A wide-ranging report issued Monday by UK members of Parliament has recommended the British Overseas Territories discuss the extension of voting rights to long-term resident non-citizens.
The issue came up in the report, which was prepared by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, in a section dealing with the rights of ‘non-Belongers’, a term referring to non-citizens.
The report did not go so far as to advise Overseas Territories to give voting rights to non-Belongers, but instead recommended the local administrations and governments revisit the issue.
‘We conclude that although extending voting rights to non-Belongers will be politically difficult for Overseas Territory governments, the government should at least encourage local administrations to review this issue with regard to non-Belongers who have resided in an Overseas Territory for a reasonable period,’ the report stated.
It recommended that the issue be put on the agenda at an Overseas Territories Consultative Committee meeting to be held in October in London.
The report referred to a discussion on the matter with Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts who argued that Cayman’s indigenous population would not agree to extend the franchise because it perceived the wider population was not as concerned about the long-term interests of the islands.
The FAC’s report also dealt with an array of other issues concerning the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories.
The report recommended that the UK government take steps to ensure discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender status be made illegal in all Overseas Territories.
It quoted Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Meg Munn as saying she had encountered concern in Cayman that signing a human rights chapter in the revamped constitution would automatically mean the country would have to introduce civil partnerships for homosexual couples. It added that when Ms. Munn appeared before the committee, she confirmed that the UK had no plans to impose civil partnerships on overseas territories.
The report, which ran to 171 pages, also commented on the work of the Human Rights Committee in Cayman, stating: ‘The FCO told us that the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee had encouraged the Cayman Islands government to take human rights seriously, although when we met members of the committee ourselves during our visit to the Cayman Islands, they did not seem aware of having influenced government policy.’
The FAC recommended in the report the UK government closely monitor conditions of prisoners and illegal immigrants to ensure rights were not abused.
It cited a report from the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee that a mentally ill person had been detained in prison for nine years without charge and without review.
The Human Rights Committee also reported to the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee of a lack of juvenile detention facilities here, highlighting the case of a girl under 18 who was being held with adult prisoners.
Cayman’s Human Rights Committee told the FAC of its concern over the lack of mechanisms for independent review of parole decisions and the lack of parole possibilities for prisoners on life sentences.
Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee visited Cayman earlier this year to meet government officials, Governor Stuart Jack, members of the financial services, immigration officials, the Human Rights Committee and the Cayman Islands Youth Parliament. It also received written submissions from a variety of organisations and individuals on the islands.
While in Cayman in March this year, committee representatives Sir John Stanley, Paul Keetch and Greg Pope, were given a tour of Grand Cayman’s landfill.
‘When we were in the Cayman Islands, members of the Cabinet showed up an 80-foot waste mountain, the highest point on Cayman. They called for UK technical assistance with waste management,’ the report’s authors stated.
They went on to ask Ms. Munn if the UK government would provide such assistance, and she responded: ‘there is no problem about us seeking to identify some technical support for this.’
However, the report revealed that the FCO had told the committee it had ‘no plans’ to increase funding of the Overseas Territories Environment Programme’ and stated that ‘responsibility for environmental issues has been devolved to the individual territories’.
The committee, in its recommendations, criticised the UK government as being ‘highly negligent’ for its lack of action, ‘given the vulnerability of overseas territories’ species and ecosystems.
It described current environmental funding provided by the UK to Overseas Territories as ‘grossly inadequate’ and recommended it be increased.
A previous Foreign Affairs Committee report in 1998 had recommended that local governments be consulted on the appointment of governors for overseas territories but that was rejected by the UK government. The most recent report recommended territory governments should be given an opportunity to pass on their opinions of gubernatorial candidates before appointments are made.
The report quoted Mr Tibbetts as saying: ‘Although we certainly do not expect to be on the committee that appoints the Governor and to be involved in interviews and so on, we believe that it is only fair that we have wind of who is being considered and see some type of biography so we can have a look and perhaps pass on our opinions.’