Peter Tatchell reports on human rights findings in Gibraltar
“After having met and heard from a wide cross-section of Gibraltarian society,
it is apparent that Gibraltar fails a number of UK and EU human rights standards. Moreover, the victims of human rights abuses lack effective, swift mechanisms for the redress of grievances and are often silenced by a climate of intimidation and fear,” said British human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell.
“Many people I have met recalled instances of discrimination, harassment and other abuses. However, they all expressed their unwillingness to report officially or publicly discuss the human rights violations they had suffered, out of fear of retribution from state officials. Some said they feared losing their access to jobs, housing, welfare benefits, medical treatment, student places and educational awards and grants.
“Human rights shortcomings are damaging Gibraltar’s reputation internationally, which may discourage some investors and tourists. It could also undermine European support for Gibraltar’s right to self-determination. People are less likely to sympathise with Gibraltar’s right to determine its own future if it has a poor human rights record,” said Mr Tatchell.
He was speaking today at a press conference at John Mackintosh Hall in Gibraltar, hosted by the local equality rights movement, GGR, and its Chair, Felix Alvarez.
“The people of Gibraltar are wonderful, but the government appears to be drifting towards autocracy,” he said.
Mr Tatchell was invited by GGR to visit Gibraltar on a fact-finding mission to meet local people and give his assessment of the human rights situation.
As well as meeting ordinary Gibraltarians and local human rights campaigners, Mr Tatchell met with the leaders of all the political parties, except Peter Caruana, the Chief Minister and head of the governing party, the Gibraltar Social Democrats.
While every other party leader was happy to meet Mr Tatchell and his host, Felix Alvarez, Peter Caruana refused to meet Mr Tatchell if Mr Alvarez was present.
“The Chief Minister’s attitude towards Mr Alvarez was petty and rude. I did not think it was right that Peter Caruana was prepared to meet me, a foreigner, but not one of his own Gibraltarian citizens. This did not strike me as polite or reasonable,” said Mr Tatchell.
“Despite the Chief Minister’s snub, I want to thank the people of Gibraltar for their kindness, warmth and hospitality. I have enjoyed my stay and wish the people of Gibraltar well.
“I reiterate my strong support for Gibraltar’s right to self-determination.
“So far as the human rights situation here is concerned, the conclusions of my fact-finding visit are as follows:
Peter Tatchell – Gibraltar Human Rights Report – 2 October 2007
1. Sexual minorities
· Equality and fairness requires that Gibraltar legislate legal recognition and rights for same-sex couples – perhaps modelled on the UK’s Civil Partnership Act 2003 but also – unlike the flawed UK law - making civil partnerships available to heterosexual couples to ensure parity.
· The unequal age of consent for gay men is illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Gibraltar is required to adhere. Why is the government defying the European Court and refusing to equalise the consent laws?
· Also unlawful under the European Convention are the discriminatory homophobic offences of ‘buggery’, ‘attempted buggery’ and ‘gross indecency.’ The government should scrap these anti-gay laws to ensure that the criminal law does not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.
· Eligibility for affordable housing schemes has been extended to unmarried heterosexual partners but not to unmarried same-sex partners. How can this differential treatment be justified?
· In the absence of legal protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services, restaurateurs, hoteliers and shop owners are entitled to refuse to serve a gay or lesbian person. When does the government propose prohibit anti-gay discrimination in the provision of goods and services? It has already eliminated such discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnicity. How about also protecting the gay and lesbian citizens of Gibraltar?
· Why, seven years after its establishment, is GGR one of the very few community organisations that receives no government funding or premises? It is providing a valuable social and community service.
2. Equal Opportunities Commission
· The creation of the EOC is a welcome first step, but its terms of reference have never been made public. Why not? The remit of the EOC is narrowly defined to cover only race equality. It should be extended to cover all discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, disability and religion or belief, possibly along the lines of the UK’s new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
3. Disabled rights and mental health issues
· Why is there is no walking stick or Braille training for the blind or visually impaired?
· The government has promised to build a new Psychiatric Hospital – when does it intend delivering on this promise?
· Disabled people have limited legal protection against discrimination. To remedy this failing, legislation similar to Britain’s Disability Discrimination Act is a priority. It would help safeguard the rights and welfare of disabled Gibraltarians.
· There is an urgent need for a full independent public inquiry into allegations of abuse at the Dr Giraldi Home. In the meantime, the Police Commissioner should open a new investigation into allegations of criminal misconduct.
4. Media independence
· It is highly desirable to establish an independent Press Complaints Commission to safeguard freedom of the press and ensure fair and ethical standards of reporting – with adequate statutory redress for people who have been unfairly maligned by the media.
· The Gibraltar government announced it will undertake a review of GBC. Why has the government not announced the terms of reference, scope and timetable of this review?
5. Moroccan community
The Moroccan community has raised a number of concerns, including parent’s difficulties in obtaining visas for their children to visit Gibraltar during the summer holidays; the denial of permanent residence rights to people who have lived and worked in Gibraltar for 25 years or more, contrary to Gibraltar’s own laws; and the unfairness of the English-proficiency requirement for residence, given that the government has failed to provide English language training to enable applicants for residence to fulfil this requirement.
6. The drift to autocracy
There are concerns at the way the Chief Minister has taken for himself the very important Ministries of Finance and Justice. This is a very unhealthy concentration of power in the hands of one man, which goes against the British tradition of separation of powers and of checks and balances.
The suspension of the Chief Justice, Derek Schofield, combined with the Chief Minister’s assumption of the Justice Minister post, raises questions concerning the independence of the judiciary and the proper separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive.
The allied criticisms of the operation of industrial tribunals and their failure to provide swift, fair rulings to appellants – including the fact some claimants have great difficulty in funding their cases. Everyone should be entitled to equal access to justice.
There is a human rights deficit in Gibraltar. It is backward and outdated compared to most of Europe. The public mood seems to be in favour of equality and human rights, but legislative action is being thwarted by the government of Peter Caruana.
I do not understand why the Chief Minister is so reluctant to ensure equal and fair treatment for all Gibraltar’s citizens. It would cost him next to nothing and win him much goodwill.
Gibraltar is fantastic. But it is being brought down by the foolish prejudice of its government.
These are my findings and recommendations. It is up to the people and government of Gibraltar to decide which, if any, of these proposals they wish to implement.