While many people may have heard of the islands’ gorgeous vistas, there is much less talk about human rights in the Virgin Islands, an archipelago that forms the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are politically divided into the British, U.S. and Spanish Virgin Islands.
The British Virgin Islands are essentially free from human rights abuses. The strong legal system does not include gaps that could worsen the situation for the poor and vulnerable. The government is committed to continuously improving the laws to better protect the citizens and residents of the British Virgin Islands. The government undertook an extensive campaign to improve the working conditions of the public sector and to publicize human rights and the availability of government services. However, there is evidence that a legal aid system that was introduced is underfunded and somewhat ineffective.
Poor immigrant workers in the British Virgin Islands are the most likely to experience discrimination in the workplace. While the Human Rights Reporting Co-ordinating Committee conducts public education programs, many immigrants feel intimidated to come forward or feel it is unlikely they will receive a favorable decision from a court. Immigrant households tend to have less access to courts and welfare services as well.
While the British Virgin Islands are self-governing territory, this is not the case in the U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. Virgin Islands residents are U.S. citizens, but cannot cast votes for president in the Electoral College. However, they do participate in political parties’ presidential nominating process by holding caucuses and sending delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. In the U.S. Congress, they are represented by a delegate who can vote in congressional committees but not in the House itself. There is currently a lawsuit ongoing to fully enfranchise all U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Spanish Virgin Islands, ironically, are not a Spanish territory. They belonged to Spain before the Spanish-American War in 1898. The islands are now a part of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. Puerto Rico also faces the same challenges regarding enfranchisement and congressional representation as the U.S. Virgin Islands.
While the situations may be different in the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, there is good reason to hope for improvement in human rights in the Virgin Islands. The government of the British Virgin Islands has shown it is not afraid to tackle the issue and make improvements, and activists and lawyers are working to improve the political situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
– Brock Hall