In 2000, the Jamaican government agreed to pay compensation to the so-called MoBay street people – homeless Jamaicans, many of whom were living with mental illnesses – who had been rounded up in Montego Bay on the night of July 14, 1999. They were taken by truck to St Elizabeth, where they were callously dumped near a mud lake in the dead of night. After the Commission of Enquiry, the government accepted responsibility and indicated that the sum of J$20,000 per month was to be paid to the victims of its abuse. One of the women who was subjected to this horrendous treatment, Miss Sarah, was subsequently interviewed by a reporter about the news of this compensation. She was asked how she felt about the money that the government would be paying her. Her response was that the money was all well and good, but up to that time no-one had yet come and told her sorry for the way she was treated.
When the state through its agents commits human rights abuses, there are many things that the state has an obligation to do as part of the process towards justice. This includes prompt and effective investigations, actions towards holding those responsible accountable, and steps towards reparation for those harmed by the abuse. An often overlooked step in the reparation process is that of apologising for the harm done.
IACHR & Michael Gayle
In 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published its findings in the petition filed by Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) regarding the death of Michael Gayle, the 26-year-old man who died after being brutally beaten by police and soldiers on the night of August 21, 1999. The Commission made a number of recommendations for action by the Jamaican state. Among those recommendations was that the state should make a public apology to Michael Gayle’s mother, Miss Jenny Cameron:
At the time, the Jamaican government said that it had issued an apology, but Miss Cameron and JFJ, which had made the petition on her behalf, disagreed. This raises issues about the nature of an apology given by the state, where and how it should be given and what it should say. Certainly, the person or people to whom the apology is given should be in no doubt that an apology has been made, nor should the community and country at large.
West Kingston, May 2010
Last week, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck indicated that the government would within a matter of weeks be issuing an apology to the residents of West Kingston. This was one of the recommendations made in the report of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, released to the public in June this year.
Some people have again been asking, as they did at the time the report was released, “Apologise for what?” For some, the actions of the police and soldiers during the May 2010 joint security operation were completely justified and they feel that the state has nothing to apologise for. After hearing and examining the evidence put before them during the Enquiry, the Commissioners are of a different opinion.
It is the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that now forms the government that will deliver the apology in Parliament; it was the JLP that formed the government at the time that human rights violations were carried out in May 2010. Yet, if it had been a PNP administration in government now, they would have had the responsibility to deliver the apology nonetheless, as the state responsibilities continue, whichever party forms the government at a particular time.
A public apology is an important part of justice and reparation, but there must be no misunderstanding that it is all that is needed. There is much additional concrete action that needs to take place to fulfill the recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry and the state’s obligations for accountability (including accountability for crimes committed), for compensation and for measures that will prevent such an occurrence again.
UN Basic Principles & Guidelines
In 2005, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, which is a useful and relevant document.
In the section dealing with Reparations for harm suffered (IX), there is a list of principles which are necessary for full and effective reparation: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. Among recommended actions contributing to the principle of satisfaction is:
“Public apology, including acknowledgement of the facts and acceptance of responsibility.” 22.(e)
Public apology is there among the many facets to the provision of justice for those who have suffered serious violations of their human rights.
Apologise for what? The Jamaican state must apologise for the human rights abuses carried out by its agents.