'We can do more'

'We can do more'

Johnson Smith commits to reviewing Shiprider Agreement terms

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith yesterday said that the Government did not do enough follow-up after waiving its rights over the jurisdiction of the five fishermen held in international waters and tried under American law.

Johnson Smith, who was speaking at a press conference at the ministry in New Kingston, said the Government will be reviewing the management of such incidents.

“I think we can do more, and that is the commitment I gave for us to review the processes robustly and in a focused way. I'm not just saying it for a press conference. It is something that we clearly need to do. The agreement does provide for review and, notwithstanding, we think that the matters that have been raised in the public domain justify the types of discussions that we have already started with the US Government,” said Johnson Smith.

A news release from the foreign ministry last week said the five men were detained by the US after the Jamaican Government granted a waiver of jurisdiction to the US Coast Guard under the 1997 Shiprider Agreement.

The agreement, formally known as the Jamaica Maritime Counter Narcotics Cooperation Agreement, represents both countries' cooperation in deterring the movement of illicit drugs through Jamaican territorial waters from South America to the United States. It also allows for cooperation in ship boarding, shipriding and overflight. The US Coast Guard law enforcement detachments operating from specific foreign government ships will be able to board ships in Jamaican waters where illicit activity is suspected.

The men, David Williams, Patrick Ferguson, Robert Weir, Luther Patterson, and George Thompson have since retained the services of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which last week filed a lawsuit in the US.

The men, who reportedly left to go fishing in the Morant Cays in September 2017, have said that they were subjected to inhumane treatment and conditions for approximately one month in 2017 after being detained in Haitian waters by the US Coast Guard.

They were later incarcerated for 10 months in the US, after pleading guilty to making false statements to federal law-enforcement officials during the boarding of their vessel before being deported to Jamaica in August 2018.

A case against the men, regarding conspiracy to smuggle ganja, fizzled.

Johnson Smith said when the Government waived its primary rights to jurisdiction it did not waive the fishermen's rights to be treated humanely.

“We take the human rights and the protection and promotion of the human rights of our citizens very seriously. This is demonstrated consistently within the work of the ministry most recently in our successful efforts to address the mistreatment of Jamaican citizens on denial of entry in Trinidad [& Tobago],” the minister pointed out.

“That being said, Jamaica's maritime domain is 240,000 square kilometres. That's almost 25 times our land mass. Jamaica does not have the financial nor infrastructural capacity to adequately monitor its maritime space and it has been helpful, both nationally and regionally, to seek the support of partner countries to address our very real issues with maritime security,” the minister said.

She said the case brought by the men represent a significant juncture in the implementation of the Shiprider Agreement.

She said the case is the third of its kind in which a waiver of jurisdiction had been granted since an amendment was passed in January 2016.

That amendment, to Section 20 (Subsection II) of Jamaica's Maritime Drug Trafficking (Suppression) Act, made room for the US Coast Guard, which previously could not detain Jamaicans at sea, to do so.

“It is important that we review the protocols and procedures to ensure that our citizens are protected. I must underscore that Jamaica takes seriously any semblance of violation of human rights of our nationals. However, I must also reaffirm that, as I stated in the Senate, the ministry was not aware of the allegations of mistreatment and abuse in relation to these men until the case came to public light through the media,” she said.

When asked by the Jamaica Observer whether or not the Government is also likely to face a lawsuit, Johnson Smith declined to comment.

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