So noted a fellow-blogger from Jamaica, Annie Paul (check out her lively blog on Jamaican matters large and small at http://anniepaul.net). Yes, just as I was about to write another short, chirpy post-Sandy blog post, the “episode” or “incident” occurred. It popped up on Twitter around eight o’clock last night, in fact.
Let me backtrack a little first: Cliff Hughes is a local broadcast journalist, whom I have praised before for his strong focus on democracy and human rights – and for his probing, tough interview techniques. And UTech is the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, where this all took place. All what, you may ask? Well, a video appeared on YouTube and almost immediately went “viral,” as the saying goes. The video was entitled “Beat di Fish 2!” - using the latest hate-word for gays in Jamaica. The video appears to show security guards beating up a young man in an enclosed area (the guard house of the aforementioned University) while a mob of mostly young men outside jeered, laughed and encouraged the guards to give the young man a good beating. Some of these young men begged the guards to turn him over to them so they could deal with him.
Why was he being beaten? The student was accused of having sex with another young man (who escaped – I hope he is very safe, somewhere).
The video was withdrawn from YouTube today as it violated their code. It was very hard to watch, and to listen to the baying of the crowd, like hounds when they have cornered a fox in a hunt. That eager yelping sound, that cry for blood. And many of the supporters of the video added their virulent, sickening comments (although thankfully there were more “dislikes” than “likes”). But another shorter, different version was posted on CNN‘s iReport today.
There were many expressions of genuine shock and despair, locally. “I am ashamed to be Jamaican” was a common refrain among those with compassion for their fellow Jamaicans. Civil society groups, notably Jamaicans for Justice and the Civil Society Coalition, have issued statements condemning the incident. Some comments in the social media were more ambivalent, saying the two young men should have been more careful, and “this is how gays are dealt with in Jamaica, right or wrong.” Other comments were more vicious. I will not repeat them.
Another Jamaican broadcaster noted the following on her Facebook timeline: “I am sad and sickened tonight. Security guards at one of our universities beating up a young man because he was allegedly found engaging in homosexual acts. I also continue to wonder at my friends with their heads deep in the sand insisting that we are not a homophobic society. Really? This young man is hit and kicked by a “security “guard” while excited crowds gather outside. And for those who will wilfully twist my words – you are adept at that – this has nothing to do with approval of or belief in a lifestyle. This is about a society that winks at barbarism and turns its head away insisting it is not happening, apparently all the reports of abuse are made up!!! And you wonder why we are seen as homophobic?”
Let us not deny this any more. Jamaica IS a homophobic society. It has been said by many outside and some inside Jamaica. And it is true. It is staring us in the face.
So, what are we to do about it? Allow the mob to take over? After all, there have been several instances of mob attacks recently, under various circumstances. This is not only yet another example of human rights abuses against gays in Jamaica. It fits into a pattern of intolerance, violence and blind ignorance that keeps repeating itself over and over. It is like a tide washing over us, threatening to sweep us all away.
Have you ever stared into the eyes of a hate-filled mob? We once knew someone who did – a young Jamaican. It was the last thing he saw, as he did not survive the attack. None of us could save him. We read his name in the papers the next day.
Where is this leading us? Are we prepared to slip and slide down this slope? Or are we prepared to dig our heels in, right now? Are our leaders going to speak up, or remain silent? I remember not long ago, our elected representatives were sniggering and making jokes about “fish” in Parliament (the derogatory word for gays currently in fashion). Can we expect real, responsible leadership from them? What about our Prime Minister, who during an election debate last year signaled a softer approach to the issue? She has certainly avoided the topic ever since she was elected. And what about the churches? After all, the homophobic bigots frequently use a certain passage in the Bible to justify their hatred. What a lovely thing religion is! How it unites us!
I will end with a quote from someone who did know a great deal about bigotry and discrimination. He faced it fair and square. (Somehow, the deniers of our homophobia hate comparisons between gay rights and the American civil rights struggle; but I see quite a few parallels, myself). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Jamaica’s burden grows heavier each day.
- Jamaica Anti-Gay Attack On Student Allegedly Caught On Tape (huffingtonpost.com)
- Gay Man Beaten By Guards, Mob At Jamaica University: VIDEO (towleroad.com)
- Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Gay Jamaicans launch legal action over island’s homophobic laws (guardian.co.uk)
- Landmark Case Seeks To Abolish Jamaica’s Colonial-Era Anti-Gay Laws (queerty.com)
- A small step forward for LGBT rights in Jamaica (pri.org)
- Help Jamaica please?!? (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/end-patronizing-piecemeal-engagement-of-youth/ (End patronizing, piecemeal engagement of youth: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/ (Rights and Wrongs: petchary)
- Gay Jamaican Man Caught Having Sex Brutally Attacked By Guard, Mob (queerty.com)
- Gay student beaten at Jamaican University (ireport.cnn.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ (Op-ed: Fighting injustice in Jamaica: petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ (Dark: petchary)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Marksman-fires-security-guards-involved-in-Utech-beating (Marksman fires security guards involved in UTech beating)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mob-beats-man-accused-of-killing-pregnant-girlfriend (Mob beats man accused of killing pregnant girlfriend)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UTech-plans-counselling-session-for-beaten-student (UTech plans counseling session for beaten student)
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3819 (JFJ condemns act of violence against allegedly homosexual young man on UTech campus)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40922 (UTech, Marksman condemn beating of alleged gay student)
- http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20121102/news/news1.html (UTech student beaten)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110504/letters/letters1.html (“Mob rule is no rule” – another UTech incident)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121003/cleisure/cleisure3.html (“Put an end to jungle justice” – a recent op-ed)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/ode-to-freddy-and-david/ (Ode to Freddy (and David): petchary)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/jamaican-maurice-tomlinson-is-the-first-winner-of-the-david-kato-vision-voice-award/ (Jamaican Maurice Tomlinson is the first winner of the David Kato Vision Voice Award: petchary)
On Wednesday morning, just as the rush hour traffic was building up about five minutes away from our house, two dead bodies were found on a scruffy open lot – one of those that is fenced, but does not really keep people out. One man was lying on his back, the other face down with a huge gash in his forehead a few feet away. Someone had attacked them with a machete, and had injured a third man, who reportedly alerted the police. Out came that familiar yellow tape. A long row of curious people lined up along the median in the middle of the road, arms folded, faces glum or completely devoid of expression.
At the time that I am writing this blog, the men had not been identified. They were non-people. No names except two nicknames, Avatar and Jermaine. But we soon realized that these were, in fact, two of those nameless, helpless young men who trail up and down the relatively well-heeled streets of New Kingston in small, bedraggled groups. They are commercial sex workers, they are gay, they are drug addicts, they are homeless; they are in one, two, three or all four of these categories. They may suffer from HIV/AIDS; they may suffer from mental illness.
They are human beings.
Some Jamaicans, it seems, do not see them as human. First, they dehumanize these groups; after that, it is that much easier to persecute them. Just as Hitler did with the Jews, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies and black people. They are not like you and I; they are subhuman, these Jamaicans believe. They are raped, they are beaten, they are chased away. They hide in the corners of these open lots, where the grass is high, and live with the rats and scrawny street dogs, in the open air. They hide there until someone finds out where they are living, and chases them away, or calls the police, or worse. In this case, worse.
One early media report suggested that the young men may have died because of a lovers’ quarrel. This is a common way of explaining away homophobic murders in Jamaica. Once it is established that the victim is gay, it is put out there (with the media complicit in much of this) that “Oh, you know, gays get very jealous and they are very violent by nature, and this was a love affair gone bad.” They enjoy as many lurid details as they can get their hands on – whether backed up by any facts it doesn’t matter too much. I don’t really see how two men can hack and stone each other to death; these are the preferred instruments of mob killers.
Well, a man is reportedly in custody, and in this case we shall see what explanation there is. But nothing will change. This drifting population of the homeless, the helpless, the marginalized will continue on its weary way, hiding where it can, begging for help where it dares.
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) put out a statement today, noting that there have been eight gay murders in the past three months. But listen, does anybody care? No, most Jamaicans are obsessed with politics, with the corrupt and conniving political parties, with taxes, the inflation rate (just on the rise), with the Jamaican Dollar (now slipping), with fashion shows and parties and scandals and online porn and church meetings. Defenders of the Jamaican citizen’s right to life, dignity and respect are seen as whining, or they have a political agenda, or they are trying to drag society down into the mire of a kind of “free for all,” liberal society such as that espoused by President Barack Obama (yes,it is ironic that Jamaicans all profess to support President Obama; but they would never support his policies – if U.S. political parties were . It is the opposite.
If we cannot care for the weakest among us, we are not a civilized society. I could quote some Bible verse from the New Testament for the Christians among us; but I certainly do recall that Jesus sat down by the roadside and talked to prostitutes and others who were considered beyond the pale by the “upright citizens” of society in those days. Am I correct, or not? My husband has witnessed with his own eyes people coming out of church and stepping over and around a man lying on the sidewalk; he was having a fit. Here in “one love” Jamaica.
Meanwhile, there are other horrors, incredible grief, mourning and inconsolable loss. A teacher and the daughter of a Trinidadian Mayor is missing; two farmers found a charred body in a cane field, but it has not yet been identified. That is the high-profile crime story, but there are many others, week after week after week. For example:
- Hundreds of children have been missing since last year; an advocacy group, Hear the Children’s Cry puts out weekly lists and photographs.
- A night club owner was shot dead while playing dominoes outside his club in Montego Bay. An evening game of dominoes with friends is a dangerous occupation, these days.
- A former Kiwanis Club president and Jamaica Defence Force Major was found murdered at his home recently.
- Daily reports of middle-aged men molesting young family members or other young people – nine-year-old girls, a three year-old sexually abused and murdered, etc.
- A man stabbed a woman to death during an argument in the quiet Blue Mountains, nearly decapitating her. It hardly made a headline anywhere, just a quick news item, move on…
- The numerous deaths of young men in inner-city communities, mostly unsolved.
- The deaths of many Jamaican citizens (mostly the above-mentioned young men in inner-city communities) at the hands of the police force, agents of the State.
- http://www.jflag.org/2012/06/gays-saddened-by-recent-murders-call-on-prime-minister-to-act/: J-FLAG press release
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/where-are-they-now/: Jamaica’s missing children
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/innocence-and-loss/: Innocence and loss
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/: Rights and Wrongs
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/: Jamaicans for Justice website
- http://www.jamaicansforjustice.org/nmcms.php?snippets=news&p=news_details&id=3444: Too many still dying at the hands of the police
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican Women Write! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica 50 – the dark side (repeatingislands.com)
- Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bodies-of-two-men-found-in-New-Kingston_11695979: Bodies of two men found in New Kingston
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gay-community–saddened–by-recent-murders: Gay community saddened by recent murders
- Listen to the Youth! No, Stop… REALLY Listen, Please! (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaican cop charged with beheading witness in corruption probe (theprovince.com)
- Reflections on being homeless, Part 3 (myjourneywithdepression.wordpress.com)
- Vulnerable groups claim being denied EU funding (kaieteurnewsonline.com)
- http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=37867#.T9oj7SoiOtI.facebook: HIV positive man arrested for allegedly raping daughter’s friend
- Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com) – a very important article by Jamaican youth activist Jaevion Nelson
Last week, all was to be revealed in the overdue Budget, which was tabled in the Lower House on Thursday. But before we got to that, the week opened with a stunner.
Mr. David Smith is a Jamaican now serving a few years behind bars in the Turks & Caicos Islands, after being found guilty of cheating thousands of Jamaicans, Americans and others of their hard-earned cash (at least US$220 million) through his “unregistered financial scheme,” Olint, which offered fantastically high rates of interest rates. The already-rich and powerful, and others less so, initially benefited; but like all Ponzi schemes, inevitably, Olint collapsed. After a relatively short stint in the Caribbean, Mr. Smith will move for a considerably longer period to a prison in the United States, where he was indicted on 23 charges of wire fraud and money laundering last summer. Meanwhile, he has informed prosecutors that he donated money to both Jamaican political parties as well as some individuals. Confiscation orders have been issued in the Turks & Caicos; these are now regarded as “tainted gifts”. The ruling People’s National Party (US$1.3 million) has prevaricated somewhat, saying it has no record of such a payment, but will look into it. Former People’s National Party Prime Minister PJ Patterson (US$1 million) speedily denied receiving any such thing. The Jamaica Labour Party (US$5 million) conceded that it did receive money from Smith/Olint, but is not sure if it was that much. Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz (US$50,000) said yes, he did receive money but called it a “political contribution to the constituency.” A fellow party member, political candidate Sally Porteous (US$100,000) has also been candid. All this was prior to the 2007 general elections, by the way, when Mr. & Mrs. Smith were welcome guests at top-class cocktail parties across the island, and appeared in the newspapers almost every day in a highly positive light.
How times have changed. And we shall wait and see.
As for the budget itself, which increased by fourteen per cent, debt repayments took the lion’s share as expected. Finance Minister Peter Phillips, who returned from an important trip to Washington, DC recently, had already warned us to make “sacrifices.” Is this the “bitter medicine” of which former Prime Minister Andrew Holness spoke just a few months ago? Sounds like it to me. Painfully, justice, education, national security and health all took cuts. What could be more important than these?
Another piece of news, this time from overseas stunned the Jamaican public last week: President Obama’s quiet declaration in an interview that his views on same-sex marriage have evolved to the point that he can now affirm his support for it. The reaction in Jamaica was largely negative, judging from comments on radio talk shows and letters to the Editor; although I think some quietly applauded his courage in breaking new ground. On radio, Ms. Gloudon had to fend off one or two bullying fundamentalists, one of whom accused her of being “sympathetic” to the gay rights cause because she had the absolute nerve to say that we should at least listen to others’ point of view on such matters. For those in religious straitjackets, I would suggest they consider phrases from the New Testament such as “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Or, perhaps, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye.” I am more than ever convinced that if Jamaicans were to vote on issues (which of course they don’t) and had to choose between George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they would choose the former, despite their declared love for “America’s first black President” as the local media call him. I like the way Canada-based columnist Keeble McFarlane describes President Obama’s declaration: “A declaration of simple humanity.” Or as a Jamaican mother would say, “‘Im is somebody pickney too!”
By the way, I wonder how the Queen’s representative and Governor General felt while reading out the 2012/13 Throne Speech in Parliament on Budget Day? He calmly announced that a priority of the Jamaican Government is to basically abolish him, and to establish Jamaica as a Republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. No more Queenie, whom our Prime Minister has already described as a “wonderful lady,” but… The other priority is to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s final Court of Appeal. One expects these two issues to be up there in flashing neon lights for the remainder of this year, and perhaps beyond, generating much political heat and noise. Will either of these developments, which the politicians appear quite excited about, impact the quality of life for Jamaicans in any way? I can’t answer that question. Let us see.
The third Friday of May – starting next week – will be National Children’s Day. Our Queen’s representative (for now), Governor General Sir Patrick Allen made this proclamation last week. The National Child Month Committee’s Dr. Pauline Mullings would like to see the day treated like Mother’s and Father’s Day. Any day for children is welcome – so balloons, sugar cakes and melting ice-cream treats are in order on May 18.
One hundred and sixty-seven years ago (on May 12, 1845) the first group of East Indian indentured laborers arrived at Old Harbour Bay in St. Catherine. Their descendants, whom you can often meet in rural and sugar-growing areas of the island, celebrated Indian Arrival Day in the pouring rain last Sunday at Chedwin Park. A great deal of roti was consumed and delegations from Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and United Kingdom mingled with the locals. Well done, Dr. Winston Tolan of the National Council for Indian Culture for keeping this important part of Jamaican heritage alive. As he noted, ”We are Jamaicans first and foremost.”
Concerns: The third murder trial of Milton “Tony” Welsh, a known People’s National Party activist, was rescheduled last Monday and postponed until November 19 – for another six months! – just because the courtroom where it was scheduled to be held was being used. His $3.5 million bail was extended. His previous two trials ended in a “hung” jury. Charges will be dismissed if this happens again. Welsh is charged with the murder of 21-year-old Damion Hussey following a PNP rally in Golden Spring in January 2006. Will Mr. Welsh or the family of Mr. Hussey ever see justice done? Is this justice?
I don’t understand the people who write newspaper headlines. Why are they so often off the mark? Do they actually read the article itself? A small but irritating example came up in the entertainment pages of Monday’s “Gleaner.” The article, about an American band called The Dubplates, was headlined “Converting California” to their sound system-type music. The article described the band as “California-based,” then proceeded to quote a band member, who spoke at length about the challenges of being a dancehall/reggae band in South Carolina, the city of Charleston, etc. Is this sheer carelessness on the part of the writer, the headline writer, or both? I don’t know why these things annoy me so much. But they just do.
A couple of days after Teachers Day, a female high school student attacked a guidance counselor at Yallahs High School in St. Thomas, because she claimed he “didn’t like her.” Teachers work so hard in difficult conditions, and the children who come through the school gates in the morning bring with them a multitude of unknown grievances, psychological hurt and sadness. I heard Ms. Barbara Gloudon talking to a representative of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Ms. Ena Barclay, a marvelous primary school teacher, on her “Hot Line” program this week. Ms. Barclay reminded us that these deprived and needy children need love – at home and in the society. Many of them are getting precious little of that – why is it in such short supply? Anyway, kudos to the JTA for organizing a professional development seminar – and for Read Across Jamaica Day, an annual event which brings much happiness and pleasure. And talking about teachers…
A huge pat on the back to Ms. Jean Porter, Principal of Denbigh High School, for her sterling work since 2008, when she took over from Ms. Joan Wint who had served there for 23 years. I remember visiting Denbigh High a few years ago, and being very impressed by Ms. Wint’s stern focus on academic achievement, and by the atmosphere of concentration at the school. Ms. Porter credits the school’s success (it is one of the top ten high schools in Jamaica based on Caribbean Examinations Council results) to team work.
Other bouquets to be handed out to…
Jamaica’s lanky female hurdlers, Ms. Melaine Walker and Ms. Brigitte Foster-Hylton on their gold medals; to Mr. Asafa Powell, Ms. Kaliese Spencer and Ms. Veronica Campbell-Brown for their Silver medals; and to Mr. Lerone Clarke and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce for their Bronze medals, at the high-profile Diamond League athletics meet on Friday. I hope I haven’t missed anyone out. Congratulations also to U.S. athletes Justin Gatlin and Alyson Felix. It is only 75 days until the London Olympics begin, and Jamaican athletes are flexing their muscles and feeling the pressure. I wrote about this in my blog earlier this week; they are doing their best, working hard. Let us support them, even if they “lose” some races (by “lose” I mean winning a Silver or Bronze medal).
I loved the Gleaner’s special supplement this week – Trailblazers in Medical Sciences. This included a special feature on the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, founded by a British doctor of the same name in 1954 to deal with a terrible outbreak of poliomyelitis. It now helps children with cerebral palsy, adults with spinal cord injuries, and others. Brave and unrelenting work.
May I express my simple support for Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count, who has energetically taken up the bat for the education and stimulation of our young children; and for Ms. Maia Chung, mother of an autistic son, who set up the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation four years ago to lobby for and support Jamaica’s autistic children. The Foundation is now struggling and Maia has had to curtail outreach activities. She needs help and financial support! I am in awe of these two women – both of them an “army of one.” I wish for them every success in the world.
Another Jamaican, Philip Liu, founded Angels of Love about two and a half years ago. He works with the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston, having adopted one of its wards. Kingstonians, next time you are at the Brick Oven buying cakes, at Cafe Blue indulging in your favorite cuppa, or at Little Tokyo for some sushi…remember to drop some change in their collection box. And they would welcome volunteers, too!
And Mr. Ricardo Williams, one unemployed youth who sought a solution in adversity. He has opened an Internet cafe in the troubled area of March Pen, Spanish Town. Ricardo graduated high school six years ago with one subject – Information Technology. He has one computer, the use of which he rents out for a small fee. Can someone donate some more computers? Read more about Ricardo’s efforts at the link below…
One online comment struck me this week: ”Jamaica can be a very “cold” place. If you are young, old or disabled in Jamaica you are in deep trouble. If you are young and also disabled, may the good Lord help you.”
Why bother: If I see one more full-page photo spread of politicians arriving at Parliament for the Throne Speech, dressed up to the nines, I will rip up the newspaper. The men were, according to the newspapers, “dapper,” “spiffy,” and “dashing.” The women were “stunning,” “stylish,” and and so on. The poor Mayor of Kingston, refusing to join the fashion parade, was severely criticized for wearing a perfectly normal outfit, rather than a designer ensemble. I am, quite frankly, much more concerned about the politicians’ work in Parliament – on behalf of the people – than I am in whether Senator so-and-so was wearing Dior, Escada or whatever. Please, no more!
I’m sorry to end on a sad note…. My condolences to the families of…
Senior Superintendent Dayton Henry, who headed the Clarendon Police Division. I met him once, and was struck by his open, candid disposition and his round-eyed, friendly face. SSP Henry died suddenly, and I know his colleagues are still in shock. Not only was he an efficient policeman, who helped to bring down crime levels in the parish – but he was also a kind-hearted man who supported many community projects.
…and of eleven-year-old Ricardo Dove, who was shot dead while sleeping in bed at his home in Bethel Town, Westmoreland. ”It would have been better if they had killed me,” said his father Robert, who was home at the time and found his son’s body soon after gunshots rang out. My heart goes out to you Mr. Dove, and to the family. Why?
And so the week comes to an end, as early summer starts to stoke up hot clouds in the sky. Hurricane season is a few weeks away…
Have a great week!
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120508/lead/lead1.html: Big Olint handouts
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Political-intentions-and-tainted-money_11433253: Column by Mark Wignal, Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100822/lead/lead2.html: Oh God! Oh no! Olint!
Gold, Silver and Bronze (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
Claim Says Jamaica Crook Funded Political Parties (abcnews.go.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120510/lead/lead7.html: Phillips urges Jamaicans to prepare to make sacrifices
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120512/news/news42.html: Indian Arrival Day observed at Chedwin Park
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120509/lead/lead4.html Bethel Town child murdered in his sleep
Angels of Love http://angelsofloveja.org/
Crayons Count http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount
2011 Award Recipient
It has been quite a while. Due to internet challenges (as yet hardly resolved) and other painful circumstances, the Petchary has been absent.
But so many things to write about… The topics are lining up in my head, but one at a time. One that naturally rises to the top of the list is that of the “historic” Charter of Rights (Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) which our politicians in their wisdom finally and unanimously passed in the Lower House and the Senate of the Jamaican Parliament. (The Petchary is always suspicious when something is called “historic” by the politicians, and then repeated parrot-like by the media). Prime Minister Bruce Golding proudly declared that the Charter “represents what our people are entitled to.” Ah, but does that mean all of our people? A question to be answered in a little while.
For one thing, it has been a long time coming. As “Sunday Observer” columnist Claude Robinson noted, the legislation has made a “long and tortuous journey” over some sixteen years or more, with neither side of the political divide showing much interest. But does that surprise you, my dear reader? With well over 300 Jamaican citizens killed by the security forces last year and over 100 children languishing in filthy police lockups in the company of adults… Where is the love, as they say? Do Jamaicans really have rights now, and will they in the future?
OK, well there’s that. Next thing: Slipping in under the coat tails (or the voluminous, flamboyant skirts) of the overblown “historic” Charter is another little constitutional amendment. It crept in quietly yet confidently, knowing that it would be approved of, smirking like a spoiled child. Yes, the Pratt and Morgan ruling of the UK Privy Council has been overturned. Under this ruling, a condemned man cannot be executed if his appeal process lasts longer than five years, as this would constitute “cruel and inhuman punishment.” This will, of course, make it much easier for this government, and future governments to hang Jamaicans “by the neck until they are dead.”
How ironic. In the same breath that they passed the Charter of Rights, ensuring that Jamaicans have the right to life, our great leaders passed an amendment making it easier for the state to take that life away. Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites had the decency to abstain; and according to one report DK Duncan voted “against his conscience” for the amendment, but had earlier “evoked laughter” by initially making an error and – how hilarious! – voting against it. Oh, how delightfully funny it all was. Guffaws all round.
Now, back to the rights themselves. One senator said the legislation “was not perfect,” but it was “a start.” Since it has languished by the wayside for so long, you would think they might have made a bit more effort to get it right, finally. But no, it’s a “start.”
And what are those imperfections, that apparently are not really that important and can be shrugged off? Well, there may be many technical issues that the Petchary has not picked up on, and from previous experience much of Jamaican legislation is “not perfect” anyway. But whose rights are being protected, and what kinds of discrimination does this imperfect Bill protect Jamaicans against?
Well, there is no such thing as gay rights in Jamaica. The concept does not exist. But didn’t we know that anyway? Instead of protecting Jamaican gays, the Charter of Rights reinforces the discrimination against them by omitting any recognition at all that they have rights. It gives weight to Prime Minister Golding’s declaration in a BBC interview that he will have no gays in his Cabinet (“Not in my Cabinet,” thumping chest, lip curled in disgust, defiant stare)… And the politicians, whatever their private views, went along with it. Only the Senate leader Oswald Harding reminded his colleagues, as an afterthought, that the issue could not be ignored. Of course, this did not change anything, and he voted for the imperfection, like everyone else.
Meanwhile, human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice released a report co-authored by the International Human Rights Clinic of the George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC, entitled, “The State of Human Rights in Jamaica Since the State of Emergency 2010.” It makes for grim reading. The report notes that ”the position of vulnerable individuals, women, children, persons from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and Lesbian, Gay and Transgender individuals (LGBTI) were of heightened concern to the member states within the UN Human Rights Council during the UPR interactive dialogue. Through the presentation of our matters to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) we have sought to highlight what we have considered to be evidence of systematic abuse of human rights to citizens of Jamaica. It is evident by reference to the matters currently before the IACHR that extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention affect predominantly vulnerable individuals. With that regard it is of grave concern that the government of Jamaica continues to deny the rights of citizens whom we represent who form part of the marginalized sections of society.”
Not many Jamaicans are aware of a Statement signed by eighty-five member countries of the United Nations on March 22; this included the U.S. administration of Barack Obama, which reversed George W. Bush’s refusal to sign. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a most emphatic statement of support, asserting (not for the first time), “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”
In case you are interested, the eighteen Latin American and Caribbean countries who signed the UN statement are as follows: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. There are some African countries there, too.
Of course, no Jamaica – not any time soon. And yes, we can get on our high horse and say we don’t want to be dictated to by paltry organizations like the United Nations. We can lean on the Bible, which happily acquiesces to rape, murder, incest and tribal war, as justification for our hatred. We are a very “Christian country.” And of course, we can fall back on that old excuse, “culture.”
On that topic, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said earlier this year, “I know that sexual orientation and gender identity raise sensitive cultural issues. But cultural practice cannot justify any violation of human rights…When our fellow humans are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we must speak out…Human rights are human rights everywhere, for everyone.”
What is it about that last, simple statement that our politicians don’t get? Human rights are universal. And yes, Jamaicans, that means for all human beings. We don’t get to pick and choose.
Some people aren’t more human than others. But then, Hitler would have disagreed.
- Accompanying Bill to Charter of Rights approved in the Senate (Jamaica Information Service)
- JFJ Report Highlights Jamaica’s Poor Human Rights Record
- The State of Human Rights in Jamaica Since the State of Emergency 2010 (Jamaicans for Justice/George Washington University Law School)
- Joint Statement on the Rights of LGBT Persons at the Human Rights Council
- U.S. State Department 2010 Human Rights Report on Jamaica (April 8, 2011)