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Upholding Human Rights Legislation

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Human Rights Commission is deeply disturbed by the recent passing of the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2016 which seeks to separate a certain piece of legislation (the Matrimonial Causes Act 1974) from the anti-discrimination protection of The Human Rights Act 1981.  Human rights are inherent, inalienable and universal entitlements of individual human beings, neither of state nor of “cultural norms” or even the will of the majority. This is why our Human Rights Act was intended to have primacy over all legislation (unless specified), with the exception of the Bermuda Constitution. It was enacted to protect all people, in particular, affording protection for historically marginalised or vulnerable individuals against discrimination as set out in the Act.  The effect of the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2016 is to legally permit discrimination against individuals of a protected class, thereby enshrining discrimination in the very Act that was put in place to protect against it. As a community, regardless of our position on the issue of marriage equality, we should all be concerned about the example this sets. If we can so brazenly undermine our commitment to anti-discrimination in this area, why not in other areas? 

The Bermuda Constitution only prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, national origin, or political opinions. The background of Bermuda’s Human Rights Act is that it was developed in 1981 to provide Bermuda with a more modern and evolved anti-discrimination framework. Once Members of Parliament decide it is appropriate to carve out legislation from protection under the Human Rights Act, it is opening the door for future discriminatory legislation against individuals protected by the Human Rights Act, but not the Constitution.  This is a dangerous precedent.  For example, discrimination on the basis of gender is not prohibited by the Constitution, but is prohibited by the Human Rights Act.  Are we, as a community, willing to accept that the House of Assembly, if it chooses, can pass legislation that is discriminatory against women by carving legislation out from the Human Rights Act, for example?  What would happen if the Assembly decided to pass a bill tomorrow that took away a woman’s right to vote, her ability to pledge collateral to a bank, or her ability to be employed on an equal basis to a man? The Human Rights Commission is steadfastly against any attempt by the House of Assembly to cut any anti-discrimination protection at the knees.

Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birth right of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of governments. This is also the mandate of the Human Rights Commission and our goal is to eliminate discrimination in all its forms. We believe that all people should be equal before the law and should be entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

We encourage those within the community who support our stance to email each of the Senators before they begin debating the Bill on Thursday, July 14th July.  In the event that this Bill is defeated, it will be sent back to the House of Assembly where it may be redrafted or withdrawn.  We encourage the public to then reach out to their Member of Parliament and express your views to them directly. The email addresses of the Senators together with a template letter format that can be used in any correspondence is available on our Facebook page, we invite you to visit and engage on this issue:

Feel free to contact the Human Rights Commission with any questions or concerns at 295-5859.