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JLP calls for establishment of human rights commission

BY HORACE HINES Observer staff reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 12, 2014    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is calling for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission to safeguard the fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled.

He suggested that the Office of the Public Defender be promoted to such a commission.

"We now believe it is time that the Jamaican State establish a commission on human rights. We already have the public defender [who does] some amount of work in protecting human rights, but we need to elevate that office now into a human rights commission," Holness argued.

He, however, noted that the commission should not be founded merely to react to human rights violations, but to detect emerging tendencies early on.

"A commission that will not just respond when there is an issue, but a commission that could look at trends and see where the trends are pointing to human rights abuses and intervene through the courts or by making proposals for changes in policies or laws," Holness argued.

The Opposition leader was speaking yesterday at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) press conference held at the Wexford Court Hotel in Montego Bay to look into the controversial death of 31-year-old construction worker Mario Deane of Rosemount, St James.

Deane died last week Wednesday at the Cornwall Regional Hospital after he was allegedly beaten by other inmates while being detained at the Barnett Street Police station for possession of a ganja spliff.

Holness, who yesterday toured the police station and also met with members of Deane's family, said that it was disturbing that only months ago another Jamaican, Kamoza Clarke, lost his life while in the custody of the police after he, too, was allegedly beaten.

"We note just a few months ago where another Jamaican citizen lost his life, was deprived of his life under the care and protection of our State forces. It is disturbing that a similar report was given that the person fell from a bench or fell from a bunk, it has turned out to be otherwise," bemoaned Holness.

"In cases like these a human rights commission, if duly and properly empowered, could not just look into the culpability of the persons involved in the case, but see whether or not there is a trend of procedures of action within the State agencies that are leading to human rights abuses. And the Opposition thinks that would be a very useful direction in which to go in terms of advancing the cause of human rights- that is the development of a human rights commission," Holness argued.

He disclosed that the Opposition has mandated deputy spokesperson on justice, Harold Malcolm, to tackle the burning issued.

Malcolm, a human rights lawyer and an advocate for human rights, told journalists yesterday that he was disturbed by the conflicting versions of the events surrounding Deane's death.

He said that both the initial account that the 31-year-old construction worker, who was having his first run-in with the law, fell off his bunk and another report that he was beaten by inmates, are "equally troubling".

He further noted that the JLP wants a speedy independent investigation into the matter.

Others in attendance at the press conference were JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang; Opposition spokesman on National Security Derrick Smith; JLP member of Parliament for East Central St James Edmund Bartlett; former mayor of Montego Bay, Charles Sinclair; JLP caretaker for Central St James, Heroy Clarke, among others.

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