Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

New Constitution still 'gravely deficient'

Over two years ago GGR made a public statement to the effect that the proposed new Constitution was ‘gravely deficient’. We stood outside Convent Place in a banner demonstration to affirm that the negotiation for a new Constitution was not and could not be seen as a mere “sovereignty patch”. At the time few if any groups seemed to understand the meaning of that message, though we have been pleased to find over that time and through a series of GGR press releases, that the core message has been picked up and echoed around the community, with the welcome coming together of a No Campaign organizing committee.

Various issues have not been equally well echoed, however. A No vote on the new Constitution is not merely to say no for the sake of it. It is not, as the Chief Minister would have us believe, some retrograde ‘wet blanket’ approach: it is a positive step for insisting that self-determination, like Sovereignty, is not just about politics and politicians, but about people as people above all. It just is not possible for Mr Caruana or anyone else to argue that self-determination is primarily about Gibraltar’s relations with the UK and consequently with Spain. If self-determination is not about every Gibraltarian’s right to determine their own lives in a free, equal and democratic manner and if that is not truly and expressly reflected in any new Constitution, then what the new Constitution protects is the political establishment, with all its new extensions of power to local Government, whilst doing almost nothing for ordinary people in Gibraltar. Constitutions are basic road maps for building society, not a mere patch for Sovereignty.

The Chief Minister’s claims that the new Constitution brings Gibraltar ‘bang up to date’ with the human rights provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights just does not wash. Whilst this would indeed have been the case had the Convention been made directly effective through what is known as ‘incorporation’ into the Constitution, all the Chief Minister is proposing is that the Convention – contrary to what happens practically everywhere else in Europe – is merely ‘taken account of’. This, in legal and political speak means “well maybe”. The Chief Justice himself has lamented that this should be the case, a point GGR has made since the year 2004.

Nothing, and we repeat, nothing the Chief Minister or the Yes campaign has said has changed the deficiencies in the proposed new Constitution. Human rights – whether for the disabled, sexual minorities, the elderly, people of different race and so on – will remain in exactly the same poor state under the new Constitution as it is under the present one. Anyone considering voting Yes should remember their fathers, mothers, friends and themselves when honestly deciding whether allowing a defective and insufficient Constitution to go through is indeed in their interests – or maybe whether, instead, it is merely a charter for the political machinery. Saying Yes is saying yes to that. Saying No keeps the negotiation alive not only between Gibraltar as an emerging State but also between the people and our own representatives, the majority of whom are so proactive at leading headlong at full speed to increase their own influence and power and who, once in Government, are so quick to ditch the promises and accountability to the ordinary man and woman in the street. A Constitution on the right terms would help protect against that happening – but that is precisely what Mr Caruana does not propose to deliver!

It is for these reasons that Equality Rights Group GGR asks Gibraltarians to think seriously again about a Yes vote. “Yes” is a yes for them, “No” is your insistence that you, the ordinary people and your rights cannot and should not be brushed aside so lightly.

If we don’t do this – who will? And if not now – when?

Monday, November 27, 2006

GGR complains to EU President

In a communiqué today, Equality Rights Group GGR has made known the contents of correspondence with EU President Jose Manuel Barroso

Chairman Felix Alvarez revealed that GGR has been in contact with the EU Commission over some time and covering various issues. “Firstly, we are asking the EU President to take action against the Gibraltar Government for failing, to date, to implement the requirements of EU law with regards to the establishment of an Equal Opportunities Commission in Gibraltar. This should have been implemented along with the Equal Opportunities Ordinance some years back and we still have not seen this legal requirement materialise, even following the recent trumpeting by Government of measures required by the EU in the relevant Ordinance and certainly not as an act of political goodwill on their part as they would have us believe. In Government’s recent announcement of its plans to implement pending measures to the relevant EU Directive, they have made no reference to this equally pending legal obligation on their part. Furthermore, in the light of Mr Caruana’s “Africanisation” remarks, the requirement for a Commission to act as a watchdog against incipient racism is all the more relevant. There is no doubt that Mr Caruana’s remarks caused offence for the nuances he attached to the term he used and local African citizens in Gibraltar were, in our view, naturally aggrieved at what was perceived as a derogatory attitude. GGR will continue to insist upon the EU at its highest administrative and political levels that European law must form a part of our responsibilities in the same way that European rights are conferred and our letter highlights this point.”

“Additionally,” Mr Alvarez continued, “we continue to raise the issue of an unequal age of consent for gay citizens in Gibraltar. That this should continue to be a fact of local law whilst the European Court of Human Rights and the Treaty of Rome on which the EU is founded clearly disapprove of such discrimination and inequality is a measure of how behind the times the political establishment continues to be on issues of human and social rights. Finally, we have asked for feedback from President Barroso regarding the status of a Gibraltarian citizen’s petition to the EU regarding the effect of an air measure which excluded disabled persons from directly accessing airport facilities on an equal basis to similar citizens in other EU territories. Whilst we recognise the Cordoba Agreement may have affected the situation, it is by no means clear to what extent Spain will now lift its vetos on Gibraltar-effective EU air measures. It is for this reason that we have asked for clarification.”
On a parting note, Mr Alvarez revealed that on these and other issues he has been working on ‘for a significant period of time’, it is likely that in the coming months ‘important meetings at very high levels’ may take place to which he will be a party with both UK and EU decision makers in order to mark progress on the human rights front in Gibraltar.”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Government has nothing to trumpet!

Equality Rights Group GGR has today reminded Government and affected citizens that the provisions for combating age and disability discrimination in employment in the Equal Opportunities Ordinance must be put into effect by 2nd December this year, adding that “Government has nothing to trumpet in this respect – the provisions it says it is introducing are, in the context of Gibraltar’s appalling and backward situation regarding the disabled, helpful though severely limited measures they have been forced by the EU to introduce and not as a part of Government initiative or political goodwill.”

“Whilst we welcome the fact that Government has announced the publication of a Bill which will bring the required extensions to the Equal Opportunities Ordinance, citizens in this community should note that , irrespective of whether Government presents the new provisions to the House of Assembly in time or not, both the disabled and those who feel discriminated on the basis of age and in relation to employment should note that as from 2nd December this year, these provisions will be theirs by right. Any person who suffers discrimination on these grounds as of that date will be in a position to sue the Government for damages which may have resulted from non-implementation. GGR encourages individuals to exercise their rightful legal rights, especially in the case where citizens suffer as a result of Government failure to carry out their legal obligations in regard to EU law. GGR will lend support to such persons.”

“At the time when the Equal Opportunities Ordinance was debated in the House of Assembly – now almost 3 years ago – Mr Caruana indicated he intended to bring forward the implementation of these measures, though technically the deadline is reached on 2nd December. It is clear that Mr Caruana has not seen fit to give the matter the importance it deserves and so we are once more, and on a technicality, brought to the brink on these issues. Nonetheless, GGR trusts Government will ensure implementation takes place on time. Furthermore, it is still to be seen whether Government has taken the opportunity with these already-trumpeted provisions to genuinely go beyond the measures provided for by the EU Directive through not only introducing these very limited anti-disability and anti-age measures for the workplace, but to establish a clear, comprehensive and progressive legislative framework, via an Ordinance, which will once and for all bring Gibraltar into line with the rest of Europe with respect to not only general anti-discrimination measures for our citizens, but also specific, binding, and published rates of allowances and social security support for this part of our population. In a normal European setting, and departing from an already decent base of measures (which Gibraltar does not have) to support the disabled, these extra provisions are undoubtedly welcome. Given the appalling state of affairs in Gibraltar, where disability is recognised only when derived from birth and not thereafter, for the Government to trumpet its ‘success’ when merely introducing measures related to employment alone and, furthermore, not as an act of initiative and volition but in response to sheer legal obligation arising from the EU and not from its own policies, it will be obvious to all that any trumpeting of new measures sounds a flat and dischordant note!”

“It is not good enough for people to have to be at the mercy of unknown, ambiguous and hidden behind-the-counter support and benefits, which are difficult to verify and even more difficult to challenge by citizens. It is only when we act in an up-front and right manner towards our most vulnerable that Gibraltar can rest at ease with its conscience as to how we treat our friends and family members who happen to be disabled or of a certain age.”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tragic death - we call for a full public investigation

Equality Rights Group GGR has today called for a full and independent public investigation into the role of the Social Affairs Minister and Social Services regarding the untimely and tragic death of a 26 year old woman at Harbour Views yesterday.

“Barely a week after we were treated to Minister Bernard Linares' 1984-style version of Government concern for people’s rights, we are today faced with the tragic outcome of the reality that flies in the face of Government hype,” the statement says.

“Whilst we are aware of the identity of the person and of the circumstances surrounding her situation prior to her death, we refrain from mentioning those details out of respect for the family and the police investigation under way.”

“However, the few facts that have been made public may point to the involvement of Social Services, the responsibility for which rests with the Minister for Social Affairs, Yvette Del Agua and not with its staff who labour under the Minister's policies. This being the case while a police investigation to rule out untoward liability is correct and necessary, it is equally correct and necessary that the responsibilities of the Minister as head of both her Ministry and as responsible for the care of disabled and other persons in our community be objectively and independently clarified. GGR calls for a full and public investigation to clarify whether any failure of treatment for this individual has played any role in her death. Should this be the case, the decent thing is for the Minister to resign.”

“People are not mere ‘voting capital’ for the politicians. They are human beings that need to be cared for and for whom policies have to be built which invest in their well-being and quality of life. The Chief Minister and his Government must assume responsibility for any failure which may have occurred in this tragic case and do the decent thing by instituting an independent enquiry free of political influence or intervention. Following such an act of transparency – or even before it – the decent thing in any democratic State is for the Minister concerned to resign as acknowledgment of Government’s moral responsibility for the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens. Failure to do so would be read by the people of this community as flying in the face of decency and respect. When individuals in this community suffer quietly and unseen on a daily basis, politicians must pay the price for their failure to promptly and unequivocally address their needs.”
“Governments of Gibraltar whether in the present or in the future, and of whatever political colour, must learn that while they may enjoy parading in the ‘big’ headlines, it is the everyday reality of real people – who are not mere voting capital – that should dominate both their thinking and their action every day of their political term. Citizens should draw their own conclusions and not be driven by the hype and gloss that politicians are so professional at putting out before Elections instead of attending to the many in our community whom so many appear to consider an inconvenience.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

GGR questions Govt on Refugees

Equality Rights Group GGR has written to the Chief Minister asking for clarification on provisions with regard to refugees and asylum seekers.

“There are clear national and international provisions that persons with refugee or asylum-seeker status should be given the opportunity for employment, housing and possible social security support. These are sensible and practical requirements in law to ensure that persons who are persecuted or otherwise find themselves in a State-less situation are able to find refuge. Failure to provide for these persons adequately is not only a negative element for the individual themselves, but could pose the danger of undesirable conduct on the individual’s part in an effort to provide for themselves where no or inadequate provision is made by the host country.”

“Gibraltar has clear legislation covering this situation both in the Immigration Control Ordinance 1962 and under the Temporary Protection Ordinance 2005. Our letter to the Chief Minister seeks clarification as to the total number of persons in this category, their nationalities, whether they are employed or not, and whether they receive social security support as well as housing or assistance towards it.”

“GGR is not only interested in ensuring that the Government of Gibraltar complies with its international obligations under the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees of 28 July 1951, but also with our own legislation designed to provide for these persons. Most importantly, it is ultimately a matter of much interest to Gibraltar as a community to ensure these provisions are made practical realities and that we are not failing in compliance since, in the alternative, destitute or unprovided for individuals in this situation may seek modes of survival which could lead to unacceptable behaviour. Employment and housing, therefore, are of core importance to ensure refugees and asylum seekers are able to live amongst us with a measure of safety and dignity. We trust Government will clarify these matters if not to ourselves directly, then at least to the public at large. Since, from past experience, unfortunately, GGR cannot confide in a response being received from Government, we have forwarded a copy of our letter to Amnesty International for their information.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Our concern for the blind

Equality Rights Group GGR has today expressed concern regarding basic support for blind and visually-impaired people in Gibraltar, who, it says ‘comprises according to our understanding of 49 officially registered and 5 enrolled persons making a total of 54 with possibly up to 26 further unregistered persons bringing the total in Gibraltar to an approximate 80.”

“We have for many years spoken about the poor support given to the disabled in our community, and this has received a measure of public focus though with inadequate attention by Government. In the midst of this general awareness, and to a degree, the blind appear to be a largely disattended group. GGR has recently been shocked to be advised by Mr Albert Cano, who is a Gibraltarian and registered blind since 1979, that despite a long-standing battle with increasing visual impairment, he is still receiving no training in the use of a walking stick or indeed in the use of Braille. Mr Cano some time back was hurt by a car in an accident which, he feels, would have been avoided had he had the use of a walking stick to guide his way. Even if this problem were limited to just one affected person, in our view this would still be one person too many! Whilst we very much hope that this situation will soon be put right by the relevant authorities and those concerned with supporting this community, the approach made to us by Mr Cano is deeply concerning and calls for immediate rectification.”

“GGR urges Government to address the needs of the blind and visually-impaired community on the Rock with the care and attention they require as full citizens of this community. In this respect we welcome the recent availability of premises to afford the blind community a resource. It is completely unacceptable, however, that basics such as walking-stick training and Braille should either be delayed, totally unavailable, or where they are available, that the people who need access to them should allegedly find themselves unable to make use of such an important part of necessary equipment and skills to their daily lives. GGR does not intervene in the work of other NGOs in the Community except at the specific request of affected individuals, as in this case. Nonetheless, we trust the matter will find suitable and speedy remedy by all those concerned in supporting the blind and visually impaired.”

“On a different note, GGR has been closely studying statements by both the established and new-comer Parties prior to the Elections and soon intend to raise issues publicly which, to date, they are either avoiding or giving unacceptable or ambiguous answers to. Amongst these will be the issue of a Sex Offenders Register, which the present Government has totally ignored despite strong public support for a Petition. We continue to receive representations from concerned citizens wishing to raise this matter once more in the approach to Elections. In consequence, one of the steps we shall be taking will be to approach Annette Vallejo, who worked with us on the Petition campaign for the period of its duration and who does not form a part of our Executive but whose initiative led that Campaign in order to lend whatever support may be appropriate at this time.”