The Office of the Public Defender’s report into the case concerning the cutting of Nzinga King’s hair while in the custody of the police was released today. It is available on the Office of the Public Defender’s website and I have posted a copy below.
The 3rd and 4th Quarterly Reports of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) were tabled in Parliament today. The former contains a Special Report on the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre, one of the four juvenile correctional and remand centres operated by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). This report raises a number of serious concerns about the treatment and well-being of the children in State custody at that facility, as well as the effectiveness of oversight mechanisms that are supposed to protect those children.
I am posting copies of the two reports tonight. I will write more in days ahead.
“At the time of his death Mr. Chambers was 81 years old. He was incarcerated on February 4, 1980 and had been in prison for 40 years without being tried. He was being held at the Governor General’s pleasure, deemed unfit to plead to a charge of murder. Therefore he was being held in custody without being convicted for an offence….
At the time of his death he was in a deplorable physical condition. His clothing was filthy and his body showed evidence of chronic emaciation. He was covered with what appeared to be vermin bites, live bedbugs (‘chink’) and he showed signs of having bed sores.”
(p. 5, INDECOM First Quarterly Report 2020)
In the days following news of Mr Chambers’ death, we were told that more details regarding the circumstances surrounding his death and the government’s response would be given when Minister of National Security Horace Chang gave a statement in Parliament. The Department of Correctional Services, which manages the prisons, falls under the Ministry of National Security.
On June 16, 2020, Minister Chang gave a statement in Parliament. This is the text of the statement…
I have a number of concerns arising out of this statement, but the one I want to focus on here is the audit announced in Paragraph 4 of Minister Chang’s statement:
Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned. This audit is expected to not only reveal the circumstances specific to his death but also to thoroughly examine the procedures involved in the treatment of inmates who are deemed unfit to plead. In the interim, I wish to outline the details of preliminary findings from the special investigation undertaken by the Department of Correctional Services.
“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned.” This is what the Parliament was told and by extension the country as a whole. This is put forward as a major mechanism for uncovering the details surrounding Mr Chambers’ death, for accountability and for recommending changes in the systems that allowed for his incarceration and death.
“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Chambers has been commissioned.”
Who commissioned the audit?
Who is carrying out the audit? What body? Which individuals?
What are the terms of reference of the audit?
What resources and powers have been granted for the carrying out of this audit?
What is the timeline for the completion of the audit?
To whom will the audit report be sent once it is completed?
Will the audit report be tabled in Parliament? Will it be made public?
If the answers to these questions are not made public, it will be difficult – if not impossible – for the public to hold the government accountable for this process and any subsequent action.
One reason why greater transparency is absolutely necessary is that this audit process may be being carried out by entities and/or individuals responsible for the circumstances that led to Mr Chambers’ incarceration and death.
More information is necessary, Minister Chang.
We need to remember that it wasn’t the Ministry of National Security that brought Mr Chambers’ death to public attention. Without INDECOM’s report, we would not have known.
Forty years ago, on May 20, 1980, a fire at the Eventide Home in Kingston, Jamaica, resulted in the deaths of 167 women, aged 19 to 102. This week Wednesday, May 20, 2020, there will be an online event to learn and remember what happened forty years ago, and to remember the names of the women who lived at the Myers Ward.
Contributors at the event include:
One of the organizers of the event, Alexis Goffe, says that there will be time for public comments from anyone who wants to contribute. To receive the link to attend the virtual event, click here: tinyurl.com/Eventide40
Also there is a call for memories about the Eventide Fire. If you are interested in contributing stories and memories, please submit them here by June 30, 2020: bit.ly/3buURsl
If you have any questions about this call, you can send them to email@example.com
In a far-reaching judgment delivered this morning, Jamaica’s Constitutional Court declared the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017 to be “unconstitutional, null, void and of no legal effect. The consequence of this is that the statute is struck down from the laws of Jamaica.” (Press Summary, p. 3 )
The long-awaited report from the Joint Select Committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act was tabled in the Parliament yesterday, December 11, 2018.
The review of the four Acts had its origin in a Private Members Motion tabled by then Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith in 2013. A previous Committee began the review in 2014, but didn’t complete the review before the general elections in 2016. The new Committee began its deliberations in January 2017 and held nineteen meetings. More than thirty submissions were made by entities or individuals.
I have not yet read the report in detail, but am posting it on my blog to provide a copy for those who wish to read and consider it.
On November 21 & November 27, 2018, Public Defender Arlene Harrison-Henry presented a report on impacts of the States of Public Emergency to the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament. The report focuses primarily on data concerning detainees and the conditions in which they have been held. There has been much public discussion regarding the report and I simply wanted to make it available for those who would like to read it.
The next meeting of the Internal and External Affairs Committee is currently scheduled for Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 10:00am. The Commissioner of Police is to be invited to attend, as well as the Public Defender.
Listen to Nationwide News Network’s special report “Hidden Culture”. It is narrated by Nationwide’s Marjorie Gordon and centres on an interview with a serving member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It is a chilling account of the ways in which extrajudicial killings are carried out and covered up by members of the police force, with the involvement of gazetted ranks. The policeman’s voice has been distorted to protect his identity. It was first broadcast on March 21, 2018, was rebroadcast a number of times that week and is now posted on SoundCloud.
Many of the things that he spoke about are things that have been reported on before, things that I have heard of over many years. The difference here is that a serving policeman is giving a personal account in an interview being broadcast on radio.
“You’re a constable going to work and you realise that your name is set to go on an operation to be conducted 3 o’clock in the morning. So, I go on the operation. When I go on the operation with several other officers, we are briefed by the officer in charge of that operation, who is sometimes a Deputy Superintendent, sometimes an Insepector, sometimes even a Superintendent himself. And what we are told to do, the instructions that we are given on that operation, kill!…We’re going fah a particular person and wi not going to lock him up. There were times when members would ask the question, “So Supa, when we hold So-and-So, what di position? Jail or morgue?” And we are told, “Mi nuh inna nuh jail business.”…As a young constable on an operation like that, what am I to do? What am I to do? Can I stand in the crowd of twenty, thirty police officers and say I’m not going? I can’t do that. So I go on the operation, as a part of this operation, and when I see my colleagues fire shots in an innocent man….I’ve been on operations where I myself have fired. It does something to you. It did something to me and it has…it is doing something to others out there. I have a lot of colleagues who are lost in the culture. I realise…I have realised and I have come to the conclusion, most of us, we have lost ourselves because of how we are taught in the streets when we leave training school.” (Transcribed from Nationwide News Network’s ‘Hidden Culture’)
It has long been known that the problem is not simply one of individual rogue police, but that there is a culture within Jamaica’s police force that supports the use of extrajudicial killings as a crime fighting method. And there are those outside the JCF, across the society, who believe this also and would want us as a people to turn a blind eye and allow the police to do weh dem haffi do.
If we want to change this culture, to rid the JCF of this approach, to have a police service that is unequivocally committed to lawful, professional, accountable and rights-centred policing, then we have to seize opportunities for change. At the moment, three such opportunities present themselves.
A New Commissioner of Police
A new Commissioner of Police was sworn in on Monday, March 19, 2018 – Major General Antony Anderson. He is a former head of the Army and is very familiar with the national security situation in Jamaica. One person alone cannot change the culture within and reform the JCF. A Commissioner can, however, provide the type of leadership that may facilitate such change. Whether Commissioner Anderson will (or will be able to) achieve the necessary change remains to be seen, but his appointment opens up an opportunity.
(An associated issue that does need to be considered is how much reliance on the military for/in policing is a good thing. For another blog post perhaps.)
On March 22, 2018, the day after the first broadcast of Nationwide’s special report, the JCF issued a statement in response, which said that
“The purported actions, which are being recounted by an alleged lawman, are categorically condemned by the High Command as they do not align with the principles and standards of a modern Police Force.
The JCF has implemented a series of measures to reinforce acceptable standards of behaviour by its members, particularly with respect to use of force, human rights and engagement with the public.”
It pointed to the JCF’s Early Intervention System, described as “a proactive approach to identifying members who may display tendencies of abnormal behaviour and thereby allowing for timely intervention.” It also mentioned the oversight roles of the Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM), the Inspectorate of Constabulary (IOC) and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). It promised “to further seek to create a mechanism that will allow persons who have information in these matters to offer same in confidence and without fear.”
Perhaps I have heard too many such statements over the years to find this reassuring. What actions will follow?
On March 21, 2018, human rights NGO Jamaicans for Justice issued a press release calling for Parliament to make amendments to the INDECOM Act:
Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Justice Minister Delroy Chuck have said that a Parliamentary Committee is to be established to review the INDECOM Act…again. At this point there is no clear indication of the timeline for the establishment of the Committee, how long it is likely to meet or when it will produce and table its report. It also isn’t clear whether it will be asked to review the Act in its entirety or only specific aspects of the Act, those affected by the Court of Appeal judgments, for example. It isn’t clear what weight, if any, will be given to the review done by the 2013 – 2015 JSC or if the public will have the opportunity to make submissions to the new Committee. And after the Committee tables its report, what action will the Parliament take in regard to its recommendations? What if there is a change of government after the report is tabled? Will that delay Parliament taking any action on the Committee’s recommendations, as seems to have been the case with the 2013 – 2015 Committee’s recommendations?
So we continue to wait…to see what Parliament will do and when and whether it will use this opportunity to strengthen or weaken the important role INDECOM plays regarding accountability for the police force.
The Police Service Act to Replace the Constabulary Force Act
“Implement a full legislative review that leads to (i) completion of a draft new Police Service Act to replace the Jamaica Constabulary Force
Act, that supports the modernization and transformation of the
Jamaica Constabulary Force into a modern intelligence-led police
service that ensures Citizen Security, with stronger systems of
administration, management and internal discipline….” (p 21)
This proposed new legislation is obviously an important opportunity for reform of the police force. True reform – the modernisation and transformation being referred to – cannot be achieved by tinkering around the edges of the current legislation or by focusing primarily on increasing the powers of the police. It cannot be accomplished without full and genuine consultation with the people the police service is intended to serve. The legislation cannot be rushed through Parliament without allowing adequate time and opportunity for those who wish to make submissions about the draft legislation to do so. Indeed, it would be best if there were also consultation on the actual draft legislation before it was tabled in Parliament. I know that new legislation is only one part of what needs to be done, but we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for change.
How these three opportunities are handled will have an impact on many aspects of the workings of the police force and whether we move nearer to or further from achieving a professional and accountable police service. One marker in that process – nearer to or further from – will be the impact on that hidden culture of extrajudicial killings.
I was saddened to learn on Sunday of the sudden death of Asma Jahangir, the remarkable Pakistani lawyer and human rights advocate, who died of a heart attack at the age of 66. Ms Jahangir was a courageous human rights defender, who had great impact within her own country, as well as internationally in a number of capacities and on a number of issues.
“We have lost a human rights giant,” said Mr. Guterres in a statement.
“Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind […] She will not be forgotten,” he added, expressing his condolences to Ms. Jahangir’s family, friends and colleagues, including in the UN and civil society.
I had the privilege of meeting Ms Jahangir when she visited Jamaica in 2003, for a country visit in her capacity of then United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. I sat with a number of clients of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) – family members of people who had been killed by the police – as they individually told her about the death of their loved ones. At times I helped with translation, when Ms Jahangir wasn’t clear what was being said in patois.
I was struck by the sensitivity, compassion and respect shown towards the family members by Ms Jahangir during her interviews, as they recounted their experiences, often in traumatic detail. Hers was an attitude that was often not shown to them by local officials, as they navigated the long and frustrating search for justice for their relatives.
On the last day of her visit, February 27, 2003, Ms Jahangir held a press conference at the Ministry of Justice to give some initial remarks regarding her observations.
The Gleaner report of the press conference included the following:
A United Nations-led independent assessment of reports of human rights violations in Jamaica has determined that extrajudicial killings are still rampant with not enough policemen being punished for their actions.
Asma Jahangir, the UN Commission on Human Rights’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, yesterday told a press conference at the Ministry of Justice, Oxford Road, New Kingston, after her 10-day mission to the island, that many of the reports she received during her research indicated excessive use of force and targeted killings of individuals which could amount to extrajudicial killings and executions.
“In a number of cases there are strong indications that these reports might be accurate,” Ms. Jahangir said.
“There is a strong belief among the disadvantaged that the police and security forces abuse them with impunity. I’ve often heard the term uptown and downtown
justice being used to describe the notion that two different standards of justice were being applied. Another disturbing element of these reports was the allegations of the apparent lack of interest on the part of the Government in recognising this problem.”
She expressed concern that influential pressure groups justified the excessive use of force as a legitimate measure to fight crime; at the deep anguish expressed by the families of those killed by the police and the frustration of witnesses; that a number of people interviewed showed their reluctance in testifying to such killings as they were afraid of reprisals and had little confidence in the criminal legal system; and that she had received reports of threats by the police against families of the deceased.
Ms. Jahangir, however, had high commendations for the Government’s efforts, and expressed high hopes for change if the conclusions and recommendations from her pending report are considered.
She welcomed the fact that in the last few years the resource allocation to the Police
Public Complaints Authority(PPCA) had been enhanced and that several steps had been taken to further develop the training of police and the security forces, to strengthen community policing and to establish the Police Service Commission.
“Almost everybody I met confirmed that there is an official recognition that despite the high levels of crime, it is crucial to ensure that the police and security forces act in accordance with the law,” she said. “ However, I regret that the public discourse centres on the issue of crime without sufficiently recognising that rough and easy justice only adds to more crime and bitter crime.”
Ms. Jahangir’s mission was prompted by reports of killings of civilians by the police and security forces and included meetings with representatives of the Jamaica Constabulary’s Bureau of Special Investigations, the PPCA, the Jamaica Constabulary’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, and Jamaicans for Justice.
She is now mandated to recommend further constructive measures that the Government can take in addressing the challenges they are facing.
“ I’m not satisfied, of course, otherwise I would not be here,” she said. “There have been convictions of 136 policemen (between 1990 and 2001) on complaints of abuses
but not on extrajudicial killings. I believe the number is very, very low when it comes to this, it is possibly just a couple…”
She said that she was impressed with the openness of Government leaders and ordinary citizenry in expressing their concerns.
Gleaner, February 28, 2003, pp A1 & A6
Later that year, Ms Jahangir’s report was delivered and included references to the wide range of individuals and organizations she met with. It outlined the context of her visit and detailed the concerns that arose from her observations. A number of individual cases were described: Janice Allen and her family, Richard Williams, Michael Gayle, Basil Brown, Patrick Genius, the persons killed and injured in West Kingston in July 2001 and the Braeton 7. The report ended with a list of conclusions and recommendations. Nearly fifteen years later, it is worth reading to note both what changes have taken place and what remains more or less the same.
“When you start off, there’s something inside you telling you to do it. And it comes because you have a heart and an eye and the courage to stand up against those forces—and there are plenty of them, believe me—that do not wish to see people free. Human rights, it’s not a job, it’s a conviction. I have used the law as an instrument, and I’ve used the courts, but I have been on the streets, as well. I’ve been in protest marches. I have been to prison. I’ve been under house arrest. So, for each issue and for each incident, there has to be a thought-out strategy. Justice is a rare commodity in our part of the world. Very rare. But sometimes even shouting for justice gives you some satisfaction that you’re being heard. And you must be heard. You knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and one day they are going to hear.”
(I was Chairperson of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice in 2003, when Ms Jahangir visited. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)