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UNAIDS regional director urges Jamaica to continue work on national human rights institute

Regional director of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Dr Richard Amenyah, is urging Jamaica to continue its work on the establishment of a national human-rights institute (NHRI) to help safeguard the human rights of all Jamaicans.

Amenyah who was speaking at Jamaicans for Justice 25 th anniversary reception launch noted that the institute was of particularly importance now, when human rights were under attack from all angles.

“I know Jamaica started something some time ago. But still, we don’t have that yet. And there are several reasons why we don’t have it. But I think it is still important for us to keep working at it, so that we shall have a national human rights institute,” said Amenyah.

Amenyah went on to detail specifics of the setup, which he noted were essential to ensure that the entity be independent, effective and free from political interference, including that the NHRI be enshrined within the constitution.

“An Institute which is founded by law and the Constitution, so that it has some level of permanency and independence. Permanency in the sense that it will continue to be there regardless of which party is in power. And it should be independent,” said Amenyah.

“And I really would appreciate and love it if Jamaica is able to set up an institute like that, that respects all the minimum standards that are enshrined in the Paris Principle in terms of the spirit, and the letter -that’s very important. And so we are all here, let’s champion that. Because I know the government is doing its best. I know civil society is saying a lot of things and is also pushing. So let’s all come together to be able to make that possible,” he added.

JFJ’s executive director Mickle Jackson ,also speaking at the event echoed similar sentiments adding that the NHRI had been in the pipeline for too long urging the government to take action.

“In 2014, the government indicated that they would be moving to establish the NHRI it is now 2023 and we don’t get a sense that the current administration has the NHRI on its legislative agenda,” said Jackson.

“From the JFJ’s standpoint, we’re going to be speaking before the constitutional reform committee, to have NHRI, not only established but constitutionally protected. So it will see a replacement of the Office of the Public Defender to a body that can represent all the fundamental rights and freedoms of every single Jamaican citizen in this country,” she added.

Jackson further stressed the need for the constitutional protection of the NHRI, as she highlighted the debacle involving the Integrity Commission.

“Again, if it is that we’re celebrating human rights in the country, we have to be looking at the state institutions that exist. How strong are they? How independent are they? How protected are they? We look at what is happening with the Integrity commission, wherein that act is currently before Parliament. And we see politicians talking about weakening the institution,” said Jackson.

“So if it is that we’re promoting the NHRI, as Dr Amenyah spoke about it, financial independence, the ability to speak freely, without feeling as if they’re being gagged without a gag order. So those protection mechanisms are important for the national human rights institute. So our advocacy efforts next year will be to champion those key causes,” added Jackson.

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