Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

GGR: "Respite care is not a luxury!"

In a statement today, Equality Rights group GGR has made public an Open Letter to the Chief Minister (see below) expressing their concern regarding the problems surrounding the issue of respite care for families of the disabled and which these families have brought to the attention of the group.

Chairman Felix Alvarez stated that “Unless you have a severely disabled person in your family it is difficult to be aware of the level of physical and mental stress that family carers are exposed to. This is precisely the reason why respite care exists: to give carers a break from time to time in order to make it possible for them to continue with the tremendous job they do. Anyone in that situation soon realises that respite care is by no means a luxury but a way of being able to carry on. The least that Government can do is to ensure the service works as it should. Families have been complaining about the fact that they are not being properly supported and, quite frankly, the reasons given are just not good enough! If as Government appears to allege, the funding is available then adequate recruits to long-term posts should be no problem. Another thing is that the budget allocated only serves to attract part-timer posts with the consequent lack of continuity to the service that this implies!”

Alvarez further added that “What is needed is for a thorough Government review of the services available to carers in the same way that was undertaken for the GHA in general and the omission of which is a damning reflection of the manner in which disability is sidelined to minorities portfolios instead of being considered part of mainstream social affairs within Government. It is reasonable, therefore, that the call from the Disability Society for an independent review be listened to and acted upon by Government and I have urged the Chief Minister along the same lines. Additionally, Government should consider the introduction of legislation which, once and for all, will acknowledge the fact that 365 days a year family carers are providing a cheap and cost-effective service to Government and the least that Mr Caruana should do in return is to support the tremendous and caring efforts of these individuals by allowing them to depend on a system which gives them the occasional break so they can continue in their task and which would provide them with adequate provision for their services. For this, a Gibraltar Ordinance along the lines of the UK’s Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 might provide a template to be tailored to local conditions.”


Mr. Peter Caruana, QC
Chief Minister
6 Convent Place

29th November 2005

Dear Mr. Caruana,


For several years, disabled families have been voicing their concerns regarding the problems they face in obtaining respite care. Coming as it does from the end-users of the service it is a cry from the heart which is difficult to ignore. Yet despite those “several years” in the making, the crisis appears nowhere near resolution. Family members are growing increasingly desperate for resolution of a series of issues which include (but are not limited to) the following:

Adequate levels of access to respite facilities to ease the burden of psychological and physical hardship which the daily care of disabled persons entails. Concern regarding the many issues surrounding the structure of care services, whether to do with difficulties in attracting, recruiting and retaining properly qualified carer staff or the hours of access and operating philosophy underpinning the Dr Giraldi Home.

A letter of this sort cannot possibly put on the table the many issues which are frustrating and seriously affecting these families. Yet, as Chief Minister, I am certain you will be aware of a fair number, if not all of them and that your Minister for Social Affairs will have briefed you and your Government. You will be similarly aware of the consummate economics of the situation: family carers provide a 24-hour, 7-day a week, year-in-year-out level of care which, invisibly and very cheaply, supports Government in its obligation to this community; and the least that can be done is to ensure these low-price services are supported with an adequate level of support which will continue to represent and provide the efficient and high-value-for-money to Government that it is!

As a further point, I would urge you to give serious consideration to the introduction of measures similar to the UK’s Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995, wherein a carer who provides “regular and substantial care” for a relative, partner, friend or neighbour has a legal right to their own separate assessment by social services.

Finally, your Government has engaged in a long process of consultation and analysis of the state of the Gibraltar health service. I urge you, similarly, to employ the same concern and criteria in acceding to the Disability Society’s request for an independent evaluation of the Dr Giraldi Home and services provided to the disabled community with a view to establishing the framework for a system of professional recruitment, provision of services and long-term career model which will deliver the services required to assist this sector of our community, and thus relieve the suffering and difficulties these people face day by day. If independent assessment was applicable and relevant to the overall Health Service it is incongruous to, therefore, deny review on a similar basis on this related matter.

I therefore request you to address these matters with the rigour, concern and human compassion which any decent democratic Government owes its citizens and without which any democracy is bereft of meaning.

Yours sincerely,

Felix Alvarez

Friday, November 25, 2005

"We've started the journey to full legal rights"

Photo and interview text reproduced with thanks to "Panorama" 25 November 2005

Brian McCann interviews


Equality Rights Group GGR

The group you Chair started out as Gibraltar Gay Rights, but you have since then expanded your campaigning to cover other groups that you feel don’t get equal treatment under the law. Is that correct, and, if so, who are some of these groups?

Yes, that’s absolutely right. In the early years we charted some difficult waters, inasmuch as we were dealing with one particular issue, an issue that had never been addressed before in Gibraltar. But I’m glad to say we’ve made considerable progress since then: we are a group now which has of necessity expanded to take into account a wide range of human rights issues which also need attention.

We are still one group, but we now have different issues within that group. That’s why we just call ourselves Equality Rights group GGR under the logo “Citizenship in Democracy” nowadays – we care equally about the various issues we raise.
We have to be open to evolving social conditions and we’ll continue to develop to reflect the needs of different people, and that presently includes those concerned about sexual abuse of children, British residents on the Rock and disability, which is another area which is proving increasingly of concern.

In general, do they welcome your support?

We do not take up issues without people first expressing their concern to us. It is our role to listen to the community and to respond with support where needed. Ofcourse the issue that is most at the fore of public attention right now is the one that came to us via the many who were worried about the sexual abuse of children. And affecting as it does young people we are giving this our fullest support.

In relation to that, your current campaign is collecting signatures for a petition to urge the government to set up a Sex Offenders’ Register in Gibraltar. How is that being received by the public?

We could never have imagined the overwhelmingly positive response we’re receiving! In a short time we have already collected 3,000 signatures – and that’s just in the Main Street area. We still have the rest of Gibraltar to cover; our next port of call will be the housing estates. But it’s hard work and takes time. You also have to listen to people’s concerns and answer their questions, so we’re probably looking at March/May to complete the campaign.

I also have to say we have heard some shocking personal anecdotes – predominantly from women of all ages. Men, I think, are probably warier of revealing such things but we have also received information from men who have been through the trauma of abuse.

Am I right in saying that you are mainly thinking of child sex abuse in staging this petition?

We recognise that abuse is a wide-ranging issue – it can be sexual or physical or psychological, a wide spectrum. We’re tackling the first area first, sexual abuse, because we’re conscious of it being the one most easily recognised and which lends itself to a legal solution. We are looking at the UK model for a Gibraltar Sex Offenders’ Register, and I do underline ‘UK model’. In the UK, a conviction is required – not rumour. A judge and jury have to convict, then that person’s name goes on the register.

That register is only available to the police, social services agencies and so on. So when the sex offender is released from prison, his or her freedom doesn’t include the freedom to continue abusing, and if he or she moves from one area to another their particulars will follow in the most confidential manner possible. Confidentiality is an important element here because there has to be a reasonable balance between the right of the individual to reinsert themselves into society and the community’s right to protect itself. And we believe the UK model gets that balance right in both respects.

Have many people refused to sign the petition?

Very, very, very few. Some; but once we’ve explained how the UK model works they usually turn into an approval, and sign. Some thought all the world would know who was on the register; but again, once we explained, they signed.

One person said she’d want to see convictions first, to prove there is a problem in Gibraltar before she’d sign – but we can’t just wait for a child to be abused before we do anything to prevent it. We may have very few murders in Gibraltar but that doesn’t stop us from reasonably having laws against murder after all! Child sex abuse is a crime with some very fragile victims and we can’t forget that.

Are the police and the courts doing their bit?

We’re not happy with the difficulties in obtaining psychological reports before the case goes to court. We would be happier if each case were assured a forensic psychological report so that reliable expert evidence accompanied the allegations for the judge and jury to take into account. Expert information in such cases is a critical element to protect both innocently accused people and abused victims. A conviction without a psychological report is difficult, because basic principles of justice mean it is difficult to re-try a case except under very exceptional circumstances. Methods of child interviewing which allow children to tell their story under professional guidance are also important to develop for the courts to be properly equipped with the fullest information. This is, after all an extremely serious offence and there really have to be equally serious efforts to fully back up the prosecution of such cases. Resources should be given to the Social Services and police and we are not convinced these exist. It is not necessarily our view that the faults in the system can be put down to either social workers or the police themselves but are more likely to be issues of resource availability.

Is it a sufficiently widespread problem here for the government to take this step, and the setting up of a Sexual Offenders’ Register? Those sorts of cases seem to be very rare in Gibraltar.

In the first place, the premise of that question is one I wouldn’t agree with. I don’t think the number need be great. In the UK, the NSPCC says that out of every 100,000 citizens, 48 are offenders. If you extrapolate that to Gibraltar, we would have 13 or 14 in our midst. But even if just one child is abused that’s wrong if we’ve done nothing to try to prevent it, and the criminal law should be there to lay down the social ground rules and deter as much as possible. Also, the very existence of a register sends out a powerful signal to paedophiles who might otherwise think Gibraltar is a relatively safe place for them to operate; such a law also foments social awareness and makes it harder for paedophile rings to operate.

But we have had several cases in Gibraltar in recent years; some reached court, some didn’t. As a group, we are now hearing information alleging abuse. But again, it’s a matter of overcoming fear or a feeling of shame about making such a thing known.
It happens with many issues. We’ve seen it with gay people – until people start talking, problems can’t be addressed. The same with battered women. Shame and silence only lead victims to internalise their trauma, often causing depression and a sense of guilt and further suffering. In a place as small as Gibraltar we wonder how many people in KGV or dealing with chronic depression are going through that because of their internalised problems and a consequent inability to deal with issues of this sort.

Have you previously made representations to the government to set up such a register?

Yes, for two years. We started requesting government to take action two years ago when we had the situation of a Welshman who was on the UK Sexual Offenders’ Register, coming to Gibraltar and abducting his daughter – and the police did not have the legal tools to apprehend him.

That’s when we started ringing the alarm bell; we asked if government cared – and received total silence to date as an answer. So we’ve launched the petition on the basis that it’s not good enough for Mr Caruana to remain quiet on an important issue such as this. And there is no doubt at all about the encouragement the public are giving us to persist on this issue. We will return that warm response with our fullest commitment.

On a practical level, the purpose of such a register is to ensure that an offender can’t hide his or her past - when applying for a job working with children, for example. That doesn’t really apply in a place as small as Gibraltar – or does it?

Well, it does apply. It applies anywhere where there is access to children with the possibility of abuse, so it clearly applies to Gibraltar. People here who work in positions of trust with children – teachers, scout leaders, carers, for instance – already have to be vetted by the police. The question is, how much wider and more effective would that vetting be if we had such a register in Gibraltar; we might know about local people who are sex abusers, but what about if a paedophile comes to work here from another country? If we were included in the countries with a Sex Offenders Register the RGP could exchange information directly with those jurisdictions’ Register systems when vetting. We are touching on an issue that has to balance the rights of the individual with the protection of the community. That’s why we’re keen on the UK model – it strikes a reasonable balance, with information only being available to those who really need it.

Getting back to basics – do you think you have made any progress in obtaining full legal rights for male and female homosexuals?

No, we haven’t made full progress – but we have started the journey. There are very significant signs of progress in raising the social debate and community participation – the media has played an important rôle in that. We have also progressed at a political level – the GSLP/Liberals, at the last election, included equal rights regardless of sexual orientation in their manifesto, and they continue to support us.
We campaigned for, and got, the Framework Employment Directive; in Gibraltar that law is known as the Equal Opportunities Ordinance. It was GGR’s first important success in ensuring that the EC directive was transposed into Gibraltar law within a few months of its deadline passing – an exceptional time frame. It was important because for the first time Gibraltar law accepted sexual orientation as a category; it’s limited as it mostly regulates employment, but at least you can’t turn someone away from a job, training or promotion on the basis of sexual orientation.

Significantly, in that ordinance, however, there is the omission of the prohibition of discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation, disability, age and faith; which in practical terms means, for instance, an hotel or a pub could turn someone away for being gay or disabled or of a particular age or faith group under this law. We doubt whether this is likely to happen in Gibraltar but the point is that the law does now allow it! But I am talking technicalities here – at GGR we prefer to focus on practical social realities and that is what we respond to. But discrimination does happen and an example is in access to the current and new government housing stock – gay couples aren’t allowed to apply. It’s as stark as that! So goods and services remains an important omission which obviates inequalities between citizens.

Do you still believe that Gibraltar is the worst place in Europe to be gay?

I don’t think I’ve ever said it’s the worst place, certainly some of the newer EU member States are far worse, as are some eastern European countries. But do I feel that Gibraltar has become a more comfortable place to be gay? I think the answer is a qualified, ‘yes, it has changed.’ In GGR we have an organisation that raises gay issues completely unapologetically, and which has gained respect and encouraged people of all sorts to be open. Many people used to spend too much energy and time concealing their sexual orientation. Many are now finding they have better and healthier things to do with their lives.

How many active supporters does GGR have – and are they all gay?

We’re no longer in a position to tell you that. Until January 2005 we had approximately 850 people signed on as subscribers, but there were worries about information getting out in this small community. We were asked to remove the database and we followed the decision of the majority in this.

As an Executive, we resisted this move at first, because of the difficulties it would cause in administration, sending out information, collecting subscriptions and so on, but in the end we acknowledged that people felt more comfortable without a database and we scrapped the membership list. This had the extra benefit in that it encouraged more people to join.

What is the composition of the executive?

Our executive is a faithful representation of how we take in various areas. There are currently six people on the executive, three are gay and three are not. That is a welcome development. It signifies that straight people are coming out in the same way that gay people had to shed their cover; straight people are now more willing to make the effort to actively stand up against prejudice, for example, by objecting to homophobic remarks. They have had to explain to people that just because they stood up for gay rights didn’t mean they were gay themselves. And believe it or not that has been an eye-opener for some in this community! I myself am white but because I stand up against racism doesn’t make me black, after all! At GGR, although we started by focussing on gay issues, from day one we’ve always said we stand by other marginalised groups – and we’re living up to that vision and continue to build on it.

What other issues concern you?

In this week’s papers, we read that an elderly man was found dead in a Varyl Begg flat; it seems he’d been dead for several days. I find that extraordinarily sad, that in Gibraltar we’re not alert to old people living alone, who have no nearby relatives, who have no one in regular contact. Regrettably, the Social Services system didn’t work for this person. In a small community like ours it’s all the more concerning as we can see each other every day. I am certain social workers strive to do their best in these situations, but what worries me most is how Social Services may be under-funded and under-resourced. What kind of political priorities can permit the elderly to be so unattended? The police have a Community Plan, including (I understand) visits to the elderly, but it hasn’t worked in this particular case. That’s not the fault of the police alone – it’s a matter of coordination between neighbours, the RGP and Social Services. Lonely deaths of this sort are a trend in larger countries where the incidence is higher – yet its appearance in Gibraltar should flag up a failure in the system. As Gibraltarians we cannot remain indifferent before any of these facts! It is our human and civic duty to respond and not remain silent.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

GGR commemorates World Day Against Child Abuse

“The Public is shocked to find that we are having to collect Petition signatures for a Sex Offenders Register in Gibraltar,” Equality Rights group GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez has stated as they continue what is likely to be a months-long Campaign. “The majority of people find it difficult to understand why Government themselves have not already taken the initiative on this important matter – indeed not now, but years ago as in the UK!” he explained. “Getting signatures is a slow job but we already have 2,500, and it is for this reason that we have pledged to continue our work for many months into the New Year in order to live up to the encouragement and expectations of the Public on this!” Mr Alvarez stated.

GGR also announced that they will be commemorating the World Day for the Prevention of Child Sex Abuse outside both the ICC Building and Morrison’s supermarket this Saturday as part of their continuing Campaign to ask for the introduction of a Sex Offenders Register and the introduction of local laws to protect the community against child sex abuse. Mr Alvarez went on to say that he is “much encouraged by the supportive Public response received, which is beyond any expectations we could previously have had. We still have a great deal of Gibraltar to visit and we are fully confident that the results of our collection will be decisive in making this community’s views plain to Government on this matter. We invite Government to take the initiative and announce appropriate measures for the introduction of a Register and accompanying legislation which will allow better prosecution of child abuse and to give Police the measures they need in their task of protecting this community. Only this way will we know that child abusers within the community and those coming in from outside are being kept tabs on through confidential information systems by the authorities with appropriate follow-up through international exchange of information,” the statement ended.