Human Rights Committee in limbo

The status of Cayman’s Human Rights Committee remained unclear this week with the terms of all of its 14 appointed members set to expire on 30 June.

Committee chairperson Sara Collins, who plans to leave her position as head of the committee when her term expires at the end of this month, said the organisation has had little communication so far with government and doesn’t know to which ministry it will be assigned.

A list of government ministries and portfolios released to the Caymanian Compass last week did not show the Human Rights Committee on government’s organisational chart.

‘The HRC is waiting to be informed which minister will assume responsibility for the HRC and is also awaiting information about re-appointments or new appointments,’ Ms Collins said. ‘However, there is a lot on the plate of the new government and we understand that are many pressing issues to deal with and these things will take some time.

‘I think it is fair to say that the current members will do what we can do to assist if and when we are asked.’

The committee previously fell under the direction of former Education Minister Alden McLaughlin, for whom Ms Collins took over as chairperson in mid-2007.

Ms Collins, now a partner in the Maitland law firm, said she would not be opposed to continuing to serve on the Human Rights Committee, but said she had informed the government that she would not seek re-appointment as the committee’s chair.

Earlier this year, Ms Collins became a lightning-rod for public debate over the proposed bill of rights that has now been accepted into Cayman’s constitution.

Ms Collins was critical of certain sections of the bill that she believed did not go far enough toward preventing potential discrimination against certain individuals in society.

The constitution, approved on 20 May in a nearly two-thirds majority vote of the Caymanian public, not only includes a bill of rights, but also entrenches the position of a human rights entity – called the Human Rights Commission – within government.

So even if there is no committee appointed within the next several months, eventually the Human Rights Commission will take the place of the Human Rights Committee when the constitution becomes law.

The five-person commission as established under the constitution will be appointed by the governor, after consultation with the premier (now-leader of government business) and the opposition party leader.

However, the effective date the constitution becomes the law of the land has not been set. Governor Stuart Jack has said the constitution’s ‘appointed day’ is likely not to occur for several months because the country has a number of issues to sort out, among them who will be appointed to serve on new commissions and boards.

The commission’s main focus will be to ‘promote understanding and observance of human rights in the Cayman Islands.’

The commission is to act independently in investigating complaints about breaches of human rights established in Cayman’s bill of rights. It can also investigate and report on human rights issues based on commission members’ own initiative.

The legal implementation of that bill of rights is not set to start until three years after the day appointed for the constitution to take effect.