The case brought to Cayman’s Human Rights Committee by Luis Luarca not only helped raise awareness of human rights issues in the Cayman Islands, but it also allowed the CIHRC to test and improve its procedures.
Vaughan Carter, HRC deputy chairman, called the Committee’s first case very beneficial.
‘It established the credibility of the Committee,’ he said.
Mr. Carter noted that the Committee could not be seen as either a government lap dog, or an arm of European human rights advocates. In addition, it did not want to be seen as an adversarial body.
‘We must detach from all criticism from both sides and be dispassionate so that human rights are given the importance they deserve,’ he said.
Although Mr. Luarca did not agree with the CIHRC’s findings in his case, Mr. Carter said the report should be judged on its own merits.
‘I don’t think anyone could say the report wasn’t comprehensive,’ he said. ‘I think the Committee did a good job conceptualising the complaint.’
Once it was completed, the report was made public, with copies sent to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, to Governor Stuart Jack, to all Members of the Legislative Assembly and the Chief Immigration Officer.
Mr. Carter said the Committee received a very encouraging response to the report from the UNHCR.
‘It was not necessarily on the content of the report,’ he said. ‘They don’t really comment on that. But [they were encouraging] about the work of the Committee because of the importance of human rights.’
Mr. Carter said raising the awareness of human rights is important to a society in that it lets people know ‘everybody is entitled to equality and fairness’.
However, the Committee does have limitations.
Mr. Carter has said the CIHRC is not ‘a one-stop shop for the settlement of all grievances’ because it is restrained by international interpretations of the human rights extended to it.
‘We don’t have a local human rights code,’ Mr. Carter said.
The CIHRC can only look at possible breaches to specific human rights covered in international conventions extended to the Cayman Islands.
In addition, just because a certain convention is extended to the Cayman Islands does not mean a human rights breach has occurred in a case brought on a related topic.
For instance, Mr. Luarca contended that because the form he filled out to apply for a job at the Health Services Authority asked him his religion, this amounted to a breach of the international human rights convention that prohibits religious discrimination.
While the CIHRC found no evidence that Mr. Luarca’s response on the application form led to any discrimination on the basis of religion, it could conceivably do so.
The HSA has since had the question removed from its applications, and Mr. Carter said he intended to speak about the matter with the Chief Secretary to see if the question served any legitimate purpose on any government or statutory authority employment application.
Because of circumstances surrounding Mr. Luarca’s case, the CIHRC realised it had to respond quickly, something which helped it refine its procedures for future cases.
‘Initially, Dr. Luarca was on hunger strike, so there was an urgent nature to the case,’ Mr. Carter said. ‘We needed a quick response to the complaint.’
On procedural change that resulted from the case will allow a subcommittee to commence action on a case without having the full committee meet.
‘It made us realise human rights issues can be urgent and can be a matter of life and death,’ Mr. Carter said, quickly adding that the CIHRC was not in favour of hunger strikes.
Because legislation like the Immigration Law and the Health Practice Law was looked at during the investigation into Dr. Luarca’s case, the CIHRC recognised the importance of having all past and future legislation in accord with human rights conventions.
As a result, the CIHRC has been asked for its comments in relation to two recently drafted bills.
The CIHRC now has plans to establish a website to help alert interested parties to the work of the Committee and to advance the awareness of human rights in the Cayman Islands.
In addition, the CIHRC is in the process of producing a definitive operational document, which will guide petitioners through the complaint process and advise them of what they can expect.
Mr. Carter recognised there were limits to the redress of Mr. Luarca’s complaint in the absence of the Cayman Islands having its own Human Right legislation. Some of the articles contained in international conventions are more aspirational in nature.
Even so, Mr. Carter thinks the Cayman Islands has progressed in its treatment of refugees.
‘The islands have certainly made advances with regard to refugees [since Mr. Luarca arrived],’ he said. ‘But we can look to improve. Mr. Luarca’s case made us aware of potential improvements that could be made.’