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MP turns up heat on ex-judge

Amnesty says enquiry mandate falls short

Friday, February 28, 2014    

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DESMOND McKenzie yesterday took his objection to Velma Hylton’s appointment on the Commission of Enquiry into the security forces’ May 2010 operation in West Kingston to Amnesty International and the United Nations.

McKenzie, the member of parliament for the constituency, also sought support from the Jamaica Council of Churches, National Integrity Action, Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights, and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

McKenzie said his objection was based on comments Hylton made at the 2001 enquiry into a similar confrontation between civilians and the security forces in West Kingston, which resulted in the deaths of 25 civilians.

In making his request, McKenzie said that he was appealing to “all well-thinking Jamaicans to join the people of West Kingston in their quest to protect their human rights and to ensure that the commission in no way is tainted in considering its outcome.

“It is not a political issue, and this matter should not be used as a political football. The people of West Kingston deserve to be treated like [all] other Jamaican citizens,” McKenzie said.

He added that the appeal was not to impugn Hylton’s character or her competence as an attorney-at-law, “but in the interest of ensuring that justice is done, that it is seen to be done, and that the rights of the residents of West Kingston, who are indeed constitutionally protected citizens of Jamaica, are respected”.

Yesterday, JFJ, in a news release on the issue, also said that the concerns now being raised about the appropriateness of Hylton’s appointment “must be addressed, as they can affect the confidence placed in the Commission of Enquiry”.

McKenzie’s appeal came a day after Amnesty International issued a release saying that the mandate of the Commission of Enquiry falls short of what is needed to obtain “truth, justice and reparation for the victims”.

“Victims have waited nearly four years for this commission but, regrettably, the terms of reference that establish its mandate are seriously flawed and could prejudice the effectiveness of the enquiry,” Amnesty’s researcher on the Caribbean, Chiara Ligouri, said in the release.

“Given the history of impunity in Jamaica for human rights violations by the security forces, and the history of commissions of enquiry which have failed to deliver justice for the victims, it is essential that the scope of the Commission of Enquiry be strengthened. Otherwise, this will be a missed opportunity,” Ligouri added.

Jamaicans For Justice, the local human rights body, also said that it was disappointed with the terms of reference for a number of reasons, including “they do not spell out the allegations of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and violations of right to life; they include no reference to specific enquiry into allegations of missing persons, and conditions of detention; they do not require enquiry into the planning and oversight of the operations; they do not require enquiry into foreign assistance; and future compensation and criminal liability are not addressed”.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen on Monday announced the appointment of the Commission of Enquiry, on the advice of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

In addition to Hylton, a former Puisne Judge and a former director of public prosecutions in The Bahamas and Grenada, the commission comprises Sir David Simmons, QC (chairman), retired Chief Justice of Barbados; and Justice Hazel Harris, retired Judge of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica.

The May 2010 operation resulted in at least 76 deaths, including a policeman and a soldier. It came after gunmen loyal to then Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke and who were determined to prevent his arrest and extradition to the United States, launched unprovoked attacks on the security forces, killing two police officers and torching two police stations in West Kingston in the process.

They also barricaded Tivoli Gardens in an attempt to prevent the police from arresting Coke, who was wanted by the US Government on drug- and gun-running charges.

During the operation, in which the security forces met fierce resistance from the gunmen, Coke fled the community. He was eventually captured a few weeks later and waived his right to an extradition hearing.

He is now serving a 23-year service in a federal prison after pleading guilty to racketeering.

Following the enquiry into the 2001 event, Amnesty criticised the probe as a travesty.

“It was a travesty of the legal and evidential tests which a public enquiry into killings by State agents is required to perform under international law,” the international human rights body said.

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