Are human rights culturally relative? Public consultations as the ultimate answer from Trinidad and Tobago

Published on 30 Oct 2023, 03:08 PM

Trinidad and Tobago reviewed by the Human Rights Committee

Vergara (AP)

On 18 and 19 October 2023, the Human Rights Committee reviewed the situation of human rights in Trinidad and Tobago for the fifth time. The session was marked by the mixed comments from the members of the Committee regarding Trinidad and Tobago’s issues. In this regard, the Committee highlighted Trinidad’s positive advancements, such as the high rate of women’s representation in public bodies, but also questioned the negative developments, such as the ongoing deportation of Venezuelan refugees or the increasing police brutality

Over the course of the examination, the delegation from Trinidad and Tobago repeatedly tackled some of their most urgent concerns as issues that demanded more public consultation in order to be resolved, like in the case of the death penalty. In parallel, the Committee members recurrently suggested the delegation to answer based on how the law functions on the ground, and not just on paper, to properly understand and address Trinidad’s human rights issues.    

The session was also characterized by a small delegation and a limited presence of NGOs, in comparison with the previous delegations and civil society organizations held in other State reviews from the 139th session of the Human Rights Committee. 

Human trafficking and ongoing deportations: a critical issue for Trinidad and Tobago

The issue of unlawful deportations and human trafficking was repeatedly raised by the Committee members, as Trinidad and Tobago has been facing an ongoing and increasing wave of asylum seekers, 87% of whom are from Venezuela. The detentions in inhumane conditions, the ill-treatment faced by migrants, plus their sudden and unlawful deportation, have been the main measures taken by the Trinidadian authorities to deal with the situation. The Committee severely questioned these actions, as they are not in line with neither the ICCPR nor the UN Refugee Convention , which calls for the protection and integrity of refugees and asylum seekers. 

Committee members were also concerned with some issues arising from this same context, such as the human and sexual trafficking of Venezuelan women, the criminalization of migrants and the detention of migrant children in numerous establishments. 

The delegation was aware of this situation and answered the questions posed in a proactive way. In this regard, the delegation asserted their will to improve the protection, detection, and identification of victims of trafficking, as well as their commitment to assisting these victims through specialized shelters. Moreover, the delegation also stated that, in the case of deportations, the individuals would not be deported to regions where they could face persecution. 
However, Trinidad and Tobago remains as one of the few countries in the Americas to have no national legislation on asylum, despite being part of the UN Refugee Convention and its Protocol. This fact raises concerns, as it can extend the unlawful practice of migrant deportations, blocking the immediate resolution of the situation.

The rise of violence in Trinidad and Tobago: police brutality as the answer for organized crime

The increasing gun violence in Trinidad and Tobago was one of the most pressing issues tackled by the Committee. With approximately 1,5 million people and over 600 murders in 2022, Trinidad and Tobago has one of the highest homicide rates globally, primarily fueled by the proliferation of firearms, gang-related conflicts, and drug trafficking.
Due to these circumstances, the Trinidadian authorities declared a state of emergency to combat organized crime and drug-related activities, especially linked with the international shipping of cocaine. This emergency situation allowed law enforcement agents to arbitrarily arrest people without warrants and use their force in an overly-violent way, often acting in a shoot-to-kill manner. 

The Committee was concerned with the implementation of this state of emergency, as it had the power to suspend non-derogable rights from the ICCPR, clearly violating it. As an alternative, the Committee members suggested the delegation to tackle the root causes of the violence.

The delegates of Trinidad and Tobago considered police brutality to be of major concern. They stated that an already operational investigation was initiated to tackle this issue. Nevertheless, the delegation justified their state of emergency on the basis of national safety, which, in turn, had the legitimacy to suppress non-derogable basic human rights

Female representation in public bodies is not enough: structural violence against women and no respect for LGBTQI+ rights

Even if some of the Committee members congratulated the State delegation for its high level of female representation in management positions in public bodies, violence against women and assaults on LGBTQI+ rights still prevail in Trinidad and Tobago. Examples of these are the numerous cases of Venezuelan women sexually trafficked and the criminalization of same sex couples

In this regard, the Committee questioned several forms of sexual, domestic, and labor exploitation that women in Trinidad and Tobago continue to face, as well as the existence of discriminatory laws against the LGBTQI+ collective

The delegates acknowledged the questions raised but answered in a vague way, pointing towards the need for public consultations to address some of the issues, especially in the case of gender-based rights. 


As with other State reviews, the Committee members often encouraged the delegation to answer based on how the law functions on the ground and the numerous conflicts it generates, instead of continuously referring to their legal framework

However, over the course of the review, the delegation of Trinidad and Tobago repeatedly tackled some of its most urgent concerns as questions that demanded more public consultation in order to be resolved, treating some human rights violations as culturally relative. The members of the Committee challenged the use of public consultations, arguing that these are only meaningful when people are well informed about the issues concerning them. Instead, the Committee suggested the delegation to start by addressing the sociocultural roots of the issues. 

Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here (part one) and here (part two).

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding Observations on Trinidad and Tobago's fifth periodic report were released on 3 November, 2023. The State party is requested to provide, by 3 November 2026, information on the implementation of the following  recommendations:

Treatment of aliens, including refugees and asylum seekers

The State party should take all necessary measures to enhance protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. To this end, it should:

  • (a) Expedite the adoption of national legislation to protect the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers and to incorporate relevant procedures in conformity with the Covenant and other international standards, and take the necessary measures to ensure the application of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons into the domestic legal order;
  • (b) Develop procedures for identifying persons in need of international protection, namely asylum-seekers and refugees, including those who are at risk due to detention or who have received a deportation order, in line with the State party’s obligations under the Covenant and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol;
  • (c) Strictly adhere to the principle of non-refoulement with respect to all asylum-seekers and refugees and refrain from penalizing persons in need of international protection for irregular entry or stay, and ensure that all persons applying for international protection are given access to an independent judicial appeals mechanism with suspensive effect against negative decisions;
  • (d) Ensure that the detention of migrants and asylum-seekers is justified as reasonable, necessary and proportionate, in accordance with the Committee’s general comment No. 35 (2014) on liberty and security of person, that living conditions and treatment in accommodation centres for asylum-seekers are in conformity with international standards, and that alternatives to detention are used in practice, particularly with regard to children, ensuring they are not deprived of liberty, except as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
  • (e) Guarantee that all allegations of discrimination and violence against refugees and asylum-seekers, in particular women, are investigated promptly, thoroughly and impartially, that those allegedly responsible are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished and that the victims obtain redress.

Administration of justice, right to a fair trial and independence of the judiciary

The State party should continue its efforts and take all measures necessary to reform the justice system and ensure that all court proceedings are conducted, without undue delay, in full observance of the due process guarantees set forth in article 14 of the Covenant and in light of the Committee’s general comment No. 32 (2007) on the right to equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial, as well as to ensure the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary and guarantee that judges are free to operate without any type of undue pressure or interference from the executive and legislative branches. In doing so, it should:

  • (a) Take concrete steps to address the court backlog, including by strengthening financial resources allocated to the judiciary and increasing the number of trained judges, prosecutors and public defenders;
  • (b) Ensure that free legal aid is provided in a timely manner in all cases where the interests of justice so require, including by increasing the allocation of human and financial resources to ensure the adequate and efficient functioning of the Public Defenders’ Department of the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority;
  • (c) Take all measures necessary to prevent corruption within the judiciary, and guarantee that all corruption cases are independently and impartially investigated, and that perpetrators are brought to justice and given appropriate punishment should they be found guilty;
  • (d) Ensure that the procedures for the selection, appointment, suspension, transfer, removal and disciplining of judges and prosecutors comply with the Covenant and relevant international standards, including the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors;
  • (e) Ensure prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of undue interference by other branches of government; and prosecute and punish the persons responsible.

Juvenile justice

The State party should continue its efforts to ensure that its juvenile justice system is in line with article 24 of the Covenant, the Committee’s general comment No. 35 (2014) on liberty and security of person, and other international standards, including by taking steps to:

  • (a) Significantly raise the age of criminal responsibility;
  • (b) Ensure that adequate alternatives to detention are made available and applied in practice, and that deprivation of liberty of children in conflict with the law is used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
  • (c) Ensure that juveniles are fully separated from adults in all places of detention and prisons.


Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of Trinidad and Tobago on the implementation of the recommendations is due in 2026. The next list of issues will be adopted in 2029, and the next periodic report is due in 2030.

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