COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS STARTS CONSIDERATION OF REPORT OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO



CESCR
28th session
8 May 2002
Morning



Experts Query Government Delegation on
Discrimination Against Women and
Dark Skinned Persons, Child Labour,
Children Born out of Wedlock



The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning started its consideration of a second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago by hearing an official delegation explain Government efforts to ensure the people's rights to housing and education as provided for by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The report was introduced by Debbie Sirjusingh, Director of the Human Rights Unit of the Office of the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, who said that the economy of her country had made a remarkable recovery from the economic crisis of the 1980s caused by the fall in oil prices. Additional liquefied natural gas production, along with new petroleum discoveries, had supported broader based growth in the energy sector; and the country was expected to emerge by the year 2005 as the fifth largest liquefied natural gas producer in the world, she said.
Mrs. Sirjusingh said that the Government was pursuing an aggressive housing programme on a phased basis; it would begin constructing houses throughout the country in an effort to alleviate the housing shortage and to provide shelter for lower and middle-income groups; and lower mortgage rates, as well as small down payments, would make home ownership more affordable.
In the field of education, Mrs. Sirjusingh said that a positive development had been the introduction of a programme for universal secondary education for all students up to the age of eighteen years. However, one of the problems faced was accommodating all the children from the primary school system into the secondary school system, she added.
Over the course of the meeting, the delegation told the Committee that the Government was considering re-accession to the Inter-American Human Rights Convention and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it had denounced; however it would maintain its reservations on the Second Optional Protocol concerning the practice of capital punishment, because the country was still keeping its legislation on the death penalty.
Several Committee Experts made remarks on the Government's denunciation of international instruments and asked about the position of the current Government in reintegrating the country into the international arena through re-accession to those instruments. Many Experts expressed concern that the State party had not ratified many of the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions aimed at safeguarding the economic and social interests of the people.
The Committee Experts also raised a number of questions pertaining to discrimination against dark-skinned people; the situation of children born out of wedlock; child labour; forced labour; unemployment; trade union rights; the rights of disabled persons and the lack of effective legislation to fight discrimination, among other things.
The delegation of Trinidad and Tobago was also made up of Mary-Ann Richards, Deputy Permanent Representative and Charge d'Affaires of the Permanent Mission in Geneva; and Lauren Boodhoo, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission in Geneva.
Trinidad and Tobago is among the 145 States parties to the International Covenant and as such it is obligated to prepare periodic reports to be presented to the Committee on its implementation of the provisions of the treaty.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will finalize its review of the report of Trinidad and Tobago after hearing the response of the delegation.

Report of Trinidad and Tobago
The second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago, which is contained in document E/1990/6/Add.30, enumerates the legislative and administrative measures taken by the State in order to implement the provisions of the Covenant on an article-by-article basis. Under its general information, the report states that the country is noted for its ethnic and cultural diversity with 40.3 per cent of the population being of East Indian descent, 39.6 per cent of African descent and the rest being white, Chinese, mixed or other.
According to the report, the general framework within which human rights provided by the Covenant are protected was through the Constitution and other legislation. The rights referred to under the Covenant which are protected in the Constitution or other legislation include: the equality of men and women before the law in respect of the enjoyment of all human rights; the rights to join and form trade unions, to social security, to the protection of the family, to adequate food, to adequate housing, to health, to education and to culture. The Constitution expressly declares that fundamental rights exist without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex.
The report says that Trinidad and Tobago makes use of international assistance and cooperation to facilitate the full realization of the rights provided for by the Covenant. For the 1999/2000 fiscal year, international funding for projects, programmes and other initiatives taken to further the realization amounted to 30.6 per cent of the total budget.
There is no specific clause in the country's legislation that guarantees the freedom of choice of employment, the report says. However, traditionally, workers have and continue to experience the freedom of career choice provided that specified qualification requirements are satisfied. Difficulties that are encountered while trying to attain the objectives of full, productive and freely chosen employment are related to the global changes resulting from increases in technology. Unequal remuneration for work of equal value does not exist between men and women employed in the government sector, nor are their conditions of work different.
The report says that Trinidad and Tobago has established a new national housing policy, which recognizes that housing and viable settlements are critical to progressive social and economic development; the Government had committed itself to establishing viable housing settlements and to distribute, develop and make land available at affordable prices to persons to build their homes; and it is also committed to giving security of tenure to squatters on State lands and to those on land belonging to State enterprises.
The right to education is not enshrined in the Constitution; it is, however, recognized and protected through the Education Act, which is an Act to make better provision for the promotion of education in the country. While secondary education is free of charge, it is not accessible to all. The current problem is that there is no space. The other difficulty currently faced by those wishing to access not only public but also private schools is the expense of textbooks and uniforms, which are mandatory to attend classes and which must be provided by parents.

Presentation of Report
DEBBIE SIRJUSINGH, Director of the Human Rights Unit of the Office of the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, said that the economy of her country had made a remarkable recovery from the economic crisis of the 1980s caused by the fall in oil prices. Additional liquefied natural gas production, along with new petroleum discoveries had supported broader based growth in the energy sector. The country was expected to emerge by the year 2005 as the fifth largest liquefied natural gas producer in the world. It was also the biggest producer of ammonia and methanol. The Government was currently negotiating a $ 1 billion investment in ethylene production.
On a promising note, the unemployment rate was continuing its downward trend, Mrs. Sirjusingh went on to state. In March of this year, the Government had announced that starting in April 2002, some 5,000 youths would be put on the on-the-job training programme. The Government would pay 50 per cent of the stipend with the employers paying the other half. Over 50 employers had been asked to participate in the programme, which was geared for youths between the ages of 16 and 30 who graduated from secondary and tertiary institutions. The programme cycle would last for six months.
Mrs. Sirjusingh said that domestic violence was on the increase; however, the situation had been receiving the attention of the successive Governments and a comprehensive programme had been undertaken. In 1997, a Domestic Violence Unit was created within the Gender Affairs Division. In addition, in 1999, new legislation concerning domestic violence was enacted in accordance with international standards to provide greater legal protection for victims of domestic violence. Women were also permitted to obtain emergency certificates of legal aid in situations of domestic violence. To address an increase in sexual crimes against women, steps were taken to amend the Sexual Offences Act in the year 2000. There was now greater protection for women and children from all forms of sexual violation, including rape, sexual assault, incest and sexual indecency. Stiffer penalties had been introduced under the new amended law.
Mrs. Sirjusingh said that the Government was pursuing an aggressive housing programme on a phased basis; it would begin constructing houses throughout the country in an effort to alleviate the housing shortage and to provide shelter for lower and middle-income groups; and lower mortgage rates, as well as small down payments would make home ownership more affordable.
In the field of education, a positive development had been the introduction of a programme for universal secondary education for all students up to the age of eighteen years, Mrs. Sirjusingh said. One of the problems faced was accommodating all the children from the primary school system into the secondary school system. Thus far, all of the students had been accommodated but there were levels of overcrowding in the secondary education modernization project.
Mrs. Sirjusingh said that on the issue of health care, there was evidence to suggest that health care was improving in the country; and generally it was accessible. There was however a chronic shortage of all categories of nursing personnel at public health institutions across the country. The reality was that many of the country's nurses were being recruited by developed countries, which were able to offer more attractive compensation packages. In addition, the incidence of HIV/AIDS was a growing problem in the country; however, there were comprehensive measures being undertaken to address the situation.
Turning to the issue of discrimination, Mrs. Sirjusingh said that the Government recognized the need for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to ensure that discrimination was prohibited not only in the public sector but also in the private sector. An impressive range of other legislation relevant to the enjoyment of economic and social rights had also been enacted. However, the effective implementation of those legislative measures required substantial financial resources.

Discussion
Following the introduction of the report, the Committee Experts started their consideration by first raising a number of questions. An Expert said that case laws were not invoked either by the report or by the delegation in connection with the rights under the Covenant. Another Expert also asked if the provisions of the Covenant were justiciable, with any citizens taking their cases to court complaining that their rights under the Covenant were either violated or not fulfilled. The country was receiving a substantial amount of international funds in the field of human rights, which was 30.6 per cent of the whole budget; where did the money go?
Another Expert said that Trinidad and Tobago had denounced the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the competence of the Human Rights Committee to receive communications on cases concerning capital punishment in the country. In addition, the country had denounced the Inter-American Human Rights Convention with regard to appeals to cases involving the death penalty. Further, the State had not yet ratified a number of International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions pertaining the economic, social and cultural rights; why was that? Another Expert also recalled that the country had renounced the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in May 1998, to which it acceded seven years earlier. The Expert asked if the State party was rethinking to re-accede to the Convention and to ratify the San Salvador protocol on economic, social and cultural rights, which was of greater interest to the Committee.
People with dark skin were prevented from entering certain restaurants and bars, said an Expert. Such groups were denied access to a number of public places; had the Government made progress in that field?
Another Expert said that there was no office of the Ombudsman and the judiciary branch was not effectively functioning. In addition, disabled persons and women were subjected to discrimination and they were not legally protected. Discrimination against black persons had also continued to be practised without major change in the society. What prospect was awaiting this category of people in the society.
Trinidad and Tobago had a positive attitude on the Covenant; however, disseminating information on the provisions was not sufficient, an Expert said. Judges should be trained to give them a good knowledge of the Covenant. The same Expert asked about the measures taken by the Government to generate situations of racial harmony.

Response of Trinidad and Tobago
In response to the questions, the delegation said that people had the right to challenge any rights violated either by the State or enterprises. Cases of discrimination against women in employment, for example, could be challenged in courts. However, there was no legislation providing rights to homosexuals and such groups of people could not bring cases saying that their rights were being violated.
The provisions of the rights enshrined in the Covenant could be invoked in the country when the Covenant was incorporated through a legislative act, the delegation said.
On the denunciation of the Inter-American Human Rights Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Government was reconsidering the issue and was considering not to completely withdraw from the instruments, the delegation said. However it would maintain its reservation on the Second Optional Protocol concerning the practice of capital punishment because the country was still keeping in its legislation the death penalty. The denunciation of the instruments came as a result of the Government's inability to process the appeal process on the death penalty either to the Intern-American Human Rights Court or the Human Rights Committee.
The judiciary and the decision-makers were trained about the international instruments, the delegation said. Particularly, the judiciary had been made aware of the importance of such treaties.
There was an office of the Ombudsman which was set up by law, the delegation said; however, the office had to be strengthened and its powers reinforced to allow the Ombudsman to discharge his responsibilities.
With regard to prevention of black people from entering night clubs, the Government had enacted specific legislation to curb such incidents, the delegation said. Further measures were also taken with regard to entry to dancing and theatre halls, as well as sensitization programmes on the issue.
In a follow-up question, an Expert said that although there existed an office of the Ombudsman, it was not functioning and it was not serving as a national human rights institution. Was there any national plan of action on human rights?
In response, the delegation said that there was no national plan of action on human rights for the moment, however, there were separate plans of action on education, the child and women, for example. Further actions were envisaged through the involvement of civil society.
The State recognized the need to ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant and it was closely making sure that legislation was being enacted with the view to implementing these provisions, the delegation said. However, there were some loopholes in the implementation and not all the provisions of the Covenant were effectively put in practice.
The Committee Experts continued to raise questions on other clusters of the main subjects of the right to work; the right to just and favourable conditions of work; trade union rights; the right to social security; and protection of the family, mothers and children.
An Expert said that the country was reportedly practising forced labour on merchant ships, among other things, and asked if the Government had the intention to adopt legislation prohibiting the practice of forced labour. Moreover, child labour was a serious problem involving children as young as 12 years. In normal circumstances, child labour was tolerated from the age of 15 years, not below. That situation did not permit the State to ratify many of the ILO conventions.
The shortage of qualified teachers was affecting the teaching profession in the country due to the low-salary allocated to that sector, another Expert observed. That situation had led some teachers to live below the poverty line. It was also essential to recommend to the Government that it ratify ILO Conventions 162 and 138 on restricting child labour and minimum age for admission to employment respectively, particularly to protect those who were working and living in the street and those working in the informal sector.
The use of corporal punishment was increasing as were domestic violence and child labour, an Expert said. The delegation was requested to provide information on the efforts of the Government to fight those social evils during the last five years.
On the issue of children born out of wedlock, an Expert asked about the status of children born out of a free union of couples, adding that there were 41,000 free unions in the country. What measures were taken to prevent ill-treatment of children in the family or in schools? What programmes had been adopted to fight ill-treatment or even torture of children? What remedy was taken to improve the situation of street children.
Another Expert asked if the status of children born out of wedlock was legitimatized by the marriage of the couple; and about the measures taken to reduce the rate of suicide among youth.
On occupational hazards, it seemed that adequate measures had not been taken by the State party, an Expert said, adding that fatal industrial incidents had doubled in 1996. The Expert also asked about the conditions in the new bill on qualification to disability benefits; according to the report, persons claiming benefits should be between 40 and 65 and should have lived in the country for 20 years preceding the act of claim.
Responding to the questions, the delegation said that the country had no problem with forced labour; with regard to child labour, children were involved in family enterprises; however, the Government was envisaging to raise the child working age to 16 years. The Government had approached the ILO for assistance in assessing the child labour situation. As regards non legislative steps to reduce child labour, the Government, in collaboration with one non-governmental organization, had taken measures to help street children.
The delegation said that the rate of unemployment had continued to decline during the last two years resulting in a fall in the unemployment rate for males, which shifted slightly downwards from 11.6 per cent to 11.2, while that for females had fallen from 19.5 to 15.5 per cent.
Asked about restrictions on collective bargaining and minority trade unions, the delegation said that up to the end of 2001, there were 116 trade unions, and there was no intention on the part of the Government to alter the composition of the tripartite collective bargaining system.



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