COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORT OF ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA

Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination

1st March 2007


The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the initial to ninth periodic reports of Antigua and Barbuda on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Karen A. de Freitas-Rait, Deputy Solicitor-General in the Ministry of Legal Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda, said that this first report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was indicative of the Government's approach to make good on commitments that had been long outstanding. There had been a change in administration in 2004, and the present Government took its commitments to bodies such as this very seriously, and felt that Antigua and Barbuda should play its role in the international community. As Antigua and Barbuda saw it, the social issues they encountered tended to be more economically driven, rather than racially driven, or driven by questions of national origin. However, the issues were related. The Government understood that the Committee was really interested in the socially disenfranchised, and had attempted to provide an image of the country with that in mind. In terms of legal measures to implement the Convention, the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda, when taken together with the case law, provided a comprehensive set of human rights protections and fundamental human entitlements.

In preliminary remarks, Luis Valencia Rodriguez, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Antigua and Barbuda, thanked the delegation for their presentation of this first periodic report, and looked forward to further a constructive dialogue in the future. Topics of concern to the Committee, and where more information would be appreciated, included the issue of minorities, the legal framework for minorities, the situation of tourists and measures to protect them, the People's Council, and the issue of segregation. He stressed that Antigua and Barbuda should ensure follow-up to Article 4 of the Convention – which enjoined States parties to condemn all propaganda and all organizations based on theories of racial superiority or which spread racial hatred. That obligation was of special importance, and was mandatory for all States. The Government should also consider removing their declaration made under Article 4, which was something of a reservation.

Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, whether discrimination cases had been brought under the Labour Code; measures to prevent discrimination in the health sector; de facto segregation for certain groups; what had happened to the original indigenous population of the country; and details of the activities of the Ombudsman's office. Several other Experts regretted Antigua and Barbuda's unwillingness to adopt additional laws to prevent racial discrimination, and its position that the Constitution sufficed for protection in this sphere. In that connection, an Expert recalled Antigua and Barbuda's commitment under the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to review its legislation with regard to reservations to the Convention, and to harmonize its legislation with the Convention.

The delegation of Antigua and Barbuda also included Gillian Joseph, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations in New York.

The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the initial to ninth periodic reports of Antigua and Barbuda, which were presented in one document, at the end of its session, which concludes on 9 March.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. it is scheduled to take up the sixth and seventh periodic reports of the Czech Republic (CERD/C/CZE/7).

Report of Antigua and Barbuda

The initial to ninth periodic reports of Antigua and Barbuda, submitted in one document (CERD/C/ATG/9), says that the people of Antigua and Barbuda are mainly of African descent, their forbearers having been brought to the islands as slaves. The rest of the population is comprised of descendants of British Colonizers and Portuguese imported as labourers. There are also a growing number of Europeans and North Americans who have come to Antigua and Barbuda to retire. According to the 2001 census, the population of Antigua stands at 75,561, while a further 1,325 reside on the island of Barbuda. While Antigua’s substantial tourism industry attracts workers from all over the globe, there are no recorded incidents of a discriminatory or prejudicial nature stemming from these foreign workers.

The relative homogeneity of Antiguan society and culture precludes the requirement for any special measures in the area of advancing specific racial or cultural groups. Nonetheless, there exists a significant legal framework within which racial discrimination is expressly forbidden. The Constitution provides every citizen of Antigua and Barbuda with certain inalienable rights and freedoms, awarded equally and explicitly to all citizens, regardless of race, place of origin, political opinions or affiliations, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest. The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code explicitly prohibits racial discrimination, and the Education Act also provides specific protection against discrimination. According to the legal structure of Antigua and Barbuda, the provisions of an international human rights instrument are not automatically determined to be national law unless active measures are taken to adopt them into national law. As outlined above, the wide-ranging protections afforded to citizens of Antigua and Barbuda by the Constitution mean that no further legislation is needed in Antigua to combat racial discrimination at this time.

The education system reflects the religious composition of its people, and accordingly daily prayers and regular assemblies are common. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Education and the Curriculum Development Office have taken great pains to ensure that those who follow religions other than that of the majority are adequately allowed for. In one example, followers of Jehovah’s Witness are permitted to skip prayers, religious ceremonies, Independence Day celebrations, and more, often being allowed to selectively participate in the activities as they see fit. In another example, male followers of Rastafarianism are permitted to retain their long dreadlocked hair without being deemed out of compliance with the universal school uniform and dress code policies that normally require close-cropped hair for males.

Presentation of Report

KAREN A. DE FREITAS-RAIT, Deputy Solicitor-General in the Ministry of Legal Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda, said that this first report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was indicative of the Government's approach to make good on commitments that had been long outstanding. There had been a change in administration in 2004, and the present Administration took its commitments to bodies such as this very seriously, and felt that Antigua and Barbuda should play its role in the international community.

Ms. de Freitas-Rait regretted that there had been some inconsistencies and errors in the report. For example, in the section on demographic indicators, the percentage of households headed by women was 43 per cent, and not 13.9 per cent as was stated. With regard to the Freedom of Information Act, mentioned in paragraph 39 as currently being drafted, that Act had been adopted in 2004.

As Antigua and Barbuda saw it, the social issues they encountered tended to be more economically driven rather than racially driven or driven by questions of national origin, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said. However, the issues were related. The Government understood that the Committee was really interested in the socially disenfranchised, and had attempted to provide an image of the country with that in mind.

A former colony, and a member of the British Commonwealth, Antigua and Barbuda had its own Constitution. The provisions on fundamental freedoms in the Constitution could only be amended by a two-thirds majority of the legislature. Ms. de Freitas-Rait said that the Constitution, when taken together with the case law, provided a comprehensive set of human rights protections and fundamental human entitlements.

Delegation's Response to Written Questions Submitted in Advance

Responding to written questions submitted in advance, Ms. de Freitas-Rait first took up the question of statistics. Those that had been provided in the report, which were based on the 2001 census, were the most current. Antigua and Barbuda had not had a census since 2001. The next was scheduled to take place in 2011. In the intervening years the various ministries did collect statistics on areas relevant to their competencies, and the delegation would try and make these figures available to the Committee.

Clarifying the breakdown in the report on religious affiliation of the population, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said that some 98 per cent of Antigua and Barbuda was Christian. Rastafarians made up 1 per cent of Antigua and Barbudans, while Bahai's and Muslims each constituted less than 1 per cent. Those persons practised their faith openly, without any interruption or hindrance. Their right to practise their faith was a constitutionally protected right.

There had been no question on the census to address the issue of national origin. Ms. de Freitas-Rait commented that that was probably because, while protections were established in the law for such categories, questions of national origin or race had never been at the heart of problems in the country. Incidents and litigation had not arisen in the country on that issue and it was very much hoped it remained that way. The Ministry of Labour had, however, recorded that in 2001, some 5,709 work permits had been issued as against a population of 76,886. Of those permits issued, over half were to nationals of Guyana and Jamaica.

In terms of illegal immigrants, the Ministry of Labour estimated that there were approximately 1,500 such persons in the country. Ms. de Freitas-Rait noted that the Government continued its efforts to encourage that population to come forward and regularize their status.

Concerning establishment of a human rights institution in accordance to the Paris Principles, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said that Antigua and Barbuda recognized the importance of General Assembly resolution 48/134, endorsing the Paris Principles, but noted that that resolution did not require the establishment of such an instrument in every country, and indeed left it up to each State to find the right instrument for themselves to guarantee human rights protections. With Antigua and Barbuda's limited resources the question of creating a national institution was economically challenging. Accordingly, they had sought to find other ways to ensure that human rights were fully protected.

With regard to citizenship, the Millennium Naturalization Act, passed in 2004, allowed those residing in the country since 2000 legally and lawfully to be granted citizenship, and many had taken advantage of that offer.

Concerning efforts at awareness-raising and promotion of tolerance, Ms. de Freitas-Rait drew attention to the Ministry of Culture's plans to hold a Diversity Day in May this year, to promote intercultural appreciation.

There had been some confusion on the issue of an Equal Opportunity Act. Antigua and Barbuda did not have an equal opportunity act, per se, Ms. de Freitas-Rait explained, but they did have many laws in place that protected people's rights to equal opportunity. In 2004, legislation had been contemplated to afford non-nationals greater opportunities to integrate, and in that context, the Millennium Naturalization Act had been passed. In 2003, Antigua and Barbuda had ratified the ILO Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value. Moreover, the national Labour Code, among other things, provided for equal pay for women and men, prohibited discrimination, and prescribed minimum wages and safe work conditions. Notably, judicial interpretation of that Act had been extremely wide.

Ms. de Freitas-Rait noted that the Non-Citizens Landholding Regulation Act did not prevent non-citizens from holding or acquiring land, but made it incumbent on them to seek a license. That was to ensure an equitable balance of land use between the areas of agriculture, tourism and other uses. There was also a Non-Citizens Tax Act, which provided for a tax on land held by non-citizens that was not being used.

Regarding harmonization of domestic law with the Convention, the Constitution adequately addressed issues of human rights, and, coupled with domestic law, in terms of labour law and others, protections were sufficient in this sphere, Ms. de Freitas-Rait explained. The same was true with regard to the Durban Declaration, as most of the issues raised therein were specifically covered by the Constitution.

Ms. de Freitas-Rait confirmed that the Constitution did allow for special measures to be taken for the sole purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups, but no such measure had been taken so far, as none had been needed.

On the issue of whether certain migrant groups were segregated in Antigua and Barbuda, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said no such segregation existed and separation or restriction on movement on the basis of racial or ethnic background was not allowed and had never been undertaken.

Antigua and Barbuda did not envisage adopting specific criminal legislation designed to implement article 4 (a) of the Convention regarding dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred and incitement to racial discrimination.

Antigua and Barbuda had no plans to ratify the UN Convention on Migrant Workers. It was not a priority area for action, Ms. de Freitas-Rait observed, as they did not have migrant workers as such in the country.

On the issue of non-discrimination in education, Ms. de Freitas-Rait noted that the Education Act provided for compulsory education for all children between the ages of 5 and 16. In Antigua and Barbuda all children were thus entitled to an education, and were provided with free textbooks and free school uniforms regardless of race or national affiliation. Recently, a free school-feeding programme had also been started. Children could only be denied access to the public schools on the basis of their lack of capacity.

Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts

LUIS VALENCIA RODRIGUEZ, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Antigua and Barbuda, noted that, although much time had passed, it was a matter of satisfaction that Antigua and Barbuda had now begun to fulfil its commitments under the Convention. The Committee hoped that from now on it would be receiving its report within the mandated timeframes.

In terms of make up, Mr. Valencia Rodriguez noted that the population of Antigua and Barbuda was 91 per cent black, 4 per cent mixed and 2 per cent white. There was a relative homogeneity of the society and culture. The Constitution provided a guarantee of fundamental rights and freedoms for all regardless of race. In that connection, he wondered how that worked for the white groups, the mixed groups, or the foreigners in the country.

There had been signs of discrimination against those who did not speak the official language of the country, Mr. Valencia Rodriguez noted. He had had information that there was a flow of economic migrants to Antigua and Barbuda, coming mainly from the Dominican Republic, and that in some sectors discriminatory measures had been taken against them.

On the Ombudsman, Mr. Valencia Rodriguez was concerned that the scope of that office was very limited, only dealing with cases of discrimination involving government bodies.

In terms of segregation, Mr. Valencia Rodriguez was of the opinion that more needed to be said. While it might be against Government policy, it appeared that there were groups in the country who, because of their economic situation and the fact that they belonged to different ethnic groups distinct from the majority, were living in distinct, segregated groups.

There had been reports of cases of incitement to racial hatred on the radio, encouraging violence. Mr. Valencia Rodriguez had also heard that the media – television and radio – were under the control of political leaders, who did not allow them to be accessed by others.

Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, whether discrimination cases had been brought under the Labour Code; measures to prevent discrimination in the health sector; de facto segregation for certain groups; what had happened to the original indigenous population of the country; and more information on the activities of the Ombudsman's office.

Several Experts regretted Antigua and Barbuda's unwillingness to adopt additional laws to prevent racial discrimination, and its position that the Constitution sufficed for protection in this sphere. In that connection, an Expert recalled Antigua and Barbuda's commitment under the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to review its legislation with regard to reservations to the Convention, and to harmonize its legislation with the Convention.

Response by Delegation to Oral Questions

Responding to oral questions, Ms. de Freitas-Rait, said that, with regard to the Muslim population in Antigua and Barbuda, the percentage was less than 1 per cent. According to the 2001 census, there were 227 Muslims in the country. It was true that there were a significant number of Syrians and Lebanese in the country. The large majority of them were Christians, however. The small Muslim community in the country did not experience any restrictions regarding the practise of their faith.

Regarding the indigenous population of the island, which had been composed mainly of Caribs and Arawaks, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said that as long ago as the 14th century the Arawaks had completely disappeared from the Caribbean. There were still some Caribs living in other regions of the Caribbean and they did sometimes come to Antigua and Barbuda, but that population was very small. As she understood it, the Arawaks and Caribs had died from a combination of acts of war, disease brought by the colonizers, and famine.

Concerning press freedom, Ms. de Freitas-Rait strongly affirmed that there was a free press and a free media in Antigua and Barbuda. Antiguans and Barbudans were well-informed and, in particular, had a number of radio call-in programmes run independently by persons of various ethnic groups. The newspapers provided space for letters or questions from the public, and it was not unusual for the Government to respond to those questions or queries raised in that way that concerned the public domain. The freedom of expression was practised on a daily basis and was part of the daily life of the country.

In terms of how tourists were treated, Ms. de Freitas-Rait stressed that Antigua and Barbuda had a tourist economy. For that reason, they were very careful to treat tourists with every consideration that they could expect. Tourists enjoyed all the same freedoms as Antiguans and Barbudans; they enjoyed full protection of the law; and the attitude of the population was to extend as helpful and supporting a hand as possible.

With respect to the legal rights of non-citizens, court cases had been raised by those groups just as they were by citizens. In addition, efforts had been made to provide help in Spanish to Spanish-speaking persons who needed it. Ms. de Freitas-Rait noted that the Ombudsman was also readily accessible to all. The telephone number of the Ombudsman was prominently provided not only in the White Pages, but also in the governmental section of the telephone directory, under its own large heading.

On segregation claims, Ms. de Freitas-Rait wished to be perfectly clear. There was unequivocally no segregation of minority persons in Antigua and Barbuda. That issue had come up in the Committee on the Rights of the Child in the context of the purely voluntary association of persons of similar ethnic origin, which was only normal and natural. However, there was neither a public policy nor a private bias in Antigua and Barbuda that would cause persons to segregate themselves. There were no restrictions with regard to private or public housing, and such restrictions would not be tolerated. Furthermore, in everyday life, in schools, in shopping, there was no feeling or public policy that would cause people to wish to segregate themselves.

Ms. de Freitas-Rait said that persons married to citizens of Antigua and Barbuda were entitled to become citizens, after they had been married for a period of three years and submitted their application.

Regarding cases brought under the Labour Code, Ms. de Freitas-Rait would have to get back to the Committee with that information. However, she would note that there was an industrial court that had been created specifically with regard to issues relating to labour and employment. Importantly, the rules of procedure of the industrial court were not as constrained by requirements of form, and could thus be more freely accessed by persons not represented by attorneys.

Concerning the Migrant Workers Convention, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said what had appeared from the dialogue with the Committee was that there was a divergence of opinion about what constituted a migrant worker. In saying that Antigua and Barbuda did not have a migrant worker population, that was on the understanding that migrant workers were those who would travel to the country on a seasonal basis for work and then leave again. There was no such population in the country. They did have immigrant workers, who came to the country to work and then made Antigua and Barbuda either their permanent or long-term home.

Responding to various queries on minority groups, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said she did not have exact statistics on whether such groups experienced more financial hardship than the majority of the population. What she could say was that persons in some minority groups enjoyed a very high standard of living in Antigua. What appeared to be the most relevant factor in terms of financial position of minority groups was how long ago that particular immigrant group had come to the country. With respect to minority status and language, there were some minorities that were not English speakers, whereas other minorities were English speaking. In that connection, she noted that the largest groups to which work permits were issued were to individuals from Guyana and Jamaica, both English-speaking countries.

Further Comments and Questions by Experts

An Expert wondered if the country practised xenophilia rather than xenophobia, given its dependence on tourism. That is, were there any cases in which foreigners, in particular tourists, were treated better than nationals?

An Expert also wondered about Rastafarianism as a religious category and asked for more details on that subject.

Response by the Delegation

On the issue of whether foreigners were treated better than locals in Antigua and Barbuda, Ms. de Freitas-Rait said she was not aware of any specific cases. However, it was an interesting question, and certainly something to be looked into.

Regarding Rastafarianism, it had been a developing cultural and religious group over the course of several years in Antigua and Barbuda. In the census they were recorded and categorized as a religious group, and indeed, the Rastafarians categorized themselves as a faith-based category. The Government had worked to integrate Rastafarians within the community, however, it should be noted that most of the Rastafarians in the country were Antiguans and Barbudans by birth. Measures to ensure social integration included respect for the wearing of dreadlocks in schools.

Preliminary Concluding Remarks

In preliminary concluding remarks, LUIS VALENCIA RODRIGUEZ, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Antigua and Barbuda, thanked the delegation for their presentation of this first periodic report, and looked forward to further constructive dialogue in the future. It was his pleasure to express the Committee's satisfaction at the statements made by the delegation on all the questions raised in the discussions and the written replies supplied today to the list of issues submitted in advance.

Topics of concern to the Committee, and where more information would be appreciated, included the issue of minorities, the legal framework for minorities, the situation of tourists and measures to protect them, the People's Council, and the issue of segregation. Mr. Valencia Rodriguez also wished to stress that Antigua and Barbuda should ensure follow-up to Article 4 of the Convention – which enjoined States parties to condemn all propaganda and all organizations based on theories of racial superiority or which spread racial hatred. That obligation was of special importance, and was mandatory for all States. The Government should also consider removing their declaration made under Article 4, which was something of a reservation.
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