Strengthening Trinidad and Tobago’s Human Rights Capacity through Innovative Legal Education Delivery-Project launch

On Wednesday December 6th 2017, the Faculty of Law, the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus launched a two-year project ‘Strengthening Trinidad and Tobago’s Human Rights Capacity through Innovative Legal Education Delivery’. This project is funded by the European Development Fund (EDF), and administered by the Ministry of Education, Trinidad and Tobago.

The Project recognizes that there are vulnerable groups in Trinidad and Tobago, whose fundamental human rights are threatened due to the lack of capacity for legal services and advocacy by key partner and advocacy organisations. The Project has thus identified the following groups as primary beneficiaries for this capacity building: children; victims of gender-based violence and discrimination; differently-abled persons; refugees, migrants and persons deprived of liberty; and indigenous peoples.

The activities in this landmark project seek to bring together diverse sectors that will work together to close the gaps in legal education, especially its practical application, so that the necessary support can be provided to these vulnerable communities by civil society actors, and building the capacity and public interest culture of the private legal sector. This, it is hoped, will further enhance the role and recognition of human rights as a fundamental pillar of our country’s sustainable development trajectory.

Members of and advocates for these vulnerable communities were present at the launch, giving their support and perspective on how this project can sustainably impact the communities within which they work. These noted speakers were: former Independent Senator Mrs. Diana Mahabir-Wyatt (children and victims of gender-based violence); Dr. Natalie Dick (differently-abled persons); Chief Ricardo Hernandez of the Santa Rosa First Peoples (indigenous peoples) and Mr. Ruben Barbado, Head of UN Refugee Office in Trinidad and Tobago (refugees, migrants and persons deprived of liberty).

The overall consensus of all speakers was that Trinidad and Tobago is currently in a position that demands a renewed emphasis on human rights, citizens’ understanding of their rights and how to protect them. Senator Mahabir-Wyatt and Dr. Dick gave the audience a summary of T&T’s recent history in relation to human rights, with both speakers pointing out that T&T has had a good history of signing on to and ratifying international conventions and agreements on human rights, making us well-placed to continue along a path of development based on proper integration of human rights. Chief Hernandez brought a longer-term view of history to the proceedings, illustrating the recent drive by first peoples around the world to reclaim their dignity after centuries of human rights violations. As the last of the invited speakers, Mr. Barbado brought the global perspective on the need to address human rights issues, as reduced boundaries and increasing numbers of displaced persons are resulting in more and more incidences of refugee movements to countries like Trinidad and Tobago.

The Project Leader, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, in her remarks, spoke about the rationale and linkages that can be leveraged by bringing these vulnerable groups together under the umbrella of the project. From her perspective, human rights are cross-sectoral, and they need the cooperation of everyone to ensure that all our rights are protected. This initiative, she hopes, will further enhance the role and recognition of human rights as a fundamental pillar of our country’s sustainable development trajectory. She emphasized that the Faculty of Law, the UWI, has a significant role to play in this endeavour; and in this regard she spoke about the development of an International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) under the project.

Main speakers and UWI representatives at the launch event: From L to R: Mr. Ruben Barbado; former Independent Senator Mrs. Diana Mahabir-Wyatt; Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine; Chief Ricardo Hernandez; Dr. Natalie Dick; and Professor John Agard