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09.07.2004 General News

CHRAJ not a toothless bulldog

By Chronicle
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THE ACTING Commissioner of the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ms. Anna Bossman, has refuted allegations by sections of the public that it is “a toothless bulldog”.

Speaking to The Chronicle in an interview, Ms. Bossman said this false notion had been created as a result of the “ very slow manner” in which cases were resolved due to administrative, technical, and other financial problems. She identified some of the problems as inadequate budget, inadequate qualified personnel, poor remuneration and lack of power to prosecute cases.

She said the commission had received over 60,000 cases since its inception in 1993 out of which over 75% had been resolved and the statistics indicated that the number of cases was on the increase.

“In 2001 alone, we had 10,523 petitions and we resolved 9347, so CHRAJ is certainly not a toothless bulldog.”

Ms Bossman said because the commission's budget was subject to the discretion of the Ministry of Finance, it did not get what it demanded.

“There should be no interference, we should be independent of the ministry and be accountable to Parliament,” she stressed, adding that as a result of poor remuneration, the commission was losing its qualified attorneys, who were paid far less than their colleagues in the civil service, considering the volume of work they handled.

She said as soon as they gained experience on the job, they were snatched by other organizations where the pay was higher.

The Acting Commissioner said two years ago, they lost three lawyers and last year another five. “ This situation is putting a lot of pressure on those left and this is affecting the quality of work and the time needed to resolve cases. On the average, each lawyer handles over a hundred cases monthly.”

Another reason for delays, she said, was the commission's inability to prosecute, explaining that where cases were found to have a criminal component, all it could do was to refer them to the Attorney General (AG) who had the discretion to prosecute or not. “I hope if we will be given the mandate (to prosecute), it will certainly speed up the process.”

As to why petitions were on the increase, she explained that it was due to public education and confidence in the system and the increased knowledge of their human rights.

She said the majority of cases were resolved through negotiation and compromise.

However, where cases were found to be criminal, they were referred to the AG or other appropriate bodies like WAJU in cases of defilement and rape.