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Constitutional Review Commission recommendations

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Human rights issues raised by the public

12.JAN.07

Part 11

During the Constitutional Review Consultation, members of the public raised 17 other issues on human rights and freedoms ranging from right to work to freedom to use marijuana for religious purposes. These are dealt with in this final installment on the final report of the commission.

1. Prisoners

“Prisoners should be made to compensate the State for the cost of maintaining them in jail”.{{more}}

The commissioner disagreed saying “we think that incarceration is in itself a sufficient punishment in terms of the curtailment of liberty; the negative impact on one’s dignity; the deprivation from the many comforts of life; the practical consequences of the acquisition of a criminal record (overseas travel implications, employment implications, etc); and the social stigma associated with a history of imprisonment. Your Commissioners are strongly of the view, however, that every effort should be made by the State within the limits of its resources to achieve and maintain the most humane imprisonment regime possible, with emphasis on the imparting of continuing education to, and the acquisition of productive skills by, those imprisoned so as to facilitate the rehabilitation of offenders and to reduce the extremely high rate of recidivism amongst the prison population.”

2. Right to Education

“Education is a human right and a fundamental social necessity; it is an irrevocable duty of the State to develop the potential of every human being”.

The commission agreed and recommended that “this right should be enshrined in the Constitution but should be expressed to be subject to the available resources of the State.

3. Right to Health Care

“Health is a fundamental social right and is the responsibility of the State, and measures should be put in place which accord with international norms and standards”.

The commission agreed and called for it to be enshrined in the Constitution.

4. Right to Work

“All persons should have the right and duty to work; the State should put in place the necessary measures to ensure that every person desiring to work would be able to obtain productive work”.

The commission “broadly” supported it “within the limits of the resources of the State.”

5. Protection of the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities.

“(a) Any person challenged with a disability or special needs should be guaranteed the same rights as any other citizen.

(b) All public places and State-owned buildings should be easily accessible to the disabled and the elderly.

(c) The State should provide free medical care to the disabled and the elderly.”

The commission agreed and so recommended.

6. Protection of the Rights of the Child

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child should be incorporated in its entirety into the Constitution of SVG”.

While the commission was “in sympathy with the spirit of this sentiment” it previously said that it would be too voluminous to include this and other conventions but recommended that several of the provisions of the convention on the Rights of the Child should be incorporated into the Constitution in the same way that Trinidad and Tobago in its revised Constitution included a chapter one entitled “The Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedom”.

7. There should be a Human Rights Commission

“This Human Rights Commission would, among other things, investigate cases in which persons are confined by the State in various institutions, to see whether or not the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of SVG are being fully adhered to”.

The commission agreed and so recommended.

8. Freedom to use Marijuana for Religious Purpose

“Some persons expressed the view that the Rastafarians are not given the latitude to practice their religion. Marijuana should be decriminalised because it is not as harmful as alcohol; it is used as a form of worship in some religions”.

Members of the public made two kinds of comment on this issue. One was that the laws pertaining to the use of and dealing in marijuana are discriminatory against members of the Rastafarian religion; the other was that marijuana should be decriminalised because it is allegedly not as harmful as alcohol. An overwhelming majority of the commissioners chose not to express any concluded views on the subject, on the ground that they are not sufficiently versed in the scientific data as to whether or not the unrestricted or unsupervised use of marijuana is detrimental to physical or mental health and recommended that there should be an on-going national debate on the issue.

9. The Right to Die

“(a) Some persons are of the opinion that it should be enshrined in our Constitution that persons should have the right to decide when to end their own lives.

(b) The right to die is hotly debated by lawmakers, medical ethicists, and editorial writers around the world. It is a profound issue of conscience and quality of life that directly touches anyone who has a chronic illness or who has a family member with a terminal illness”.

Only one Commissioner supported this proposition. (Final part next week)

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