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.)