Human rights vis-à-vis human wrongs

As expected the Prime Minister’s proposals to reduce crime in the nation has sparked much public debate. What was not expected, at least from my perspective, was the extent to which the debates have been taken. Truth be told, they have virtually degenerated into public quarrels. Ironically, while all this is going on, the murder rate continues to climb (last Monday the approximate figure was 926 since the start of the year). The murderers are obviously not impressed in the least by the intellectual verbosity that has characterized much of those public debates/quarrels!For the record, the Prime Minister’s anti-crime proposals include the following:A minimum 10 years for gun crimes

The detention of suspects for a maximum of 72 hoursThe denial of bail for serious crimes for up to 60 daysA majority of 9 jurors out of 12 can decide on non-capital murderThe police to be allowed access to restricted informationThe use of DNA evidenceTestimonies to be allowed in court from secure and remote locationsSo far, the main groups that have publicly stated their opposition to much or most of the recommendations are the human rights groups (namely The Independent Jamaica Council of Human Rights, Jamaicans For Justice, Families Against State Terrorism) and the Council of the Bar association of Jamaica.

On the other hand, the main group that has publicly stated its support for most or all of the recommendations is the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), while notable sections of the media and the Church have also given their support.LESSER OF TWO EVILSThose opposing much or most of the PM’s proposals basically contend that the proposed measures are short term and will only result in curtailing the rights of citizens and reducing constitutional protections which were essential to the preservation of the nation’s democracy.

The Independent Jamaica Council of Human Rights (IJCHR) for example, in responding to the proposed detention of criminal suspects for up to 72 hours without being charged and denial of bail for serious crimes for up to 60 days, stated: “The imposition of a mandatory remand undermines the constitutional provision of the presumption of innocence and the discretion of judges…We reiterate our commitment to the constitutional principles of separation of powers and that the citizen’s rights are not to be interfered with or abbreviated without reasonable cause and credible evidence…” It is to be noted however that there are those who oppose the proposals because they regard them as not far-reaching or tough enough! I believe that sections of the security forces and some media personnel fall into this category.

Those supporting the PM’s proposals tend to do so on the basis that the crime situation in Jamaica has reached crisis proportions and thereby necessitates the temporary restriction of some of our human rights, as the lesser of two evils. As a release from the PSOJ President states: “It is apparent that the entire nation is of the view that we are in a crisis and it is therefore imperative that the Government moves expeditiously to enact the necessary legislation which will allow for the swift implementation and effective monitoring of the crime-fighting measures…” He further appealed for “the co-operation of all Jamaicans as we strive to return law and order to this country.”HEAT VERSUS LIGHTIt is obvious that both camps are viewing the measures from two distinct and different perspectives. One focuses on the necessity of securing those human rights which are still present within our nation. The other focuses on the urgency of stemming the human wrongs that are so prevalent within our nation.Both camps need each other in order for there to be balance, prudence, objectivity and rationality within our public moral discourse and debates.

Isn’t that what constitutes the heart of democracy, where we can disagree and agree to disagree without becoming contentious or disingenuous in our comments?It is with this in mind that I call upon spokespersons from both camps to calm down and simply allow all views to contend without making false-allegations and faulty-assumptions against each other. I therefore consider it unfortunate that last month one of our major newspapers thought it fit to write an editorial which in essence generated more heat than light as it made disingenuous statements about certain groups who oppose the PM’s proposals. That editorial has subsequently created a situation where some key representatives from both camps are seemingly at loggerheads with each other, at least in the media. Indeed, words such as “misleading and dishonest” have been thrown into the mix. Again, while all this is taking place the murder rate continues to climb!Let us all remember who the real enemies are. Let us bear in mind that we do not have to always see eye to eye in order to walk hand in hand. Let us focus more on our similarities rather than on our differences as together we seek to effectively confront our human wrongs without compromising our human rights!

Have a peaceful and meaningful Independence Day. Shalom.


Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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