Bunting's call for JDF sex probe not supported by law, says INDECOM

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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THE Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) yesterday said it has no authority to probe the claims of sexual misconduct and abuse of power in the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) as was demanded by Opposition spokesman on national security Peter Bunting.

Following the story published in this week's Sunday Observer reporting that a woman soldier was being victimised and punished under the Defence Act after ending a sexual relationship with a male officer, Bunting yesterday called on INDECOM to initiate an investigation in what he has dubbed “a culture of sexual harassment of females in the JDF”.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Bunting said the practice is discriminatory and charged that the JDF's male-dominated officer corps cannot be relied on to investigate and take measures against themselves; hence the need for an independent investigation.

“The whole reason for bringing into being INDECOM was to have an independent investigatory body for any allegations of abuse of the rights of citizens by the State or agencies of the State, and in particular the security forces who have more than normal powers over the lives of citizens, and in this case female citizens who also happen to be members of the JDF,” Bunting said.

Provisions under Part III of the INDECOM Act state that a complaint may be made to the commission by a person who alleges that the conduct of a member of the security forces or any specified official involves sexual assault.

But, assistant commissioner of INDECOM Hamish Campbell says, while he has not received any letter of request from anyone to launch an investigation, on the face of it, such a matter is not covered within the INDECOM Act.

“INDECOM investigates the JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force], the JDF solely when they're working in operation with the JCF. I don't have all the facts, but [based on] the press statement which I have read, that is not a matter which would be within the purview or remit of INDECOM and the Act,” Campbell said.

Bunting also chided the JDF for its lack of transparency in responding to queries from the Sunday Observer on the matter.

“This is not something that has suddenly come upon them. This is something they must have been dealing with for weeks and months. I don't think it should take more than a few hours to run it up the chain of command, if necessary, and respond. With the Sunday Observer article coming out, by today (yesterday) they should have been in a position to correct whatever errors they made in their 'no comment' yesterday (Sunday),” Bunting said, referring to Acting Civil Military Cooperation Officer Lieutenant Nathan Curtis's opting not to comment when the Sunday Observer contacted him last weekend.

“At the very least I would expect the media relations officer to have said this is a serious allegation, we're going to issue a comprehensive statement on it tomorrow or Tuesday, for example, but the idea of just no comment and stonewalling the media is just completely unacceptable,” said Bunting.

He called on the leadership of the JDF to adjust to the current paradigm, which calls for more transparency and accountability to the public.

“That's how the trend in governance is going worldwide, and even though the military obviously will have things which they have to deal with internally, in terms of their own rules and regulations, it doesn't allow for them to escape the responsibility of giving an account of their actions to Parliament and to the public,” he said.

“It is something that should be of concern to all well-thinking persons in society. The militaries worldwide this is nothing unique to JDF tend to be male-dominated, and in many cases they're discriminatory against female members and make those members particularly vulnerable to abuse. Therefore, it is something we should be extra sensitive to and not [be] dismissive of in any way. I expect the leadership of the JDF to be much more forthcoming in addressing this,” Bunting said.

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