Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

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

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Usual State Sovereignty red herring!

Equality Rights group GGR has reacted to news coming out of the last Constitutional Reform negotiation meetings in London last week by saying the outcome “comes as no surprise whatsoever since everything stays exactly as it was before! In other countries a new Constitution is an occasion for inspiration and a fresh start for the ordinary citizen. Here in Gibraltar the new Constitution was always to be just more of the same. This comes as no surprise as there was never much appetite for self-determination provisions right from the start. For that to have happened, Gibraltar needed to be coherent on that score - it would have had to recognise that self-determination is built on self-determination for the individual and not just rights for the machinery of the State. In that respect the proposed Constitution text was and is the usual State Sovereignty red herring. In effect, the talks have vindicated what GGR has said all along: the new Constitution was and is gravely deficient and it should now be roundly rejected by Gibraltarians because it provides no self-determination at any meaningful constitutional level. And it certainly provides no new non-colonial status!”

Chairman Felix Alvarez explained the organisation’s views saying “Mr Caruana has negotiated the unnegotiable and in so doing he has made sure we remain at exactly the same historical standstill as before: nothing has changed! Whilst we fully support working towards a better European future along with the UK, Spain and the rest of EU States, this can only happen on the basis of internal as well as external change on many fronts. In the first instance, you cannot build a new Gibraltar based on old injustices and the proposed text was always short-sighted and exclusively concerned with the idea of State Sovereignty. It failed to address fundamental issues of Gibraltarian democracy by committing exactly the same mistake as in 1969: that is, by viewing the Constitution as only a State Sovereignty text and not what all Constitutions really are: a basic higher law laying down the democratic principles which govern the quality of life and freedom of all citizens. This preoccupation with seeing only one part of the total picture in great measure contributes to the social state of affairs we find ourselves in currently on the Rock. State Sovereignty can only be one of several important parallel tracks that Gibraltar politics must be concerned with and cannot be used to justify abandonment or backwardness with regard to other areas of concern to Gibraltarians. The same argument applies in reverse – we cannot be so concerned about social issues that we abandon the important issue of State Sovereignty!”

Furthermore, Alvarez added that “it was always apparent to us and we made our views clear from the start that there could be no self-determination or indeed any reform where the self-determination of individuals was ignored in favour of the self-determination of the State. Fifty years ago it might have been possible to put the State before the citizen, but today that is no longer a feasible way to look at things since the life of the individual determines the life of the entity we call the State. What Gibraltar needs is a fundamental, principled Constitutional text which not only deals with the self-determination of the State in all its aspects (and not just the limited aspects reflected in the proposed new text) but one in which the State’s rights are built on the solid foundation of modern democracy - something which the new text bypasses. GGR has opposed acceptance of these inadequate proposals from day one and we continue opposing them now the outcome is known. We will continue to work for a modern Gibraltar with or without a new Constitution so that we can have the kind of open 21st Century European democracy we deserve on the Rock and not a status dictated by the terms of a 300 year old legally questionable Treaty between undemocratic Monarchs.”

Saturday, March 11, 2006

GGR & Disability Movement accuse Chief Minister

In a joint press statement today, the Gibraltar Local Disability Movement (GLDM) and Equality Rights group GGR have accused the Chief Minister of “playing politics with the disabled.”

Gordon Nelson, Spokesperson for the GLDM explained that following a letter written by his organisation to Lord Williamson of Horton, the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers in the House of Lords, a letter from Douglas Alexander, UK Minister for Europe, has been passed on which reveals something which is no secret to anybody: that the tripartite talks have the airport deal as an important agenda item. “This being the case,” Mr Nelson goes on to add, “it is of significance that the Chief Minister, as a participant in those talks, should not have insisted that the exclusion of disabled passengers from the EU Regulation affecting their rights should not have followed the now almost routine process of excluding Gibraltar precisely because this Regulation is concerned with the very human and non-political issue of the disabled. There can be little doubt that a forceful moral argument along these lines by Mr Caruana, had he troubled himself, would have found support not only amongst Gibraltarians but also possibly amongst ordinary British and Spanish citizens!”

GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez added that “The Minister for Europe’s letter is all the more damning because Mr Alexander says this exclusion of the disabled in Gibraltar allowed “EU business to proceed without prejudicing any party’s position on sovereignty” as if the disabled are some kind of inconvenience and politics a mere set of blinkers which prevents us from seeing that the prejudice being visited is not upon the institutions but upon the disabled whose rights should humanly come above the procedural political business of the day!”

“In sharp contrast to the Chief Minister’s inaction on this matter in defence of Gibraltar’s disabled,” Mr Alvarez continued, “it is good to see two recent developments: an initiative to set up a website for disabled tourists coming to Gibraltar, and also another one, which comes as a result of representations by MEPs Graham Watson, Glyn Ford and Neil Parish (but certainly not as a result of any representation by Mr Caruana or his Government) concerning the fact that GB Airways have now given formal written assurances that despite the EU exclusion they will nonetheless operate the same rights to the disabled travelling to and from Gibraltar as are now being enjoyed throughout the EU. GGR and GLDM wish to jointly convey our gratitude for this decision. However, should any disabled passengers experience any difficulties in this respect they should contact either of our organisations.”

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"We need new Police law," says GGR

Equality Rights group GGR has welcomed news that a total of 8 police cars and vans will have CCTV cameras installed as part of measures to provide protection both for police officers and the public.

“We are certain that Police will be the first to applaud such measures since they offer a means to providing proof of conduct before the Courts the absence of which otherwise causes problems for them. Similarly, the vigilance of the cameras provides extra safeguards for individuals and we, as an organisation, welcome the cameras for both these reasons since we believe in the role of both the police and the citizen in this society.”

“However, Government needs to give serious consideration now to the introduction of legislation along the UK lines of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1998 (PACE). That Act in particular provides safeguards in the processing of individuals whilst in police custody. Similarly, by defining precisely the steps to be taken, it provides safeguards for police officers before the law. In Gibraltar we still have no such legislation, and local practice follows limited guidelines known as the Judges’ Rules.”

“Without a doubt, a lack of legislation along these lines in Gibraltar is the single most glaring example of our being behind the times with respect to applicable professional standards on issues touching on the interaction of the law with the individual citizen. GGR strongly urges all stakeholder professionals and interested civil society to press for this legislative step to be taken sooner rather than later.”

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Run-down of Govt elderly provisions

Equality Rights group GGR has attacked what it says is “the increasingly evident running down of our social services by Government and the suffering this is causing to our elderly,” according to a press release issued today.

“Of late, we have witnessed a spate of lonely deaths on the part of our elderly citizens in their own homes. This is not only sad it is a horrific illustration of just how unattended some of our older people are and feel – both by ourselves as neighbours as well as by Government. Social Services are increasingly under pressure to provide adequately for our senior citizens, some of whom are housebound and without relatives to attend to them. The Minister for Social Services is in our view failing in safeguarding the needs of such vulnerable individuals in our society. It is, indeed, our view that Government is failing the needs of our community by not providing sufficient resources and budgeting to cover the requirements of a civilized modern European society such as Gibraltar needs to be,” Chairman Felix Alvarez stated.

“Gibraltar has fallen far behind in social rights despite the many NGOs asking for Mr Caruana to listen to their needs. Yet we should not be too surprised if, in the run-up to the next Elections, Government now sets out to convince us of their supposed “interest” in social issues by announcing hollow public meetings and bureaucratic consultation exercises when throughout the past 10 years or so the reality is that Government has allowed our social rights and services to be run down in terms of quality and quantity. Any such move by Government will be exposed by GGR for what it is: a desperate attempt to look good before asking for our votes when Government have refused to listen to the affected community throughout their years of executive responsibility.”

“GGR adds its voice to the many valid criticisms and observations made recently by the St John’s Ambulance organisation with respect to the elderly and trusts that action will be taken without pause or delay to stop the current sad trend of solitary deaths by elderly people in their own homes.”

Friday, March 03, 2006

GGR supports trade union moves

Following recent Nursing Section hunger strike action headed by TGWU member Michael Netto in response to a Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA) letter, Equality Rights group GGR Chairman Felix Alvarez has expressed concern regarding the attitude and manner of the GHA in their reaction to Michael Netto in his trade union role.

Mr Alvarez stated that “for the GHA to talk of the ‘unbelievable allegation that the GHA is trying to curtail his [Mr Netto’s] freedom of expression’ and accompany this with descriptions of Mr Netto’s media interviews as “frequent rants” as well as attacking his decision to undertake a hunger strike (a well established and non-violent means of democratic protest) does little, in our view, to elicit support for the GHA’s response to a perfectly democratic action in exercise of trade union and citizenship rights.”

“Furthermore,” says Mr Alvarez, “there are two statements made by the GHA which are of grave concern: in the first place the suggestion by the GHA in their statement that there has been any sort of collusion by unnamed “sources close to the Trade Union” which have been passing on information as to internal Union affairs and in particular regarding Mr Netto’s trade union role; and in the second place, the allegation that Mr Netto ‘was trying to manufacture an industrial dispute in the GHA.’ The first of these points must be openly proven by the GHA as otherwise, it is fair comment in our view to say that the public might consider this allegation in itself to be pure manufacture. The second point seems to ignore the fact that if Mr Netto persuades any of his Union members to follow him in action this must surely have something to do with the convincing nature of his critique – or does the GHA suggest his members are incapable of thinking for themselves?”

“Meaning is extracted not just from the surface picture that words may convey but also from the context in which it is generated. Having read the original letter, I am not of the opinion that the GHA’s claim that any reasonable person acting in good faith would inevitably have given said letter the interpretation which the GHA defends and not, perhaps, have had doubts along the lines of Mr Netto’s concerns.”

It is clear that, in our view, the GHA’s condescending and unsolicited advice to Mr Netto that he ‘would do well to work towards’ the GHA’s goals wishes to ignore two important factors: Mr Netto as a trade unionist has no responsibility to work towards the GHA’s goals but, instead, has a clear responsibility to defend the interests of his Union members none of whom is beholden to any decisions made by Dr McCutcheon or Government except insofar as they may affect contractual employment obligations within the purview of democratic trade union activity. Statements on the part of the GHA describing Mr Netto’s declarations as ‘outrageous’ do little to convince the public of the merits of their case and, instead, may tend to persuade citizens who believe in freedom of expression and democracy to consider, rightly or wrongly, that Government, prior to the next elections, may itself be fabricating situations through various means to present a cosmetically attractive and strong image to the electorate especially following their failure at the latest round of tripartite talks to deliver the much promised progress.”

“In this regard and given the fact that during the period of the GSD Government, Gibraltar has fallen so far behind in social rights despite the many NGOs asking for Mr Caruana to listen to their needs, we should not be surprised if, in the run-up to the next Elections, Government sets up cosmetic consultation exercises and public meetings aimed at the Gallery to present themselves as “interested” in knowing about all those social rights issues they have during the course of all their terms of office refused to listen to or consult on. And all with one objective: to desperately look good before asking for our votes.”

Alvarez ended by saying that “Mr Netto and trade unionists in Gibraltar have my fullest support in the exercise of their rights as workers. Whilst they are more than capable of defending their own and the Union’s interests, I am more than willing to say that should they need to re-establish their hunger strike in defence of those rights I have no problem in undertaking that with them should I be asked and in defence of ordinary working people.”