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Human Rights Commission not jumping to COVID rules conclusions

Vaccine hesitant Belizeans continue to argue that recent measures by the government are possible human rights violations, but the Human Rights Commission (HRC) says they are not so quick to jump to conclusions.

HRC’s Vice President and attorney Cynthia Pitts, when contacted by The Reporter this week, declined offering a legal opinion on whether or not Statutory Instrument (S.I.) No. 74 of 2021 infringes on any human right. Pitts advised that she would, among other things, prefer to first consult with the other members of the Commission, after which the HRC would be in a better position to issue a unified and official statement on this issue. 

Without providing a legal opinion, Pitts, did offer that the S.I. does not define any penalties for refusing to participate in the vaccination drive. This point is significant as other countries have implemented fines for persons who refuse to take the vaccine. In Belize, that is not the case, as S.I. No. 74 does not institute a fine but rather a requirement for unvaccinated frontline workers to present a negative COVID-19 test every two weeks.

Generally speaking, Pitts also reminded that the Constitution does give the Government a responsibility to act for the greater good of all Belizeans. This latter point is significant as the anti-COVID vaccines have been shown to reduce the number of COVID deaths.

The Reporter also spoke with one other respected Belizean attorney who offered the opinion that the Government is well within its mandate to protect the community. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he opined that the government has a contract with society to serve the best interests of its citizens, and this includes protecting their health.

Additionally, workers whose employers are requiring them to get vaccinated or provide a PCR test result every fortnight also have a contract to honor their employer’s conditions. But they have the freedom of choice to leave that job, if they decide not to comply with the vaccination requirement.

Section 11 of Statutory Instrument No. 74 of 2021 specifically reads:

“11.–(1) For the purposes of preventing, controlling, containing and suppressing the spread of the infectious disease COVID-19, every frontline worker who is not immunized by August 1, 2021 shall, every two weeks commencing August 1, 2021, present to that frontline worker’s employer, a negative rapid test or PCR Test on reporting to work.”

After making an exception for workers who have received at least their first dose of any anti-COVID vaccine, the regulation goes on to state:

“A frontline worker who fails to comply with this regulation shall be deemed absent from work and subject to disciplinary proceedings in accordance with any law that regulates the services of that frontline worker.”

The law was later amended via S.I. No. 80 of 2021 so as to make special provisions for frontline workers who work at “a port of entry into and exit out of Belize”. The law mandates that those workers should be “redeployed” if they are not vaccinated.

The law names the following class of workers as frontline: “(a) health care workers; (b) officers of the Belize Police Department; (c) officers of Coast Guard; (d) officers of the Belize Defence Force; (e) teachers; (f) tourism workers; (g) officers of the Customs and Excise Department; (h) officers of the Immigration Department; (i) public transport operators; (j) officers of the Transport Department; and (k) officers of public utility services.”

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