Amnesty chief criticises Minister

Families Minister Glenn Blakeney’s reported plan to exclude landlords and churches from a ban on discriminating against non-heterosexuals has provoked alarm from Amnesty International.

Human rights are non-negotiable and do not allow for half-measures, Amnesty’s Bermuda chair Françoise Wolffe told The Royal Gazette.

She was reacting to outgoing Human Rights Commission chair Shade Subair’s claim that regulations put forward by Mr Blakeney, to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, contained exemptions for people leasing property and religious organisations.

In any case, Mr Blakeney broke his promise to implement those regulations by the end of 2011, incurring the wrath of human rights campaigners.

Ms Wolffe said she was saddened by the Minister’s failure to keep his word, and further alarmed to hear that those regulations contained such exemptions.

She issued a statement expressing disappointment in the Progressive Labour Party for failing to add sexual orientation to the list of protected grounds in the Human Rights Act.

“Over the past few years, Amnesty International Bermuda and other human rights organisations and concerned members of the public have tirelessly combined their efforts to highlight the injustice and the deficiencies of the Human Rights Act; in particular, that the Act does not provide equal rights for every member of the Bermudian community,” stated Ms Wolffe.

“We placed a great deal of faith in this PLP Government, whose principles, we thought, were rooted in the ideals of fairness and justice for all, to do the right thing and make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation unlawful.

“However, according to Ms Subair, promises were made by the Minister which sadly were broken.

“But what we consider even more alarming is the reported comment of the Minister that suggested that he was considering introducing anti-discrimination regulations which would allow for exemptions.

“According to the Minister, and in order ‘to suit the context of Bermuda’, religious organisations or landlords could be exempted from these regulations.

“Amnesty International Bermuda does not consider such an option acceptable or in keeping with the spirit and intent of a Human Rights Act.

“Human rights, as defended by Amnesty International and other Human Rights organisations around the world, do not allow for half-measures in ensuring basic human rights: they are universal and non-negotiable.”

Ms Wolffe said exemptions for landlords and religious groups would provide an easy and convenient loophole to the law, meaning discrimination based on sexual orientation would be perpetuated.

“Amnesty International Bermuda strongly urges the Government to do the right thing and bring about amendments to the Act which will unequivocally outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation,” she said.

Ms Subair had stated recently: “The promised regulations would have entitled a non-heterosexual to equal consideration for employment, the provision of goods and services and the disposal/acquisition of property.

“However, to illustrate the limitations to the discrimination rule, the regulations would not have obliged anyone to lease a room in their own household to a person whose lifestyle offended their religious beliefs.

“The exemption would allow the preservation of privacy in one’s home as opposed to allowing commercial businesses to turn away potential clients on the basis of sexual orientation. Another exemption to the discrimination rule would be to cover religious organisations.”

Asked for a response to Amnesty’s concerns, Mr Blakeney replied: “I have no further comment to make on the issue until such time that I decide to table proposed amendments.”

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Published Jan 23, 2012 at 6:10 am (Updated Jan 23, 2012 at 6:07 am)

Amnesty chief criticises Minister

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