Right Steps & Poui Trees


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While Waiting for the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry Report

May 24 will make 6 years since the 2010 joint security operation in West Kingston, which resulted in the death of more than 70 people, and by all indications the report of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry will be submitted to the Governor General before then. It isn’t yet clear, however, when the report will be made public. It would certainly be fitting if that were to happen before May 24.

The last session of the Enquiry took place between February 8 – 19 (2016) and was to a large extent overshadowed by the political campaigning leading up to the general election on February 25.

The Commission held its first sitting on December 1, 2014 and held a total of 90 sittings over 15 months. It was presided over by three commissioners – Sir David Simmons (Chairman), Justice Hazel Harris and Professor Anthony Harriott.

The Enquiry had specific Terms of Reference (Terms of Reference for the Commission of Enquiry into events which occured in Western Kingston and related areas in May 2010) and more than 90 witnesses gave testimony, including:

  • residents of West Kingston
  • former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, former Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson, former Attorney General & Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne
  • former Chief of Defence Staff of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Major General Stewart Saunders and other members of the JDF
  • former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington and other members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force
  • former Public Defender Earl Witter, QC
  • other civilian witnesses, public officials and expert witnesses.

The release of the report will raise again for discussion the value of having had the Enquiry. In this regard, comments made by Lord Anthony Gifford, QC, who represented the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), are important; the comments were made on February 18, 2016, at the start of his final submissions to the Commission.

WKGNCOE Gifford 18-2-16

Seated behind Lord Anthony Gifford is Mrs Arlene Harrison-Henry, the current Public Defender

Lord Gifford thanked former Public Defender Earl Witter for having called for the Enquiry,and for his work on investigations towards  that end. He then went on to address the Chairman on the importance of holding the Enquiry:

Mr Chairman, we are going to be urging that you and your colleagues make strong findings in relation to a number of human rights abuses. We hope and trust that your report will be a historic document, which will reduce or eliminate such abuses in the future. But Mr Chairman, I would like to say publicly to those who have had doubts about the value of this enquiry that already the process, which has happened over the last  90 days (but in fact, year and a quarter) has had in itself immense value. And I say that for three reasons.

First of all, it has shown that an event which has cost around 70 lives in one operation cannot be swept under the carpet. It is legally a part of the duty of the state under the right to life, that when life is taken by agents of the state there must be a full and impartial enquiry. So that what has been done was necessary by the Constitution and by international principles.

And in the holding of it and the managing of it, I pay tribute to the even-handedness of you, Mr Chairman, and the intense interest, dedication that you all have shown, especially, may I say, at times when the argument has been robust or the scenes have been emotional. And coupled with thanks to you, I would thank your Secretary and all her staff for the efficient assistance which they have given.

It’s not just a question of law. The second value of the process so far has been that voices, it has enabled the voices of the residents, many residents of Tivoli Gardens to be heard. These are voices which are normally not heard but they have been heard over the last year, the length and breadth of Jamaica and further afield. And I thank the members of the media who have enabled the transmission of these hearings, to all those (and there are many) who have watched them or listened to them in their workplace or their homes. And those voices have been the heart of this enquiry. I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the civilian witnesses, who came forward, re-living the pain of their experiences as they spoke about the loved ones who are here no more. And I say to those witnesses, without your participation, this enquiry would have had little or no value.

Mr Chairman, thirdly, it has been valuable because this enquiry has required those who hold and have held some of the highest offices in the land to come here, account for their actions and be subjected to severe and intense questioning and scrutiny. That does not usually happen. People like the Chief of the General Staff and the Police Commissioner don’t often have to answer questions in justification of what they did. And the exercise has been very revealing. And that is why I wanted to say that, quite apart from the contents of your report, what has happened already has had value in recognizing the pain, the trauma and by re-living it and questioning it to make it bring some kind of understanding and, in due course, we hope closure.

(Transcript made from February 18, 2016 broadcast of Enquiry)

The Submissions and Recommendations made by the OPD are posted on its website, which is  welcome and useful. The OPD’s April 2013 Interim Report to Parliament is also available on the site.

OPD WKGNCOE submissions pic OPD Written Submissions to Commission of Enquiry

OPD WKGNCOE recommendations picOPD Recommendations to Commission of Enquiry

OPD Tivoli Interim Report picOPD April 2013 Interim Report to Parliament

Horace LevyHorace Levy has written an article summarizing the OPD’s Submissions and Recommendations, which can be accessed here.

The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry is part of a process. The publishing of the report will not signal the end of that process. It is one more step or milestone in a much longer journey towards accountability and justice for the largest loss of life in a single security operation in Jamaica since Independence (indeed, since the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865, though some object to this reference).

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They Say a Week is a Long Time in Politics…Jamaica, February 25 – March 3, 2016

Thursday, February 25 – Election Day

Polls opened at 7:00am. Party leaders Portia Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness were among the more than 870,000 voters who went to polling stations to cast their ballots on Election Day.

Observer photo - Portia votes - 25-2-16holness votes 25-2-16                                     (Photo credits: Jamaica Observer & Reuters/Gilbert Bellamy)

I was one of many who posted photos of their inked fingers online.

election tweet inked finger 25-2-16

After the polls closed at 5:00pm, the counting began, as did the monitoring and discussions on radio, television and social media. And later that night, the Preliminary Count by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) showed that the JLP had  won the election with 33 seats, to the PNP’s 30.

ECJ 10-26

Mr Holness gave his victory speech & PM Simpson Miller gave her concession speech.

 

election holness psm 3election - psm concession speech 25-2-16

Among those celebrating at JLP Headquarters on Belmont Road was former PM & JLP leader Edward Seaga.

election 2016 Seaga party HQ 25-2-16

Friday, February 26

Final counting for all constituencies across the island commenced, with counting taking place in the designated counting centres in each constituency except for five – St Andrew Eastern, St Ann South Western, St Mary South Eastern and St Catherine North Eastern which were being counted at the Head Office at Duke Street Kingston; and St James Southern which was being counted at the Regional Office in Montego Bay.

 

ecj prelim chart with turnout 26-2-16

Figures released based on the Preliminary Count indicated that the % voter turnout was the lowest for a General Election in Jamaica’s electoral history. (Except for 1983, when the PNP didn’t contest the election.)

Saturday, February 27

Following the Final Count for the St Mary South Eastern constituency, the PNP’s Winston Green was declared the winner, instead of the JLP’s Norman Dunn, who had been declared the winner on the night of the election. This meant that the result of the election stood at JLP: 32 and PNP: 31. Tensions heightened as, with the Final Count still going on in many constituencies, another seat changing from the JLP to the PNP would change the overall result of the election.

gleaner green wins by 9 votes 27-2-16

 

Sunday, February 28

Rumours and speculation increased. At one point in the day, a rumour spread that the JLP had lost another seat during the recount, but this was not so. PM Simpson Miller and Dr Horace Chang both issued statements amid the increasing tension.

Gleaner PSM urges calm - 28-2-16Gleaner Chang urges calm 28-2-16

Director of Elections, Orrette Fisher made the decision to move another constituency recount to the Head Office in Kingston, and this was done with the security forces escorting the ballot boxes from St Thomas to Kingston.

gleaner tweet election st thomas western 28-2-16

Monday, February 29

ecj 29-2-16 2

Dorothy Pine-McLarty, ECJ Chairman (right); Orrette Fisher, Director of Elections (2nd right)

The Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) held a press conference to give an update on the Final Count of votes. They informed the country that the Final Count of votes had been completed in 62 of the 63 constituencies. The Final Count for the constituency of St. Thomas Western was being continued at their office at Duke Street and was subsequently completed later that day. Press conference statement

Tuesday, March 1

The ECJ confirmed the Final Count and the outcome of the election, and indicated that the results would be sent to the Governor General. The results represented the narrowest majority in seat count for a General Election in Jamaica.

eoj FB final count march 1 2016

Wednesday, March 2

The official announcement came that the swearing-in of Andrew Holness as Prime Minister would take place the following day.

opm swearing in announcement 2-3-16

Thursday, March 3

The Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen , presided over the ceremony held at King’s House, at which Andrew Holness took the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office and became  Prime Minister of Jamaica. PM Holness then delivered his inaugural address.

holness takes oath 3-3-16 2

The ceremony was attended by outgoing Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and the three other living former Prime Ministers – Bruce Golding, P.J. Patterson & Edward Seaga.

There were a number of musical items during the ceremony, but perhaps the highlight was the performance by Nesbeth, who sang his song My Dream, which had been used by the JLP during the campaign. The new PM joined him in singing.nesbeth holness tweet 3-3-16

As they say, a week is a long time in politics….