Government keeping a cool head over Mario Deane affair

Thursday, September 04, 2014

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AT this rate, if the Government's approach to the Mario Deane affair becomes a pattern, they could put the human rights groups out of business.

The arrival of the high-profile international pathologist Michael Baden and activist lawyers from the United States — Ms Jasmine Rand and Mr Benjamin Crump — and the excitement over the autopsy on Mr Deane's body have not forced the national security or the justice ministry onto the back foot.

Rather commendably, we think, the combination of Ministers Peter Bunting and Mark Golding has established what could be a template for how the State should react to tragedies such as the beating death of Mario Deane in a jail cell at the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay, St James.

From the outset, both ministers were proactive in condemning the terrible deed, and preempted the activists by moving to get a study done of conditions under which people on minor charges are being held. This contrasts sharply with the past practice of quickly circling the wagons to protect the police.

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) was encouraged to start its work immediately, while the Cabinet busied itself with the cell conditions, leading to the establishment of special committees to take the matter forward.

The Government was also correct in rejecting a call from the American lawyers, who suggested the justice ministry should lead the investigations. Mr Golding's position that INDECOM was adequately equipped to do the probe was
quite on point.

As a result of this proactive approach, the activists have not been able to take marks away from the State in its handling of the Mario Deane affair. No one will be able to say with any justification that the State only acted because of the intervention of the rights organisations and the international attention they generated.

In fact, more than just being proactive, the Government is also co-operating with the activists, for example, in allowing Mr Baden to visit the cell in which Mr Deane suffered his injuries, allegedly at the hands of violent inmates.

We, ourselves, don't mind the presence of the activists nor the attention they bring to bear on the need for the State to do everything it can to
reduce such incidents or prevent a recurrence wherever possible.

We suspect, however, that at the end of the day, no State will be able to guarantee that inmates won't attack each other, if that is indeed the situation in this case. In fact, we feel sure that the woeful lack of resources will determine how effectively the Government can, even with the best will in the world, improve conditions in lock-ups and prisons on a whole.

This is where international and local activists can be of great help in mobilising assistance to concentrate resources on improving cell conditions.

The Government, we believe, will continue to be forced to prioritise the spending from its almost empty coffers, and will find it difficult to ignore the plight of our people in other areas, such as the children's homes and the state homes for
the elderly.

It's what the late Walter Rodney of Guyana described as "the perils of underdevelopment".




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