political reasons.  However, in demonstration of the commitment to international human rights standards, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had ratified eight of the nine core international human rights instruments and 27 International Labour Organizations Conventions.  It had also acceded to the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court.  Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs partnered with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen the capacity of the members of the national mechanism for reporting and follow-up, and to support non-governmental organizations.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ms. Adams continued, was proud of its human rights record since independence.  The country was the first in the eastern Caribbean to adopt a National Child Protection Policy and establish the Child Development Division in 2015.  The Government continued to protect the most vulnerable within its population, including by adoption of legislation on child care and adoption, on status of children, and on domestic violence.  The country aimed to end the epidemic of HIV/AIDS by 2030, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals.  To that end, awareness raising campaigns had been launched, including the “Catch the Vibes, not the Virus” and the “Lovey Glovey”.  The juvenile justice reform was ongoing, and the country continued to strengthen its national policy framework on gender-based violence, with the National Action Plan launched in 2014 with the support of the United States Agency for International Development. 

In conclusion, Ms. Adams expressed her country’s determination to consider human rights, with all the care and seriousness they deserved, despite all the challenges.

Questions by the Committee Experts

At the beginning of the interactive dialogue with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Committee Experts welcomed its participation in two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review and took positive note of the legislative reforms and measures over the last decade that furthered the compliance with the obligations under the Covenant.  They asked the delegation about steps taken to ensure that the restrictions on the right to expression were strictly necessary and proportional, and requested further information on the implementation of the 2016 Cybercrime Act, including on the nature and the number of charges and convictions for offences under the Act.

Welcoming the setting up of the national mechanism for reporting and follow-up, the Experts remarked that the country’s reports to a number of treaty bodies were long overdue and asked about the hurdles and obstacles it faced in fulfilling its reporting obligations.  How would it use the national mechanism of overcome the delays?  The Experts requested information on cases in which the Covenant had been invoked or applied and asked the delegation to update the Committee on the significant developments in the country’s legal and institutional framework since its last review by the Committee.  What was being done to ensure that the Covenant was widely available to the population at large and were there any programmes or plans to implement public education or awareness campaigns to promote the full enjoyment of human rights for all people?

The Experts asked the delegation on the update concerning the establishment of a national human rights institution and the steps taken to ensure its independence from the Government, in line with the Paris Principles.  Which bodies were in charge with implementing the roles of monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, conducting investigations, and providing remedies?

The Experts recalled that in Thompson vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines case decided in 1998, the Committee had found that mandatory capital punishment amounted to arbitrary deprivation of human life and it had considered that Mr. Thompson’s conditions of detention in the Kingston prison violated the provisions of the Covenant.  What measures had been taken to implement the Committee’s views in this case, including the reform of the Criminal Code and the Capital Punishment Act?  Additionally, what steps had been taken to criminalize torture by state officials as a separate offence, and to ensure that law enforcement officials did not use excessive force in the early stages of investigations? 

The prohibition of discrimination in the Constitution did not include all the prohibited grounds, the Exerts remarked, asking whether a constitutional revision was in the offing and whether a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was being considered.  In addition, same sex sexual conduct was still criminalized, they noted, asking whether Saint Vincent and the Grenadines would ensure protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Experts remarked that criminalization of same sex conduct limited access to justice and to health service of this population group.

On the matter of gender pay gap, the labour market was segmented along gender lines, with women working in lower paid sectors and positions.  What measures had been taken to enable equal access of women to labour market and to honour the principle of equal pay for equal work?   Was the State Party considering strengthening authority, visibility and budgeting of the Gender Affairs Division in order to implement a gender based budgeting and a national gender policy?

The Committee expressed great concern about the high level of violent crimes, particularly against women and children, and civil society organizations’ reports claiming that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had one of the highest rates of rape in the world.  Was the country considering amending the Penal Code to include a comprehensive definition of gender-based violence?  The legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace and the prohibition of marital rape were lacking, Experts noted, asking about the steps taken to systematically collect and analyse comprehensive and disaggregated data on violence, and to make them public?  Domestic violence seemed to go unpunished due to cultural values, and women seemed to be discriminated by the police forces and actively discouraged to report the crime.

While abortion was legal if pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, if it put the life or physical or mental health of the mother at risk, and in case of sever foetal malformations, access to abortion was a serious concern, mainly due to its prohibitive cost.  Experts also raised concern about extremely high rate of teenage pregnancy, which was among the highest in the Caribbean, and noted the allegations that clinic nurses sometimes refused access to contraceptives to girls because they felt it was inappropriate for them to be sexually active.  What were the reasons for the substantial increase in the maternal mortality rates and were there any mechanisms to improve the situation?

Committee Experts praised the representation of women, noting that in 2018, the level of representation stood at 60.7 per cent in grade B and 57.1 per cent in grade C service; there were three women among the 26 Members of Parliament, representing 11 per cent.  What were the strategies to increase the participation of women in other aspects of life – social, economic, political, and private - and to increase the number of women in politics and other decision making positions?

The number of HIV infections had increased in 2018 compared to 2017 and it seemed that there were difficulties in accessing long-term health care.  What was being done to dispel the stigma surrounding persons living with HIV/AIDS?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised, the delegation reaffirmed that the right to freedom of expression was enshrined in the Constitution, and said that this right was not unlimited.  The Covenant itself imposed in its Article 19 certain limitations to the freedom of expression.  Some of those limitations had been captured in the Cybercrime Act, which prescribed maximum penalty for the offences, ranging from a fine of 50,000 eastern Caribbean dollars or 2 years of imprisonment.  The Act was not being used to silence criticism, said the delegation, adding that international 2017, the country had begun formulating an open data policy, with the assistance from the World Bank.  The right to demonstrate peacefully was recognized, but any demonstration on public roads must be notified in advance to the authorities by the organizers.

The Human Rights Association, set up in 1986, was a non-profit, non-governmental organization that did not receive government funding.  Its purpose was to promote and protect human rights through educational, training, advocacy, documentation, advocacy, and efforts to influence public authorities.

With regards to the death penalty and its automatic application, the delegation explained that it could only be imposed for most serious crimes, such as murder, genocide, and treason, said the delegation, reminding the Committee that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was not a party to the Second Optional Protocol, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.  Furthermore, the population was overwhelmingly supportive of the death penalty therefore there were no plans to declare a moratorium on the death penalty.  Still, said the delegation, the executions were rarely conducted and no one had been put to death since 1993, which amounted to a de facto moratorium.  Currently, there was one person on the death row since 2010, and it was likely that his sentence would be commuted to life sentence in ten years.

The Constitution prohibited torture and the Criminal Code prescribed one to five years of imprisonment for the crime of assault. 

The “Men as Partners” programme, among others, was active and showed massive progress in raising public awareness on domestic violence and broadening the understanding that domestic violence influenced the entire society and not just the parties involved.  Reporting was an area of great importance in tackling the phenomenon, said the delegation, adding that cases could be reported both by the victim and an interested individual.  Risk assessment then followed, and a decision concerning the emergency placement in a crisis centre and the levels of support.  Maximum placement within the centre was 90 days, while social assistance to the victims of domestic violence and their families included rental assistance, food and medical assistance vouchers, and monthly allowance.

The Constitution provided for the protection against all forms of discrimination, the delegation stressed, adding that the criminalization of same sex relationships was enjoying an overwhelming support of the people.  Every citizen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was protected against violence and discrimination, and guaranteed privacy within their homes; those provisions applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons as well.  All citizens, without distinction, had the right to address the High Court on a constitutional matter.

A Child Justice Bill, which was currently in the process of formulation before the second reading, would increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18, consistent with the international standards.

The law did not specifically prohibit marital rape, said the delegation, adding that rape was covered under the Criminal Code.  There was an ongoing discussion on the revision of the Criminal Code with the aim of amending the definition of incest.  All officials working with children, including teachers, medical staff, social workers, and others, had a mandatory duty to report all cases of domestic violence in which the victim was a child.  The failure to report carried a fine of up to 20,000 east Caribbean dollars or up to five years of imprisonment.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had placed treaty body reporting as the prime goal in 2019, said the delegation, affirming that the Human Rights Association had not received the funding from the Government.  The Covenant had been distributed to various Ministries, which in turn organized awareness raising activities, and there was also a website that covered all international treaties to which Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a party to.

The prosecution could handle allegations of police brutality, and the police themselves were likely to conduct internal investigations.  Any incident could lead to at least a layoff or even a dismissal in the most serious cases.  The victim could obtain compensation, with the High Court deciding on compensation for the damage.

The Government was very concerned by the statistics on rape and sexual violence and had set up the Sexual Offence Unit to successfully tackle the issue in the future.  Legal abortion had to be performed in a licenced institution, the delegation said, explaining that the procedure was permitted for pregnancies arising from rape or incest.  The delegate also confirmed that currently, maternal mortality rates were at their lowest.  The increase in the number of new HIV/AIDS infections was a matter of great concern and actions were being taken to raise awareness on the importance prevention and continual treatment at specialized healthcare centres.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the continuation of the dialogue, the Experts commended on the legal age of marriage which stood at 16 for boys and 15 for girls, and asked whether it would be brought in line with international standard of 18 years of age for both sexes.  They asked the delegation to inform on measures to address the continued and excessive use of pre-trial detention, poor conditions of detention in Kingstown prison, and drug smuggling in prisons.  A concern was raised about the regularity of the elections, and the fact that the allegations concerning the 2015 elections had not yet been addressed.  Experts also remarked on the payment of bribes aimed at distorting the regularity of the vote.

The Corporal Punishment of Juveniles Act permitted caning if a child was certified as “fit” to be beaten, remarked the Experts with concern, asking the delegation to inform on the criteria to assess the child’s “fitness” and on the use of the discretion of the court to exempt children from the punishment.  What was the aim of the Child Justice Bill and how it addressed corporal punishment of children?  Would the ongoing reform of juvenile justice introduce the prohibition of corporal punishment in school setting for all children, including juvenile offenders?  What was being done to raise the awareness of parents, teachers, and all other professionals working with children, as well as the public in general, about the harm caused by corporal punishment, and to promote positive, non-violent forms of child rearing and discipline?

There was evidence of a high prevalence of all forms of violence against children, including incest and sexual abuse, however, the phenomenon seemed largely under-reported.  The delegation was asked to outline efforts to set up a mechanism for the systematic collection of quantitative and qualitative data, and inform on steps taken to abolish the provision of the Criminal Code which allowed for a legal defence based on a mistaken belief that the victim was over 15 years of age.  How did the Child Care and Adoption Act specifically address the issue of sexual abuse of children, including incest and forced prostitution, and what sanctions were prescribed for the crime by the domestic legislation, including the Domestic Violence Act? 

Experts also asked about the efforts to provide adequate financial, human, and technical resources to the Directorate of Family Services to enable an effective child protection from abuse and neglect, and about resources provided to enable the Sexual Offences Unit to cater to the needs of child survivors of sexual abuse.  Were children guaranteed the right to privacy and confidentiality in legal proceedings, including the protection of their identity, and how could they access legal assistance, for example through a state-appointed Children’s Lawyer?

In their questions on the situation of persons with disabilities, the Experts asked about accessibility of public building, measures taken to offer inclusive education to all children with disabilities, and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in decision-making positions and processes.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, like other Caribbean islands, faced a large influx of migrants, who could not apply for asylum given the absence of the legislation on the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.  With statelessness in the Caribbean on the increase in recent years, Experts expressed concern about the fact that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines lacked the legal provisions to extend protection and nationality to statelessness persons. 

Furthermore, the country seemed to be a source and a destination country for trafficking in persons for purposes of labour and sexual exploitation.  The Experts commended Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for its system of victim protection, including from immediate deportation, and the restitution to victims of trafficking.  However, there had not been any prosecutions or convictions for trafficking in persons so far, they remarked, asking the delegation about efforts to collect data on the scope and nature of migrations, the adoption of a national action plan against trafficking in persons, and specialized training on trafficking in persons provided to the judges.

Was Saint Vincent and the Grenadines considering accepting the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and if not, why?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that although the revision of the Marriage Act was not planned in 2019, discussions on the matter had started and would continue.  When it came to 2015 Elections petitions before the court, the trial was completed and they were denied before the High Court.  After appeal, the Court of Appeal decided to return the cases before another judge of the High Court and they were currently being dealt with.  The decision on them was expected to be made on 21 March 2019.

In response to questions raised on juvenile justice reform, the delegation said that a bill had been tabled in Parliament in 2018.  It would raise the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 years and repeal the 1983 Corporal Punishment Act.  Furthermore, it contained provisions on the protection of identity of victims and on legal assistance.  The delegation stressed that detention of juveniles in conflict with the law was the last resort, and that those in detention were held separately from the adult population.  A faith-based non-governmental organization offered six-month reintegration programmes to juveniles.

The Child Development Division was located in the Child Protection Unit, and operated under the National Child Protection Network that covered all the areas related to the protection of children’s rights.  In response to a question on the criminalization of rape of minors, the delegation said that having a sexual relationship with a minor under the age of 13 was punishable by life imprisonment, and that sexual relationship with a teenager under the age of 15, the penalty was five years' imprisonment.  Police officers, medical personnel, and judicial authorities were trained on identifying and reporting child abuse.

Some of the recommendations for the improvement of the election process were being considered, and some had already been implemented, such as the registration of the voters and the update of the voters list.

Refugee determination procedures were still to be enshrined in law, the delegation said, adding that there were very few refugees in the country.  Victims of trafficking could nevertheless apply for asylum, and the decisions were made on a case-by-case basis. The same was true in the case of statelessness, which was addressed on a case by case basis.  With the support of the United States Agency for International Development, the Government was setting up a crime observatory that would capture data on crime and violence and make them available on the open data portal.

The law prohibited discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the building code had been amended to ensure accessibility of public buildings, although there was no systematic programme in place to improve access.  A national committee had been set up in 2015 to implement the Action Plan on the improvement of the situation of persons with disabilities.

Concluding Remarks

JINELLE ADAMS, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission of the High Commission for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Kingdom, concluded by acknowledging the gaps and the outstanding issues that still required attention, such as teenage pregnancy, sustainability for HIV/AIDS programmes, increasing the capacity of the national mechanism for reporting and follow-up, and reporting obligations to treaty bodies.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was open to receiving technical, financial, and other forms of assistance in helping further address those challenges, concluded Ms. Adams.

PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Vice-Chair, in her concluding remarks, said that this constructive dialogue proved the importance of regular interaction between the Committee and State parties.  The Vice-Chair acknowledged the progress made by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and urged the country to continue to address the outstanding issues.

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