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Montserrat behind on Human Rights Commission, but is respectful

It seemed opportune or designed while Montserrat is still in the soft throes of Constitution discussions, consultations, when Montserrat benefited from a visit from August 7-12 by Peter Ashman, a consultant on Human Rights this week.

The visit was described as a five-day orientation (fact-finding) visit by the Government media, but according to some persons involved in the consultations, the timing at a time when the issue of Human Rights is one of the items being considered in the Constitution talks is not just coincidental.

Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has the responsibility to ensure that its Overseas Territories (OTs) observe human rights obligations in a way that is consistent with international standards. Building human rights capacity in the OTs is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and carried out by the Commonwealth Foundation.

While on island the consultant was due to meet with a number of stakeholders including government officials, the private sector, members of non-governmental organizations, the Human Rights Reporting Committee which includes the Labour Officer Mrs. Denise Phillips, and civil society representatives, the press.

While meeting with the press Mr. Ashman highlighted an area that apparently is not featuring in the Constitution talks or may well be a shortcoming. “…in the Constitution the fundamental rights clause mainly focuses on civil and political rights there is the right to education which is a social right and Montserrat has agreed to extend some years ago the United Nations (UN) convention on the economic social and cultural rights but those don’t figure yet in the Constitution – so there is certainly an area here where both civil society and government will need to look at in the next few years…,” he said.

The consultant did not think he was in a position to make any recommendations that would impact the Constitution debate still taking place in Montserrat, but after a caution, suggested a situation which UK constitution experts may well disagree. “…at the risk of being presumptuous I will say that firstly I do think the situation in general in Montserrat is quite good compared to many other places the civil society members I’ve met here are impressive and the commitment whether from the Chief Minister and Governor down through the government and others, is also impressive. Certainly civil society is much stronger here…”

Mr. Ashman is a specialist in human rights , democracy, and governance and was recently appointed by the commonwealth secretariat to work with the project , on this fact finding mission he will meet with several government officials and pay a courtesy call on his excellency the governor and the honorable chief minister.

Getting closer to his issue of expertise he singled out the fact that the draft Constitution did not include the creation of a Human Rights Commission, notably included in the other territories. “I think the one interesting aspect which is not included, but which is included in the other Caribbean territories is the absence of a national Human Rights Commission (HRC) and so that implementation of the fundamental rights if you have a complaints has to be through the courts and taking a case is usually quite expensive and of sometime exposes you to unwelcome attention,” Ashman noted.

He revealed that he did discuss the matter with the Governor and Chief Minister who “talked about the possibility of a regional Human Rights Commissioner because one of the problems we have in Montserrat is one of resources…”
Mr. Ashman pointed out that the role of an Ombudsman would not replace a Human Rights Commission. He refers to the roles of the HRC and an ombudsman.  “That is not usually the role of an Ombudsman. What an Ombudsman doesn’t usually do, is look at whether the fundamental laws that apply reach international obligations. What an ombudsman does is look to see that civil servants are applying the laws…”

According to the HR consultant, an Ombudsman functionality is to look at complaints about the public administration in terms of the way in which they operate – it’s very much about looking at questions and mal-administration – he doesn’t question whether those laws are fair or not or whether they comply with the international obligations.

He had did observe other good points about Montserrat’s human rights activities. He said that it is the perception that the Caribbean OTs including Montserrat generally respect human rights obligations: “ I do think it’s both the perspective that one has of the territories including Montserrat, that by large human rights are respected here.” He explains, “the governments are committed to the rule of law and committed to respecting human rights and in general they are observed.”

Being a HR expert and as the questioning got to the issue of the press representing the third arm of democracy Mr. Ashman indicated that having worked for five years in the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) he understood how easy it was to react adversely to complaints. “It is very easy for us to find fault in others but it’s difficult for us to find faults in ourselves, we need other people to point out our faults…” That he said is  “the role of the media and that’s the role of civil society and I think that is all for the good.”

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It seemed opportune or designed while Montserrat is still in the soft throes of Constitution discussions, consultations, when Montserrat benefited from a visit from August 7-12 by Peter Ashman, a consultant on Human Rights this week.

The visit was described as a five-day orientation (fact-finding) visit by the Government media, but according to some persons involved in the consultations, the timing at a time when the issue of Human Rights is one of the items being considered in the Constitution talks is not just coincidental.

Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has the responsibility to ensure that its Overseas Territories (OTs) observe human rights obligations in a way that is consistent with international standards. Building human rights capacity in the OTs is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and carried out by the Commonwealth Foundation.

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While on island the consultant was due to meet with a number of stakeholders including government officials, the private sector, members of non-governmental organizations, the Human Rights Reporting Committee which includes the Labour Officer Mrs. Denise Phillips, and civil society representatives, the press.

While meeting with the press Mr. Ashman highlighted an area that apparently is not featuring in the Constitution talks or may well be a shortcoming. “…in the Constitution the fundamental rights clause mainly focuses on civil and political rights there is the right to education which is a social right and Montserrat has agreed to extend some years ago the United Nations (UN) convention on the economic social and cultural rights but those don’t figure yet in the Constitution – so there is certainly an area here where both civil society and government will need to look at in the next few years…,” he said.

The consultant did not think he was in a position to make any recommendations that would impact the Constitution debate still taking place in Montserrat, but after a caution, suggested a situation which UK constitution experts may well disagree. “…at the risk of being presumptuous I will say that firstly I do think the situation in general in Montserrat is quite good compared to many other places the civil society members I’ve met here are impressive and the commitment whether from the Chief Minister and Governor down through the government and others, is also impressive. Certainly civil society is much stronger here…”

Mr. Ashman is a specialist in human rights , democracy, and governance and was recently appointed by the commonwealth secretariat to work with the project , on this fact finding mission he will meet with several government officials and pay a courtesy call on his excellency the governor and the honorable chief minister.

Getting closer to his issue of expertise he singled out the fact that the draft Constitution did not include the creation of a Human Rights Commission, notably included in the other territories. “I think the one interesting aspect which is not included, but which is included in the other Caribbean territories is the absence of a national Human Rights Commission (HRC) and so that implementation of the fundamental rights if you have a complaints has to be through the courts and taking a case is usually quite expensive and of sometime exposes you to unwelcome attention,” Ashman noted.

He revealed that he did discuss the matter with the Governor and Chief Minister who “talked about the possibility of a regional Human Rights Commissioner because one of the problems we have in Montserrat is one of resources…”
Mr. Ashman pointed out that the role of an Ombudsman would not replace a Human Rights Commission. He refers to the roles of the HRC and an ombudsman.  “That is not usually the role of an Ombudsman. What an Ombudsman doesn’t usually do, is look at whether the fundamental laws that apply reach international obligations. What an ombudsman does is look to see that civil servants are applying the laws…”

According to the HR consultant, an Ombudsman functionality is to look at complaints about the public administration in terms of the way in which they operate – it’s very much about looking at questions and mal-administration – he doesn’t question whether those laws are fair or not or whether they comply with the international obligations.

He had did observe other good points about Montserrat’s human rights activities. He said that it is the perception that the Caribbean OTs including Montserrat generally respect human rights obligations: “ I do think it’s both the perspective that one has of the territories including Montserrat, that by large human rights are respected here.” He explains, “the governments are committed to the rule of law and committed to respecting human rights and in general they are observed.”

Being a HR expert and as the questioning got to the issue of the press representing the third arm of democracy Mr. Ashman indicated that having worked for five years in the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) he understood how easy it was to react adversely to complaints. “It is very easy for us to find fault in others but it’s difficult for us to find faults in ourselves, we need other people to point out our faults…” That he said is  “the role of the media and that’s the role of civil society and I think that is all for the good.”