The Human Rights Act, 1981
The Human Rights Act, 1981 (the ‘Act’) was passed in June 1981 by the legislature, which resulted in the repeal of the Race Relations Act, 1969 and the Race Council Act, 1970. The Human Rights Act became operational in May 1982 and the Human Rights Commission was established to administer the human rights legislation and policy in Bermuda. The Act is national legislation that affords rights and opportunities without discrimination in specific social areas and based on specific grounds.
The objective of the Human Rights Act is to provide a legal and aspirational framework for the protection of local and international human rights commitments, and to provide protection from harassing or discriminatory behavior. The Human Rights Act is a dynamic piece of legislation that continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of our community.
The Human Rights Act has primacy (as referenced under Section 30B) and should be considered when developing any and all national legislation or policy that will impact people’s rights.
Not all unfair treatment and not all forms of harassment or discrimination are covered by the Human Rights Act, 1981. Part of the work of the HRC is to leverage and expand the protection the Act does afford, in concert with other national legislation, to ensure the Act is inclusive and applicable to the protection and promotion of rights in Bermuda for all.
The Grounds of Protection
Grounds of Protection included in the Human Rights Act, 1981:
- Race, place of origin, colour, ethnic or national origins
- Sex or sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Family status
- Religion or beliefs or political opinions,
- Criminal record
- Age (does not apply in the area of employment)
- There is also protection against harassment and sexual harassment in the protected areas.
The Areas of Protection
Areas of Protection: The main areas of protection under the Act include employment, goods, facilities and services and accommodation.
- Section 3: Notices – this section provides protections no one is allowed to display, publish or post any discriminatory sign, symbol or notice against any person or persons based on the protected grounds.
- Section 4: Disposal of Premises – this section protects against persons seeking to rent accommodation, acquire land or other premises — whether as a renter or as an owner. Persons cannot discriminate because of your race, place of origin, etc.
- Section 5: Goods, Services and Facilities – where a person is seeking to obtain goods, facilities or services, whether on payment or not, persons are protected from discrimination by others that would be a violation of any of the grounds set out in Section 2(2).
- Section 6: Employment, Special Programmes and Harassment — this Section provides against discrimination in employment. Employers are barred from discriminating in hiring, training, promoting, dismissing or demoting any person because of his race, etc. Employers and employment agencies are barred from discriminatory advertising.
- Section 6B: Harassment – employees are protected against harassment from their employers. Harassment is persistent, vexatious behaviour and the employer/employee should know or ought to know that it is not welcome.
- Section 7: Organisation – protection against discrimination in clubs and other organizations, whether a member or not.
- Section 8: Proceedings under the Act – persons are barred from treating someone differently, who made a complaint under the Act. For example, where an employer fires an employee, or punishes him/her, or intimidates such employee, because she/he made a complaint under the Act.
- Section 8A: Racial Material & Harassment – persons are not allowed to publish racial material to incite or promote ill will against any part of the community because of their race or colour. No person should incite a breach of the peace against any part of the community, because of race or ethnicity.
- Section 9: Sexual Harassment – this Section provides protection from sexual abuse from employers, agents of employers, other employees, and landlords. The employer must protect against sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Section 10: Discriminatory Covenants – where there is a legal instrument passing property, such as a Deed, if it is drafted in a discriminatory way so as to contravene the grounds as stated in Section 2(2) of the Act, the instrument would be deemed null and void. It would have no legal effect.
In order for a human rights complaint to be considered, a complaint must include both a ground AND an area.
In 1968, the UK Government enacted the Bermuda Constitution. We encourage everyone in Bermuda to read and become familiar with the Constitution. Section 1 speaks to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, and you journey through to Section 12, which refers explicitly to protection from discrimination.
Read more about the development of the Constitution in Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s publications here:
- History of Bermuda’s Constitution (2004) – Justice Ian Kawaley
- The Rule of Law, Judicial Independence and Bermuda’s Early Constitutional History (2006) – Justice Ian Kawaley
National Human Rights Institutions
National human rights institutions (NHRIs) are administrative bodies set up to protect or monitor human rights in a given country. There are over 100 such institutions that are compliant with the United Nations standards set out in the Paris Principles.
The United Nations and other international agencies look toward NHRIs for human rights advice and to help monitor the progress countries make towards the realisation of human rights. National human rights institutions are intended to be independent of government, and separate from non-governmental organisations such as charities.
While the Bermuda Human Rights Commission has not yet applied to be accredited given our current status, the Commission actively seeks to meet the standards laid out in the Paris Principles, and the expectations of NHRI’s provides a useful framework to strive toward.
International Human Rights Treaties and Conventions
The Bermuda government has become a signatory, or via the UK’s ratification, agreed to uphold and respect several international human rights treaties.
The Bermuda Government has a responsibility to monitor Bermuda’s performance in meeting its international human rights commitments. The HRC provides advice and recommendations so that these standards are reflected in our national laws, as well as the policies and programs developed by government.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, together make up the International Bill of Human Rights.
International standards include:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- European Convention on Human Rights
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- International Covenant on International and Political Rights
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Rights & Freedoms
What are Human Rights?
The term ‘human rights’ is familiar – but not always easy to define. Broadly speaking, human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person. Human rights represent a variety of distinct yet intersected issues. Human rights recognise the inherent value of each person regardless of background, where we live, what we look like or what we believe. They can be understood as follows:
- The recognition and respect of peoples dignity and worth
- A set of legal guidelines that promote and protect a recognition of our diverse and individual identity, our national commitment to rights, and an ability to ensure an adequate standard of living
- The basic standards by which we can identify and measure equality, access and fairness
- Those rights associated with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the Bermuda Constitution 1968 and the Bermuda Human Rights Act 1981
Human Rights are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They reflect an expectation to be treated fairly, to treat others fairly and to have the ability to make choices in our daily lives.
Human rights are both simple and complex! The way we bring rights to life is what matters most – the choices we make each day, the actions we take to uphold human rights obligations, and the commitment to understanding and caring for these rights in Bermuda.
The HRC works to balance the rights of everyone in Bermuda while ensuring that we progress and evolve protection to meet the needs of our community for all.
What is a ‘Human Rights-Based Approach’?
A human rights-based approach refers to an approach that integrates human rights (both legal standards and general considerations) into programs, policy, legislative development, and organisational practices to ensure people’s human rights are fundamentally protected and promoted in daily life.
It reflects a commitment to look through a human rights lens and ask questions about equal access and opportunity. It means looking at the curriculum or program or policy you are developing and ask, is it inclusive? Who can access this? And who benefits? Is it discriminatory in some way? Does it allow for equal opportunity? This approach seeks to identify causes that contribute to unfair outcomes and redress discriminatory practices or unjust distribution of power that may be impeding equal access, fair treatment or opportunity for all.
The commitment to fully integrate human rights into our daily lives and institutional practices is not always easy. Transforming workplace practices, updating approaches to policy development, organisational culture, and discriminatory legislation takes consistent work and dedication.
Through education, engagement and advocacy the Human Rights Commission is committed to providing practical support for the application of a human rights-based approach to work, schools, and civil duty in Bermuda.
Rights Holders versus Duty Bearers
Human beings are rights holders under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights simply by being human, and people can be both duty bearers and rights holders. The relationship is a two-way street.
Individuals and communities need to be aware of their rights as rights holders and be invited to participate in decisions that affect them. A human rights-based approach recognises the entitlement of people to have their needs respected, but also sees people as agents in the realisation of their rights.
Duty bearers are those individuals or authorities who have a particular obligation or responsibility to respect, promote and realize human rights and to abstain from human rights violations (for example governments, businesses, school authorities etc.).
Duty bearers often need assistance to develop the capacity, the resources and the political will to fulfill their commitments to human rights. A rights-based approach helps to increase the capacity of duty-bearers to meet their obligations and encourages rights holders to claim their rights.
Informing, educating and empowering ourselves is essential and enabling participation by ensuring people can access and exercise their rights is central to this process.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
A model of human rights standards was set out for the first time in 1948, by the United Nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, sets out the basic rights and freedoms that apply to all people. Drafted in the aftermath of World War Two, this treaty did not have the force of law, however it has become a foundation document that has inspired many legally-binding international human rights laws. These international and regional human rights treaties continue to be developed and evolved to meet the changing needs and circumstances facing today’s world.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, sets out the basic rights and freedoms that apply to all people. Drafted in the aftermath of World War Two, it has become a foundation document that has inspired many legally binding international human rights laws.