On Tuesday in the House of Assembly, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley answers questions about plans to establish a Human Rights Commission. (Screenshot: HOA)

For more than 15 years, successive governments have been promising to establish the Human Rights Commission provided for in the 2007 Constitution. But the initiative has been delayed again and again.

Recently, however, a revised draft bill to establish the commission was submitted to the Deputy Governor’s Office, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said Tuesday in the House of Assembly. Soon, he added, public consultations will be held to give residents a chance to weigh in on the draft bill before it is submitted to Cabinet for approval and submission the HOA.


The planned commission would be tasked with investigating and reconciling complaints about human rights infringements. It would also be responsible for informing the public about constitutional rights and dispensing advice on human rights-related procedures and policy.

Dr. Wheatley said Tuesday that the commission hasn’t been established yet because the HOA has not yet passed the enabling legislation.

“Since 2020, there have been various consultations between the Deputy Governor’s Office, the Governor’s Office, and the Attorney General’s Chambers to revise the previously submitted bill,” he said in response to questions from opposition member Stacy Mather.

“As recent as last week, the Deputy Governor’s Office received a revised draft bill.”

History of delays

Previous work to establish the commission has been plagued by false starts, abandoned promises and indecision.

In annual Speeches from the Throne, government promised to introduce HRC legislation in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2018, 2022 and 2023.

Meanwhile, different iterations of the HRC Act have surfaced in multiple HOA sittings, but none has been passed.

Also, each year from 2009 to 2015, lawmakers allocated about $100,000 for the commission’s establishment in annual budgets.

In 2016 and 2017, about $10,000 was earmarked.

Allocations continue

Though budget documents indicate that none of this money was spent, lawmakers continued to make allocations for the purpose.

In 2018, $6,500 was earmarked, followed by $128,200 in 2019, according to budget estimates.

In 2020, 2021 and 2022, however, no funds were allocated.

Last year, $165,400 was budgeted, according to Dr. Wheatley, and $162,300 is in this year’s budget.

Money’s use

Asked by Mr. Mather how the budgeted money would be used, the premier responded that the “money will be used for helping to set up the commission itself.”

Mr. Mather responded, “I’m sure as an advocate for many things in our territory and throughout the world, he would understand the importance of having a Human Rights Commission in the BVI.”