The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is calling on T&T to initiate legislative reform to abolish the mandatory death penalty and to address weaknesses in its equal opportunity legislation.In its report on the 154th General Session hosted in Washington DC last March, released Friday, the Commission mentions T&T and Barbados as two Caribbean countries "whose laws still contemplate the mandatory death penalty."
"Among other troubling aspects," the report says, is that "participating organisations reported that while the death penalty has not been carried out in this region since 2008, a number of states are still opposed to abolishing it."Both the People's Partnership (PP) administration and opposition People's National Movement (PNM) support the death penalty. In 1998, T&T withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights, citing the inability of the IACHR to expeditiously deal with petitions from Death Row prisoners.
The report notes that Suriname abolished the death penalty on March 3 and Barbados "has made a commitment to abolish capital punishment. It is worth noting that ten countries in the region have abolished the mandatory death penalty in compliance with decisions of the inter-American human rights system," the report says.
"The IACHR reiterates the need to move forward with legislative reforms in the countries of the Greater Caribbean, so as to abolish capital punishment throughout this region or, failing that, to impose a moratorium on its application," it adds.The Board of the Commission is headed by its president, T&T law tutor and attorney Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, and includes Jamaican human rights attorney, Tracy Robinson, and four other commissioners from the United States, Mexico, Chile and Paraguay.
The report also expresses disappointment that the government of T&T, which prepared a written response to claims made, did not participate in a special hearing earlier this year which entertained concerns about the country's Equal Opportunity Act.Colin Robinson, who leads the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (Caiso) and attended the March hearing, noted that both Guyana and the Bahamas sent their foreign ministers.He described the occasion as "a moment of acute embarrassment" for the country.
"Our foreign affairs ministry doesn't seem to see us as citizens as its stakeholders," he said.The report notes that the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) "on several occasions recommended that the state expand the prohibition of discrimination to other categories, such as age, sexual orientation and HIV status."
A March 23 statement from the EOC had indicated that proposals for reform had actually been initiated by the Commission since 2010. A submission to "reformulate" the proposals was also made in February 2014.On October 15 that year, the EOC further proposed that "the ground of sexual orientation be included for protection."
"However," the IACHR report adds, "these recommendations, which were also made by various United Nations committees, reportedly have not been followed."The Inter-American Commission also says that it has received information "regarding the multiple, interrelated forms of violence and discrimination against trans women, women living with HIV, and girls in Trinidad and Tobago."
It says the organisations which made submissions to the hearing "further indicated that people with HIV should be considered a separate group and not included in the disability category."
"The organisations reported that women living with HIV/Aids face serious barriers to obtaining full access to health services, as well as severe stigma from their communities," the report says. "They also indicated that one of the country's human rights challenges is the lack of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles."
The "Paris Principles" relate to a 1993 resolution of the United Nations General Assembly which, among other things, calls for the establishment of "a national institution...vested with competence to promote and protect human rights."
"The IACHR expresses its concern regarding the lack of compliance with the Equal Opportunity Commission's recommendations, and requests that the state include the categories of age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status as grounds on which to ban discrimination," the report says.