Human rights are for all (and human rights defenders are not the problem)

It bears repeating that human rights are for all.

I quote from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, forged in 1948 in the wake of two terrible World Wars. Here are Articles 1 and 3, as a reminder. But it is worth taking a “refresher” read…

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.

Now, Jamaica is an anxious place currently. Like many others, I myself feel nervous in certain situations when going about my daily business. I wrote about this sense of insecurity. It’s a long list of everyday activities where we feel, well, not quite safe, and find ourselves looking over our shoulders. This is because crime – indeed, violent crime – is on the rise, no matter how much the under-pressure police force try to “spin” the figures at press briefings. Quite a bit of it (break-ins and robberies, on the street and in businesses and homes) goes unreported, but is shared in WhatsApp groups and social media.

There are so many everyday occurrences that it is fair to say that, at this point, our Jamaica Constabulary Force can barely cope. The anxiety builds. This is quite apart from the fact that there are so many murders that only the most sensational make the news headlines.

We are also perhaps beginning to realise, I think, that our political leaders (on both sides, I might add) have run out of ideas. Who is to blame? Who is at fault? And so, there is a certain atmosphere building up in Jamaica, an atmosphere of fear which is being stoked unnecessarily and is at least partly politically motivated. It is supported by Jamaicans who are simply not thinking logically, who are often lacking in understanding, and who like to “follow the crowd.” And so, a baying chorus that blames “civil society” and “human rights groups” erupts in our local media.

Moreover, the current political administration (and even, to some extent our business leaders, one of whom recently described criminals as “terrorists”) does little or nothing to enlighten us. Our leaders seem happy to deflect the blame for a crime rate that has nothing to do with them, and to allow disinformation and misinformation to go uncorrected. This is sad, disappointing – and worrying. It is going down the wrong path.

For example, just recently our Minister of National Security Dr. Horace Chang declared publicly, and quite erroneously, that the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has “overreached” itself. I find him hard to understand at times (his diction is very poor) but he actually said that INDECOM should not be concerned with human rights.

Fact: INDECOM’s mandate is to ensure that citizens’ human rights are respected and that agents of the state (police, soldiers, district constables, correctional officers) carry out their duties lawfully. I quote from the INDECOM website:

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is a Commission of Parliament, governed by the INDECOM Act. The Act was passed on April 15, 2010 and the Commission began operation on August 16, 2010. The INDECOM Act repealed the Police Public Complaints Act that established the Police Complaints Authority (PPCA); which was a civilian body established to probe allegations against members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

INDECOM is a civilian staffed state agency tasked to undertake investigations concerning actions by members of the Security Forces and other Agents of the State that result in death or injury to persons or the abuse of the rights of persons; and for connected matters.

Another fact, Minister Chang: INDECOM does not only investigate police shootings, as you assert. It investigates 25 different categories of abuse, including destruction of property, sexual assault, false imprisonment, corruption, and more. Please educate yourself on this; a quick check of the website will suffice.

It might also have escaped some of the anti-human rights crowd that INDECOM works closely with the police in investigating possible breaches of the INDECOM Act by the police when carrying out their duties – and to ensure that they do those duties in accordance with the law. Human rights groups also work closely with the police. These “waggonists” looking for someone to blame might do well to inform themselves of the work that both INDECOM and human rights groups do on a daily basis. Human rights work is not only about police shootings; it is about the marginalised, the poor, the vulnerable.

As Stand Up for Jamaica says, below: “So many people need help, and what we do is never enough.”

One question I would love to ask is (I am inspired by the veteran journalist and businessman Desmond Richards here): “Who are the real gangsters?” Crime, and especially organised crime, is not such a simple matter as it seems. It goes hand in hand with corruption.

Meanwhile, let’s think positive. Finger-pointing will get us nowhere. Stay calm and look for solutions.

Human rights are for all

Human Rights are inalienable, essential protection for all, no one excluded.

When we mention human rights, we take a big stand. The stand recognizes that each person under the sun is equal and that each one of us is entitled to be treated in the same way.

No color, no religion, no ethnicity, no sexual orientation, no age, no nationality should prevent us from being respected, accepted, and defended.

What a challenging principle to be recognized as universal and inalienable, and what a powerful tool to guarantee that nobody should be abused or left behind.

We should consider human rights as the solid base for guarantees. Against tyranny, violence, corruption, and abuses.

Access to justice, inclusion. tolerance are avenues to produce a rightful society where everybody is fairly represented.

Jamaica had to fight for a long time against discrimination and racism to build its own identity. Our “Out of Many One People” motto is the powerful choice to unite and protect, recognizing the dignity and rights of all citizens.

There is no shortcut when we reason about principles and what is their essence.

Jamaica is living in a challenging time and we all feel it. We frantically look at where such violence can lead us and we risk losing clarity and the ability to reason in favor of livid anger justifying human rights restrictions and increasing appeals for tough remedies, stiffer penalties, and shooting to kill. Statements identifying human rights organizations as obstacles to the respect for law and order open an avenue toward a modern “Wild West” and completely miss the goal of a society ruled by the above-mentioned principles.

Human rights groups, including Stand Up for Jamaica, represent, struggle, and lobby every day in defense of the most fragile people, offering representation to those without voice and power. We do work with people in need, women, children, the marginalized, incarcerated people, mentally ill people, and the homeless, to ensure assistance and justice – including sending them to jail as violent perpetrators. So many people need help, and what we do is never enough.

We often hear that we do not like the police, while we daily partner with officers in dealing with challenging situations. Let me say loud and clear that such an alleged lack of empathy is artificially created to justify backlash when we do not support unprofessional behavior or excessive use of force.

There must be a striking difference between a police officer’s conduct and a gang leader’s wicked attitude. Human rights defenders may not be popular because they put their finger in the sore of corruption and lack of accountability, which we prefer to call a lack of honesty. Years of experience on the ground, facing and trying to solve real problems, seldom encourage those crying for violence to explore and use our expertise.

It is so much easier to rule than empower, to control through fear and irrational sentiments, than seek a true alternative.

5 thoughts on “Human rights are for all (and human rights defenders are not the problem)

  1. Good morning Emma.

    I just read your Blog and I need to tell you that I am in agreement and have shared it with others.

    These days, I go nowhere by myself, even if it is just my sister who is in the car with me. She does not drive and when I protest, my son tells me “at least she can make a call if something happens”. This is even if I am going down to Moneague from my home 3Kns away! I also find myself not going out much at night either. This is no way to live!

    Ambassador Aloun Ndombet-Assamba Attorney at Law Grierfield Great House Moneague P.O. St. Ann

    Telephone: 1876 531 9174


    1. Dear Aloun: I thought I had replied to you but my reply seems to have disappeared! I think you are wise to take such precautions – although it seems crazy in rural Jamaica, doesn’t it. I completely agree – this is indeed no way to live. If we go out in the evening (which is rare), we leave early and come home early. Isn’t it sad! Are we just going to go on like this?


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