Jamaicans for Justice Statement on Scheduled Ending of States of Public Emergency (Dated December 12)

Now, something else to catch up on. It’s an issue that has been gnawing away at the political landscape for the past two weeks, although many of the underlying issues have been around for much longer than that (I am thinking of the terrible conditions in our police lock-ups, for example).

Since the December 11 parliamentary vote which has resulted in the scheduled ending of our States of Public Emergency (SoPEs) in January 2019, there has been endless and continuous bickering among politicians and their respective activists. This has succeeded in muddying the waters, confusing the Jamaican public (after all, we are not all brilliant constitutional lawyers) and apparently making many residents in the three areas affected quite nervous. There are three SoPEs – in St. James, St. Catherine North and sections of downtown Kingston).

Members of the JDF on patrol in St. James during the State of Public Emergency.

As I have said before, I do not believe that the issue of solving the crime problem (or “crime-fighting,” if you will) should be a pretext for politicians to score points against each other – for example, on Twitter. Please! This issue has become a “political football,” to coin a cliché. Many members of the traditional and social media have been more preoccupied with the “casscass” than with enlightening people on the pros and cons of the situation. They have not helped. My head is still spinning, as we now have the “false choice” between upholding human rights and tackling crime that JFJ’s Rodje Malcolm mentions below. I believe both should be our goal – and so do many other Jamaicans. 

For the record, I am posting below a press release from the human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice, which sets out the issues and concerns very clearly. PLEASE NOTE: This came out on December 12, so I am very late. But it’s still relevant.

I could not agree more with the final paragraph! I also agree with security consultant Mark Shields’ comments today. Instead of sitting around a table to discuss the matter…What we had instead was a disgraceful spectacle, a bad-tempered argument between politically motivated attorneys putting forward incompatible interpretations of the Constitution.” Right!

Jamaicans for Justice logo.

December 12, 2018

Scheduled Ending of States of Public Emergency

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) takes note of the recent developments regarding the three ongoing States of Public Emergency, which by virtue of Parliamentary vote on December 11, 2018, will come to an end in January 2019.

JFJ fully supports lawful and legitimate crime-fighting measures that dismantle criminal networks and restore peace and security to Jamaica. Every Jamaican has a human right to life, to feel safe, and live peacefully. At the same time, every Jamaican has the right to be protected from state abuse and illegal detention by security forces. As a mature society, Jamaica should never trade one set of protections for another.

A State of Public Emergency Requires Compliance with the Law

A State of Public Emergency is a serious constitutional measure. Jamaican law requires that in instances where the government makes the decision to suspend some of our fundamental rights under a State of Public Emergency, that other key steps must be taken to protect citizens. Accordingly, the government must ensure that people are protected from abuse, that certain institutions set up to protect people are functional and actually work, and that the State of Public Emergency does not go on indefinitely.

These are requirements set by the government itself when it created the legal framework for suspending rights. Sadly, despite the best of intentions, the present States of Emergency have not adhered to the laws of this country.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announcing a State of Emergency in sections of the Corporate Area on September 23, 2018. Also in the picture (l-r): Dr. Horace Chang, Minister of National Security; Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson; and Major General Rocky Meade, head of the Jamaica Defence Force. (Photo: Rudolf Brown)

Challenges Under the State of Emergency

Since the declaration of the first State of Public Emergency in January 2018, national stakeholders and public institutions have produced evidence of serious challenges with the implementation of the SOE – both privately and publicly – for the government. These concerns were never an attack on the necessary crime-fighting that Jamaica needs but rather were a good-faith attempt to ensure that security operations did not unintentionally harm the very persons that they intended to help. Unfortunately, clear evidence of problems has been repeatedly rejected and misrepresented as an attack on the government’s crime plan.

“Addressing the challenges with the implementation of the State of Emergency has always been in the national interest. Over the course of the year, the rejection of evidence that serious challenges exist has resulted in a moral and political dilemma for those members of society who support BOTH fighting crime and protecting human rights. Politicians have forced people to make a false choice, and this impasse between the political parties is the result – at the country’s expense,” said Executive Director of Jamaicans for Justice, Rodje Malcolm

To be clear, the concerns raised are significant and directly related to the success of the security operations. Two examples of prominent issues JFJ experiences weekly in delivering legal services to persons detained in the States of Emergency are:

Unlawful mass detentions of residents who are not suspected of any crimes: All statistics about detentions under the State of Public Emergency reveal that roughly 95% of all persons detained are never charged or formally suspected of any crime. They were simply detained for no clear lawful reason. Said another way, in almost every case, public resources were expended locking up people for days and sometimes weeks simply to release them afterwards without charging them.

All year, JFJ attorneys have had to secure the release of people detained in the State of Emergency for playing football after hours, playing music loudly, having unpaid traffic tickets, for attending a funeral, or simply for being in the wrong place. We have documented cases where persons are detained for over a month before police officers decide that they are not wanted for any criminal activity. All of these abuses can be verified and have expended our limited crime-fighting resources.

Based on our casework, It appears that many members of the security forces were unaware that a legal framework for the State of Emergency existed, that they had specific obligations under the law and that regulations governing detention under the State of Emergency existed.

This woman cries after her son was taken into custody in Flanker, Montego Bay, during the public state of emergency in St James. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner)

Compromised oversight tribunals and breach of Emergency Powers Act and Regulations: Evidence emerged as early as March 2018 that legally compliant detention orders for the sweeping majority of persons detained did not exist, despite the laws of Jamaica, promulgated by the government, clearly requiring this as a condition of the State of Emergency. As a result, the very Tribunal set up in St. James to review detentions raised the alarm eight months ago that they could not effectively do their job. For the Tribunal in St. Catherine North investigations and direct attempts by JFJ attorneys revealed that public access to the Tribunal was in effect non-existent.

The failure to ensure the operation of legally required protections for Jamaicans living in the States of Emergency is of serious concern because those Jamaicans living within the States of Public Emergency have had their rights to access the courts suspended. Again, if the purpose of the State of Emergency is the restoration of lawfulness and order, we cannot as a society tolerate the state break its own law.

Mature, Sustainable, and Bi-Partisan Approach Needed

JFJ deeply regrets the fact that our political leaders remain unable to agree on a crime-fighting strategy that is lawful, sustainable and does not hurt powerless Jamaicans. We urge both political parties to make crime a bipartisan and inclusive process – instead of attempting to score victories against each other at the nation’s expense. No one wins when the political directorate is so deeply polarized on an issue that affects all Jamaicans.

“For any security measure to produce the long-term transformation that we all desire, it must enjoy broad societal support and not harm or alienate the most powerless among us. Criminal elements must be dismantled and brought to justice, and our state officials must uphold not break the law in discharging their duties. Without both, we will never achieve a safe and just Jamaica.” – Executive Director of JFJ, Rodje Malcolm.

This woman cries after her son was taken into custody in Flanker, Montego Bay, during the public state of emergency in St James. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner)

Monique Long, Attorney-at-Law, Policy and Advocacy Manager, (876) 324-5340


2 Fagan Avenue, Kingston 8.
Tel: (876) 755-4524
Fax: (876) 755-4355  email: communications@jamaicansforjustice.org

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