By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
Following concerns raised by Governor John Duncan and international organizations over the years, lawmakers finally brought a bill to the House of Assembly last week to facilitate the long delayed establishment of a Human Rights Commission in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
But, considering what lawmakers described as the enormity of the bill and its impact, the Human Rights Commission Bill 2017 may be further delayed to facilitate public consultation.
Based on the bill, a proposed Human Rights Commission would be established to – among other things – keep residents informed about their human rights, as well as promote conciliation where there are complaints and disputes.
In an attempt to finally give life to the proposed commission, Attorney General Baba Aziz last week introduced the Human Rights Commission Bill 2017 and oversaw its first reading in the House.
Moments after the bill was read for the first time, member of the parliamentary opposition Julian Fraser asked the attorney general to further discuss the proposed law with legislators.
“This Bill is not to be taken lightly. It is something that is very major in the Virgin Islands, and I would submit that the impact on the lives of the people of this territory will be tremendous – positively tremendous. However, it may be important for us in this House of Assembly to understand clearly and without any ambiguity,” Fraser told his parliamentary colleagues. “I am asking that the attorney general promise at this point that he will have some informal sessions among the members of this House to discuss this bill.”
That position was supported by Junior Minister of Tourism Archibald Christian, who also is a Territorial representative.
“This is a brand new development in the history of the Virgin Islands as far as human rights is concerned. I think it is very important that we (lawmakers) all meet collectively – we make the commitment to have informal meetings so that we can understand clearly what is before us, so that we don’t go and commit this country to things that we do not understand, and people misunderstand and misinterpret exactly what effect the bill will have on the lives of the people of the Virgin Islands,” Christian told the House.
Adding his voice to the discussion, Minister of Communication and Works Mark Vanterpool said the general public should also be consulted due to the ‘enormity’ of the bill.
The bill, he added, should not be rushed. “I don’t think this bill should be rushed quickly to come back for the second and third readings. It should be well aired publicly as well – not just for members [of the House] in private sessions,” Vanterpool said.
The attorney general, in response to the concerns raised, said public consultations regarding the issue of human rights were held as far back as 2010.
He however stated that fresh consultations would be welcomed. “A lot of consultation were undertaken [in 2010]; and I think it’s been a long time now. So we need for such sessions to be held so that members of the general public will have their views ventilated. I concur with what members have expressed,” the attorney general further told the House.
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