Right Steps & Poui Trees


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The JCF & Accountability: A Policeman Speaks Out & 3 Opportunities For Change

NNN Hidden Agenda on SoundCloud March 2018Listen 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

Major General Antony Anderson - JISA 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?

  • Strengthen Rather Than Weaken INDECOM

INDECOM logo 2The two Court of Appeal judgments which were handed down on Friday, March 16, 2018, raise once again the need for the Parliament to revisit the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Act. A Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament held meetings from 2013 – 2015 and carried out the first review of the INDECOM Act, as required by the Act itself. The Committee produced a report with its recommendations, which was tabled in Parliament in November 2015. (Click here for a copy of the Joint Select Committee Report on INDECOM Act.) No action has been taken in Parliament regarding this report or its recommendations. (See my blog post in February –  Parliamentarians, A Joint Select Committee & INDECOM.)

On March 21, 2018, human rights NGO Jamaicans for Justice issued a press release calling for Parliament to make amendments to the INDECOM Act:JFJ press release 21-3-18JFJ press release 21-3-18 bJFJ press release 21-3-18 cJFJ press release 21-3-18 dJFJ press release 21-3-18 e

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?

The news now is that INDECOM is seeking leave to appeal to the Privy Council for clarification on important issues in the case, including constitutional issues. It is also reported that Minister Chuck thinks that INDECOM shouldn’t seek to appeal, but should rather wait to see what Parliament decides to do.

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

The Jamaican public first learned of the Government’s plans to replace the Constabulary Force Act with a Police Service Act via a March 2017 Government of Jamaica Letter of Intent to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

JA letter of intent to IMF March 2017“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)

The October 2017 Letter of Intent indicated that the measure was “[o]n track for completion by target date”, the target bate being October 2017 (IMF – Jamaica Second Review Under the Stand-By Arrangement Etc October 2017 p 43).

In the Throne Speech delivered by the Governor General in Parliament on February 15, 2018, this new Police Service Act is included as one of the legislative actions to be taken during the 2018 – 2019 legislative year.

Throne speech 2018 - Police Service Act

Throne Speech 2018, p 7

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.

Relevant documents – Court of Appeal Judgments

Court of Appeal judgment - FederationThe Police Federation, Merrick Watson (Chairman of the Police Officers Association), The Special Constabulary Force Association and Delroy Davis (President of the United District Constables Association) v The Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations and the Attorney General of Jamaica [2018] JMCA Civ. 10

Court of Appeal judgment - DiahAlbert Diah v Regina [2018] JMCA Crim 14

 

 

(I am a member and a spokesperson for Jamaicans for Justice. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)

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Asma Jahangir, Renowned Human Rights Defender, Dies: Her Visit To & Report On Jamaica In 2003

Asma JahangirI 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.

A United Nations release titled “World loses a ‘human rights giant,’ says UN chief on death of rights expert Asma Jahangir” spoke about her work and included comments from the Secretary General’s statement on Sunday:

“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. Asma Jahangir - Gleaner 28-2-2003 pA1

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.

Special Rapporteur Jamaica report 2003

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions report – Mission to Jamaica 2003

This quote from Asma Jahangir, included in a Democracy Now segment remembering her, is an inspiring and good place to end:

“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.)


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Note-Taking in the Visitors’ Gallery in Parliament: 2002…Yes! 2017…No?

Last week Friday (November 10, 2017) I went to Gordon House to observe the continuation of the Senate’s deliberations on the National Identification & Registration (NIDS) Bill.

Gordon HouseWhen I reached the entrance to the Parliament building, a police woman was conducting a search of women’s handbags. I placed my handbag on the table and then was told, as others were before and after me, that note-taking wasn’t allowed in the Visitors’ Gallery and that I would have to leave my papers downstairs if I wanted to go up to the Gallery. The large envelope of papers I was carrying included not only my notebook, but also my copy of the Bill being debated, the Amendments List tabled in the Senate the Friday before and other documents about amendments that we hoped would be made.

I was very annoyed and expressed my annoyance loudly. In exchanges with the police personnel and with the Marshal, I indicated that the rule against note-taking had been challenged years ago and had been changed to allow people in the Gallery to take notes. I was informed that it had been revised last year, that note-taking was now banned and could only take place with the permission of the President of the Senate. Another member of the public and I decided to remain downstairs while the Marshal went to see if we would be allowed in with our papers.

While we waited, we saw Senator K.D. Knight entering and approached him and informed him of what we had been told. He said he would check to see what was happening.

Not long afterwards, the Marshal returned and indicated that we could go up to the Gallery, which we did, taking our papers and notebooks with us. A number of colleagues who entered after I did relayed similar accounts of being told they couldn’t take notes and one had had to leave his papers downstairs.

Later on, prior to starting his presentation on the NIDS Bill, Senator Knight raised the matter of people being told they couldn’t take notes in the Gallery. The President of the Senate, Senator Tom Tavares-Finson, responded saying that he wasn’t clear what the origin of this no note-taking rule was, that it apparently required his permission for notes to be taken and that he was giving his carte blanche permission in that regard. His decision was a much appreciated one.

The reasons for my frustration and annoyance were twofold. Firstly, a rule against note-taking in the Gallery makes no sense. It is hard to see any logical reason for it. Members of the media are allowed to take notes. The Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) broadcasts the proceedings live, including streaming on the internet. What is the danger that is being protected against?

The other reason for my frustration is that in 2002 – fifteen years ago – Jamaicans for Justice (of which I was and still am a member), Transparency International (JA) and the Farquharson Institute wrote to Parliament asking for a meeting to discuss the no note-taking convention, which we felt should be repealed. We wrote to the Clerk of the House on March 28, 2002 and received a reply on June 13, 2002, indicating that in the interim a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee of the House had discussed the issue, had decided that the convention should be abolished and that a motion to this effect had been put to the House on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 and had been agreed to.

The Minutes of the Meeting of the Standing Orders Committee Held on May 28, 2002 at 2:20 P.M. ( Standing Orders Committee Minutes May 28 2002 ) say the following:Standing Order Committee minutes 28 May 2002

The Report of the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Representatives on Its Deliberations on Proposed Amendment to Standing Order No.65 and the Matter of Note Taking in Parliament ( Standing Orders Committee Report June 4 2002 ) says the following:Standing Orders Committee report June 4 2002

The Hansard Report for the Sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 ( Hansard – House of Representatives June 11 2002 pp 626-643) contains the following record of the motion put by Dr Peter Phillips, then Leader of Government Business:

Hansard June 11 2002 aHansard June 11 2002 bHansard June 11 2002c

In 2002, the Government and Opposition members were in agreement that members of the public should be allowed to take notes in the Gallery. By their response to Senator Tavares-Finson’s decision, Government and Opposition Senators seemed to agree last Friday.

A number of us intend to follow up to find out why the no-note taking convention is once again in effect and to ask that it be removed…again. Hopefully, the problem will be quickly corrected.

(As a member and representative of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice, I worked on this issue when it first arose. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)

 


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350 Words or Less: Police Using Body Cameras, But What Protocol Is Regulating Their Use?

This morning I saw a Gleaner report that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is now actually using body cameras in some divisions.

This seems to follow on from the launch of a pilot project last summer and I wondered if the promised protocol to regulate their use had been completed.sg-tweet-re-jcf-body-cameras-21-2-17

I am very disturbed to now see a press release this afternoon from the Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) saying that the JCF has not yet shared with it – the independent oversight body – “the proposed procedures and protocols that will govern the use of the equipment, collection and storage of data, and subsequent viewing of the footage.”indecom-press-release-jcf-body-cameras-21-2-17

The protocol regulating the police use of body cameras will to a great extent determine their usefulness as a tool to support both accountability and crime fighting. This has been clearly seen in other jurisdictions, probably best known in cases in the USA. Regulations regarding when cameras are turned on and off, how data is stored and protected, who has access to the footage and sanctions for failure to comply with the regulations are all extremely important. Also, a particular issue which has arisen in many instances in the USA is that of release of footage to the public. It is not tenable that body cameras are in use, but regulations have not yet been finalised and made public.

The importance of such a protocol has long been acknowledged. In January 2014, then Minister of National Security Peter Bunting  “noted that a protocol will be established, making it mandatory for the officers to engage the cameras once they are going on an operation.” (JIS report, January 24, 2014) Similar assurances were given last year when the body camera launch took place. Perhaps Minister Montague or Acting Commissioner Grant could give a public update regarding the current status of this essential protocol.

Some Related Links

Jamaica Observer: Police finally wearing body cameras-February 21, 2017

JCF: Police Issued with Body Worn Cameras – August 27, 2016

Jamaicans for Justice: JFJ Welcomes Police Body Cameras, Calls for Strong Protocols – August 25, 2016

Jamaica Information Service: Body Cameras for Policemen – January 24, 2014

 


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Lighting Candles, Remembering Jason Smith

The music from the sound system  played loudly, tracking through reggae, dancehall, oldies, setting the mood. Children chased each other through the yard, darting round and about the adults’ legs. People were cooking, sharing out food, eating. And every so often, someone stopped in front of the table with pictures, remembering Jason…

IMG_2361[1]

 

Jason Smith was 15-years-old when he was shot and killed by the police in a market stall in Spanish Town on July 9, 2002. An account of the circumstances of Jason’s death and his mother’s fight for justice in the courts is documented in the 2010 Jamaicans for Justice Victims’ Voices video. (And 6 years later, Monica’s civil case continues.)

JFJ Victims' Voices - Monica Williams

Every year Monica Williams and her older son, Leonard, hold a memorial gathering in July. Family, friends and well-wishers join in marking the passing of another year, to say that Jason may be gone, but he is not forgotten. Monica says that not to do something at that time would feel like saying she has stopped remembering Jason. Lenny says it keeps Jason’s memory alive and passes it on to his young son, who never had the chance to know his uncle.

A familiar poster attached to the gate, has been updated again to show that it is now 14 years since Jason’s death.

As darkness falls, Lenny and another young man begin the task of lighting the candles, placing them up and down both sides of the road outside.

A candle under a plastic cup is such a small thing…

IMG_2422… but in the dark it shines so brightly…

IMG_2427

…and even if the rough edges of pain are still present, the beauty of the light cannot be ignored.IMG_2431

The many lights along the sidewalk burn with a fierce insistence that Jason is remembered and loved.IMG_2476Memorial Announcement, Sunday Gleaner, July 10, 2016

Jason Smith notice in Gleaner 10-7-16