Right Steps & Poui Trees


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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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350 Words or Less: #HumanRightsDay

There is so much that I could say today – December 10, Human Rights Day – but I am just going to keep it simple. There have been many activities online and on the ground this past week, acknowledging the importance of human rights.

Today, I re-read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, in the aftermath of World War II. It is a document that bears frequent re-reading and far more attention than it gets in our schools. The full document is available at the link above; below is a simplified version of the 3o articles.udhr-1-10udhr-11-20udhr-21-30

The theme for the UN’s celebrations for Human Rights Day this year is:hr-day-2016

And it is good to remember that when we stand up for someone else’s rights, we are also standing up for our own. Our country and world are in dire need of more people who are prepared to do this.

 

 


Apologise for What? – When the state commits human rights abuses

gleaner-headline-5-9-2000-cash-for-street-peopleIn 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

un-logoIn 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.