As the world observes Human Rights Day this week , all is not well in the Virgin Islands.
To commemorate the observance locally, Premier Andrew Fahie should explain why his government appears to have set aside his predecessors’ longstanding promise to set up the human rights commission provided for in the 2007 Constitution.
Since extensive public consultations were held in 2009, an HRC Act has been pledged repeatedly in annual speeches from the Throne, and various versions of the bill have been tabled in the House of Assembly but never passed.
Most recently, the previous government sent a version of the bill to a select committee for review last year, but it never even came back for a vote.
Now the promise has been dropped entirely from the new government’s legislative agenda, according to last month’s Speech from the Throne.
The delays are extremely disheartening. The 2007 Constitution was an important landmark for the territory in part because it explicitly laid out a series of rights afforded to everyone in the territory.
But if such rights are not carefully protected, they are not worth the paper they are written on. And in today’s VI, we fear that many residents’ rights are regularly trampled by errant public officials, misguided employers, hardened criminals, and other offenders.
Often, victims stay silent either because they don’t fully understand their rights or because they fear retribution.
The commission envisioned in the Constitution would help protect them, both by educating the community about human rights and by serving as a neutral mediator to review complaints of perceived abuses.
Accordingly, it is badly needed. Moreover, the territory’s lack of an HRC sets it behind several other jurisdictions in the Caribbean and wider world that have established such a body.
Legislators’ longstanding reluctance to pass the bill is shameful, and it is disappointing that the new government seems to be shying even further away from the important task.
We hope to hear an explanation soon, together with a reasonable roadmap for the way forward.