Last week we looked at all your Rights under the Constitution of Vanuatu. This week we will briefly discuss what each of those rights means.

The Right toLife

This means that no one, including your government has the right to try to take your life except when (1) the loss of your life is imposed by a court as a sentence for a crime committed by you, or (2) if the police use reasonable force when trying to arrest a person or prevent an arrested person from escaping, (3) any action taken by the government to stop an unlawful riot or uprising.

No case can be made against a person for breach of someone’s right to life if that person used force in defence of another.

This means that enforcement agencies like the police cannot use excess force to stop you doing something if a lesser amount of force is enough. Example, if a person is in a locked room with a police officer and trying to get away and the officer shoots that person on the ground that he was trying to escape.

The right to life also means the Government should put in place suitable methods to protect the life of its citizens by making laws to protect them and, in some circumstances, by taking steps to protect you if your life is at risk.

Public authorities should think of the citizens right to life when making decisions that might put them in danger or that affect their life expectancy. This is why if a citizen dies in circumstances that involve the Government, example, if a person dies while in the custody of the police, the Government should conduct an investigation and the family of the deceased may be entitled to bring a case against the Government.

The Right toLiberty

This means that the freedom of every citizen of Vanuatu is to be protected from unreasonable or unlawful imprisonment. Therefore you cannot be imprisoned without a good reason.

There are times when public authorities such as the police can imprison you as long as they act within the law. For example, if:

  • you have been found guilty of a crime by the court and sent to prison.
  • you have not done something a court has ordered you to do, e.g. payment of money owed by a certain date.
  • there is reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, someone is trying to stop you committing a crime or they are trying to stop you running away from a crime.
  • you have a mental health condition which makes it necessary to confine you, such as keeping you at a mental health facility.
  • you are capable of spreading infectious disease, example if you have contracted a contagious disease like tuberculosis and might infect other people.
  • you are attempting to enter the country illegally, and
  • you are going to be deported or extradited (sent to a country where you have been accused of a crime).

The Right toSecurity of the Person

This Right often goes hand in hand with the Right to Liberty. It is the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading or humiliating way. The Rights  of Libertyand Security extend to a person’s body. Therefore, you have the right to make your own decisions about your body, such as choosing if you want to get married or if you want to have sex and you have the right to be free of violence.

The Right toProtection of the Law

This Right will be dealt with in more detail in the next article.

The Right toFreedom from Inhuman Treatment

Inhuman treatment or punishment is the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering on another person which results in intense physical or mental suffering. Examples of such treatment would be:

  • serious physical assault
  • intense questioning to cause psychological damage
  • cruel or brutal prison conditions
  • serious physical or mental abuse in a health or care setting, and
  • threatening to torture someone, if the threat is real and immediate.

Your right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or humiliating way is unlimited. This means that this right can never be restricted in any way and for any reason. For example, a public authority can never justify their cruel treatment of someone due to a lack of resources.

The Right to Freedom from Forced Labour

The Right to Freedom from Forced Labour means that no person can be forced to work or threatened with punishment if they do not work. Every person who works must do so freely and they must be paid a proper wage upon completion of this work.

Just like your Right to freedom from inhuman treatment the right to freedom from Forced Labour is also unlimited meaning that no authority or person can take this right away from you for any reason except in the following instances:

  • any work required to be done while lawfully imprisoned or during probation from prison.
  • any service of a military character or, service required instead of compulsory military service.
  • any service required in case of an emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community, or
  • any work or service which forms part of normal civic obligations.

The remaining Constitutional Rights will be discussed in the next two issues of the paper.

DISCLAIMER – this is a legal column to provide basic information on the law and court procedure. It is not to be used as a substitute for legal advice but to be used only as a starting point in understanding what you might need and what you might need to do. 

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