There are roles within societies which strive for the rule of law and the principles of basic human rights to have genuine, balanced and vigilant oversight of Governmental activities.
Nevertheless, those oversights have to be executed against a fundamental understanding of the role and responsibility the government has in protecting the broader society from harm.
They must also be balanced against the limitations of government to adequately fulfill all best practices within the framework of its financial constraints.
It as against this background that I am unsure whether in Jamaica’s case, the Office of Public Defender and it’s principal officer, Arlene Harrison-Henry is fully conversant of those responsibilities to which the Government is obligated.
There is always room for improvement and in the Jamaican public sector, hardly anyone could reasonably argue that there is due diligence in the dispensation of all public functions.
Harrison-Henry was testifying before the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament yesterday, on the effects of the State Of Emergency (SOE) in the parish of Saint James.
The (SOE) was initiated to stem the bloodshed and the massive loss of life in the parish as a result of what the police contend is gang violence.
The Public defender laid out a raft of issues which she tells the committee her office have found lacking and are in breach of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.[sic]
Among the issues, she laid out are the following…..
(1)Up to October 9th, 3,687 persons, primarily young men, have been detained, since the declaration of the SOE on January 18, 2018.
Typically, this is what happens in (SOE), security personnel operating in the dark (intelligence wise) are forced to scrape up large numbers of young men whom they believe may be involved in criminal activities.
Given the limitations technologically, the police have to embark on a slow deliberative process of sifting through latent fingerprints which may or may not exist, of those who may have previously passed through the system.
This is a slow antiquated system which requires time. Admittedly, it is not the bests system but it is the system we have.
This is not the fault of the police.
(2) Only a fraction of the people detained
It would be nice if the law of averages were more in favor of the good guys who are risking their lives, trying to produce a safer Jamaica.
If they did they wouldn’t be the law of averages now would they?
Since they aren’t, the overworked, underpaid, police have to sort through the detainees the old-fashioned way.
The police would be glad to have real-time intelligence if Harrison Henry has it, this would go a long way in eliminating some of the inconveniences she complains about.
(3) Poor quality of food for people picked up and detained and unsanitary conditions around food.
There is no excuse for this and there will be none coming from me.
(4) Detentions are mainly men from communities such as Rose Heights, Norwood, Granville, Flanker. She pointed out that the bulk of the detainees are young men between the ages of 19 and 25.
That is police business, the so-called public -defender must concentrate on what it is that she and her staff are tasked with doing.
The security forces have a responsibility to take the fight to criminals regardless of where they are from, regardless of their age group.
(5) Concern that police officers and soldiers sometimes take photographs of detainees on their mobile phone. This has implications for the fairness of an identification parade for example.
Members of the Security forces have a responsibility to act with professionalism, nevertheless, in the barren intelligence landscape in which they operate almost blindly, it is commendable that members of the force whose responsibility it is to contain criminals are acting proactively in this regard.
(6) Harsh conditions under which detainees are held at the Freeport Police Station lock-up, which is the hub of the SOE activities in St James.
This is a longstanding issue which spawns administration of both political parties across several decades.
It is important that government understand that if its agents are going to violate people’s basic rights by detaining them the least it [must] do is provide them with decent accommodations, food, and healthcare for the duration of their incarceration.
The testimony of the Public Defender is scheduled to resume sometime in the near future to complete the deliberations on its report.
In light of that, I will naturally withhold some of my comments.
Nevertheless, it is instructive to observe that nowhere in the reporting in [the link above] is there any acknowledgment of the fact that as a result of the actions of the security forces there has been a marked drop in the number of murdered St. James residents.
What I conclude from this is that there are two competing objectives at work, neither of which works for the greater good of the Jamaican people.
On the one hand, the security forces must find a way to balance dealing with the existential issue of violent crimes while taking care as best it can to protect the rights of the most vulnerable.
For its part, those who purport to protect the rights of the public must demonstrate that they understand the exigencies of the situations the nation faces and the constraints under which the government is forced to operate.
Neither of these two positions is mutually exclusive if the egos and personal agendas are discarded.