The Law and You

How human rights are protected in Trinidad and Tobago

The Constitution

The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is the supreme law of the land. Within this document is contained guaranteed protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. The most important sections relating to the protection of human rights in the Constitution include:

 

Section 4 (Declaration of Rights and Freedoms)

Section 4 of the Constitution declares and recognizes the existence of basic fundamental human rights and freedoms, without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex. It states:

“It is hereby recognised and declared that in Trinidad and Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms, namely -

 (a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;
 (b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law;
 (c) the right of the individual to respect for his private and family life;
 (d) the right of the individual to equality of treatment from any public authority in the exercise of any functions;
 (e) the right to join political parties and to express political views;
 (f) the right of a parent or guardian to provide a school of his own choice for the education of his child or ward;
 (g) freedom of movement;
 (h) freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance;
 (i) freedom of thought and expression;
 (j) freedom of association and assembly; and
 (k) freedom of the press."

 

Section 5 (Protection of Rights and Freedoms)

Section 5 of the Constitution further elaborates the protection of human rights and freedoms by declaring that except as otherwise provided in Chapter 1 of the Constitution or under section 54, no law may abrogate, abridge or infringe or authorize the abrogation, abridgement or infringement of any of the rights and freedoms declared and recognized in the Constitution.

In addition, section 5 forbids Parliament from authorizing certain actions which would infringe on the rights previously declared. As such Parliament may not:

 (a) authorise or effect the arbitrary detention, imprisonment or exile of any person;
 (b) impose or authorise the imposition of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment;
 (c) deprive a person who has been arrested or detained -
 
 (i) of the right to be informed promptly and with sufficient particularity of the reason for his arrest or detention;
 (ii) if the right to retain and instruct without delay a legal adviser of his own choice and to hold communication with him;
 (iii) of the right to be brought promptly before an appropriate judicial authority;
 (iv) of the remedy by way of habeas corpus for the determination of the validity of his detention and for his release if the detention is not lawful;
 (d) authorise a court, tribunal, commission, board or other authority to compel a person to give evidence unless he is afforded protection against self incrimination and, where necessary to ensure such protection, the right to legal representation;
 (e) deprive a person of the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of his rights and obligations;
 (f) deprive a person charged with a criminal offence of the right -
 
 (i) to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law, but this shall not invalidate a law by reason only that the law imposes on any such person the burden of proving particular facts;
 (ii) to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; or
 (g) deprive a person of the right to the assistance of an interpreter in any proceedings in which he is involved or in which he is a party or a witness, before a court, commission, board or other tribunal, if he does not understand or speak English; or
 (h) deprive a person of the right to such procedural provisions as are necessary for the purpose of giving effect and protection to the aforesaid rights and freedoms.

 

Section 14 (Enforcement of Protective Provisions)

In addition to the declaration of rights and freedoms, the Constitution also provides for the enforcement of those rights where it is alleged that such rights have been violated. Section 14 permits a person who alleges that any of his Constitutional rights is being, or is likely to be contravened, he may apply to the High Court for redress by way of originating motion. Further, persons who are aggrieved by any determination of the High Court may appeal to the Court of Appeal and shall be entitled as of right to a stay of execution of the order and may in the discretion of the Court be granted bail (in criminal proceedings).

The Five Main Human Rights Conventions to which T&T is a party:

Trinidad and Tobago is a party to five (5) main human rights conventions namely:

 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The ICCPR is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations and it commits its State Parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, electoral rights, rights of due process and to a fair trial, and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

 

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The ICESCR calls on its State Parties to undertake and to work towards the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights to individuals, including labour rights and the right to health, the right to education, and the right to an adequate standard of living.

 

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

This Convention deals specifically with the protection of the rights of children, setting out the civil, political, social, health and cultural rights of children. Under the CRC, a child is defined as a person under the age of eighteen years, unless the domestic legislation in a particular State declares that the age of majority is attained earlier.

 

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

CEDAW is described by the United Nations as an international bill of rights for women. The Convention reaffirms its faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity, and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women. It details the meaning of equality and how it can be achieved. Several dimensions of discrimination of women are addressed. These include the civil and legal status of women, reproductive rights, equality in relation to men on issues such as public and political life, education, cultural life and economic rights.

 

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

CERD commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races. As such State Parties are obligated to ensure the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law and to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms outlined in the Convention.

Below hyperlink to all UN Human Rights Instruments.:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CoreInstruments.aspx

Incorporation of International Conventions into domestic law

In Trinidad and Tobago, an international convention, on its own is not enforceable in the Courts unless it is incorporated into domestic legislation. On ratification of these Conventions, Trinidad and Tobago undertakes to ensure that it fulfills its international obligations by ensuring that the rights and protections provided under the Convention are enjoyed and observed. This obligation may be fulfilled in one of two ways. For certain International Conventions, Parliament may choose to incorporate it or parts of it directly into legislation. For example, the International Child Abduction Act 2008 incorporates the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 1980 into the Schedule of the Act and states in section 4 that the Convention is to have the force of law in Trinidad and Tobago. On the other hand, Parliament may also choose to incorporate the principles, concepts, or measures of a Convention into various pieces of legislation. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been incorporated through various pieces of legislation which reflect the principles, concepts and measures of the CRC. These pieces of legislation include the Children’s Act 2012, the Family Law (Guardianship of Minors, Domicile and Maintenance) Act, 1981 and the Adoption of Children Act, 1946.

International Law and Human Rights Unit

Within the Ministry of the Attorney General, there is established the International Law and Human Rights Unit. The mandate of this Unit is to fulfill Trinidad and Tobago’s human rights reporting obligations on the implementation of five (5) major International Human Rights Conventions namely:
 

  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
  Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)


The International Law and Human Rights Unit also has the responsibility of liaising with international organizations in relation to human rights matters.

Prepared by:
International Law and Human Rights Unit.
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