Exactly a week before Barbados transitions to a republic, a new Charter of Barbados was presented to Parliament that, while not legally binding, outlines citizens’ rights and responsibilities.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who moved a resolution to take note of and approve the Charter of Barbados on Tuesday, stressed that the document promotes the concept of active citizenship and is a guide for how people should treat each other and the country, but is not a constitution, the preamble to a new or the existing constitution, or a legal document.
“It is a document, however, that reflects how the majority feel, but that is committed to the protection of all, not just the majority, because the role of a government is to confer the benefits of the protection of the rule of law, the precepts of fairness, on its people while insisting that order remain to avoid anarchy,” she added.
“The one major departure of this charter from the Constitution that currently exists and the other things that we have done as an independent nation is that there is no document that says to Barbadians that you have not only rights but you also have a duty to take care of each other and you have a duty to take care of this nation and you have a duty to participate in the affairs or nation-building as a form of active citizenship.
“This Charter seeks to set out very, very clearly the precepts of not only rights but the recognition that the only people that will take care of this fair land are Barbadians themselves and those choosing to live here.”
The Charter of Barbados is premised on five articles, the first of which states that all Barbadians are born free and are equal in human dignity and rights regardless of age, race, ethnicity, faith, class, cultural and educational background, ability, sex, gender or sexual orientation.
“We must have a guideline to ensure that we must never, never, never, never reflect any ounce of discrimination against any human being in this nation if we are to be fair to the battles and to honour the battles fought by our ancestors and if we are to be fair to the precepts of human dignity that we believe in, whether as a nation or spiritually so,” Mottley insisted.
According to Article II of the Charter: “Everyone in Barbados has a duty to care for each other and to ensure that our relationships are at all times characterised by courtesy, civility and mutual respect. We remain conscious that every generation is indebted to those generations that preceded it and is morally obligated to the one that follows.”
Article III states: “Every Barbadian has the right and a duty to participate in the economic, political and social life of Barbados as an expression of active citizenship. Every Barbadian has the right to vote and seek public office in accordance with the laws of this country.”
Article IV: “Everyone has the right to live in a healthy and balanced environment, and has a duty to participate in its preservation, conservation, enhancement and regeneration. We appreciate the defining importance of our land and sea to our identity and way of life, and therefore also pledge to protect the free and unrestricted access to all our beaches and public spaces, which is an inalienable right of every Barbadian.”
Article V, meantime, states that: Barbados is part of a global community and strong international relations with other states is vital to national development. As a small island state, we must exist harmoniously with others and work collaboratively to preserve global public goods. We will honour our international obligations while championing the causes that are important to safeguarding the future prosperity and stability of Barbados and the Caribbean.
The Charter was created following consultations led by the Republican Status Transition Advisory Committee that hosted sessions with the general public, civil society, faith-based organisations, the LGBTQI community, the Barbados Association of Retired Persons and the Barbados Council for the Disabled.
The Prime Minister said those who contributed to the discussion spoke to the need for parliamentary reform, a citizens advice bureau, freedom of information legislation, greater enforcement of human rights, the rights of a child, what family rights should be, and what she called “this issue of Creator”.
Some religious leaders have expressed concern about there being no direct references to “God” in the Charter, although the document mentions a “Creator”.
“I really do trust and hope that they will understand that there is no intention to demean anyone and, in fact, as we have said, the assertion to protect the rights of all is not an assertion to remove from anyone their individual rights or morals,” Mottley said.
She also disclosed that Cabinet had given the Thorne Commission on Local Governance the go-ahead to start consulting with the public over the next few months on the recommendations in its report. (DP)