Ever since the Govern-ment was pressured into ramping up the fight on crime, several human rights organisations and interests have become hyper-vigilant. And, almost stride for stride, people critical of these groups have kept pace by openly ‘dissing’ (disrespecting) their efforts.
Anyone sensitive to human- rights issues and to the dangers of instituting draconian legislation will understand how they can impact negatively on all our lives – especially on the lives of our many innocent, poor and disenfranchised Jamaicans.
People who are quick to agree with rounding up and detaining any and all suspects within certain areas have no concept of what it’s like to live in fear of starvation, fear of the criminals and fear of the police.
Those that profess to be ready and willing to give up their civil rights, albeit in this time of rampant criminality, are probably severely myopic.
Loved ones could be victims
I sometimes wonder if they don’t realise that they or their loved ones could be caught up in some operation and thrown in a congested, dungeon-like cell for a long period of time.
Some of the proposed ‘cures’ (severe legal measures) may turn out to be worse than the ‘disease’ (crime status). And, some of the ‘cures’ may actually cause more ‘disease’.
Incarcerating innocent suspects in literal hell holes (our horrendously overcrowded, dark, hot, stink and unhygienic lock-ups) with hardened criminals may cause so much distress and frustration in at-risk youth that it can induce them to hate and distrust the police and society.
Some will end up thinking that they might as well take the path of least resistance and engage in criminal activities (since they are already being perceived and treated as such).
Human-rights groups have been vilified by some for attempting to remind this administration that, in spite of our many murders and threat of anarchy, we are still a functioning democracy with entrenched citizens’ rights.
For their (limited) success in modifying the proposed anti-crime measures, they have been chided, called ‘soft on criminals’, ‘silly’, ‘out of touch’ and accused of wanting to use powder puffs to engage the criminals.
Shotgun anti-crime methods
Governments have been known to use ‘shotgun’ (blunderbuss) anti-crime methods in the past. Such strong anti-crime measures (including mandatory sentencing, indefinite detentions, various special ‘jump-out’ squads and a prolonged state of emergency) failed to curb criminality. Instead, they produced a hardier breed of criminals and a police force that depended heavily on intimidation and brute force. The present proposed measures are more oppressive than they are suppressive.
These measures open the door for anyone to be denied their civil rights. For certain offences, our judges will effectively be no more than figureheads, puppets, automatons and referees.
By their very nature, human rights groups have no political agenda – they are the only real protection that we have against a desperate and sometimes misdirected administration.
We badly need our human-rights groups because there must be balance in society. Our oldest and premier human-rights organisation, the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights, not only defends the rights of suspected, accused and convicted individuals to fair and humane treatment, it also defends the rights of victims.
It not only has programmes in our (so-called) correctional institutions, it also has school programmes and teaches courses at the Police Training School.
Everyone is at risk for arbitrary arrest, prolonged incarceration and inhumane treatment. If any one person is denied his or her human rights, then we are all denied ours. No well-thinking individual should dis’ human-rights organisations.
Dr Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice;