ACLU files another suit on behalf of Jamaican fishermen

Friday, August 16, 2019

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THE American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed another lawsuit on behalf of three of four Jamaican fishermen, who brought a separate suit against the United States (US) Coast Guard in June for human rights violations, claiming that they were detained without due process at sea and degraded in inhumane conditions.

The ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of the US law that was used to convict the men, not on any drug-related offence, but instead for providing “false information” to the Coast Guard officers about their intended destination when their fishing boat — the Jossette — was intercepted in Caribbean waters in mid-September 2017.

The men allege that they were held at sea for more than a month, shackled on an exposed deck, under inhumane conditions, and prevented from contacting their families to inform them they were alive.

The new lawsuit, which was filed in the US District Court in the Southern District of Florida, pertains to Robert Dexter Weir, David Roderick Williams and Luther Fian Patterson. The ACLU said Patrick Wayne Ferguson, a fourth member of the crew, filed a similar challenge to his conviction in July.

“The fishermen, who at the time the Coast Guard stopped them were lost after their boat had been blown off course in an unexpected storm, explained they were trying to find their way back home to Jamaica. But the Coast Guard believed that they were headed for Haiti. After over a month, the Coast Guard delivered the men to the Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami. The men eventually pleaded guilty to the 'false information' charge because their attorneys told them that doing so was the quickest and surest way to get back to their homes and families in Jamaica. After serving 10-month sentences, and two months in immigration detention because of a Government delay in processing their removal papers, the United States returned the men to Jamaica, nearly a year after they had left on their two-day fishing trip,” the ACLU said yesterday.

The ACLU said it is challenging the constitutionality of the US law criminalising the provision of false information to Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the men's foreign-flagged boat on the high seas.

“The men's 'false information' — that they were fishing in Jamaican waters, and not heading towards Haiti — had no potential effect or harm in the United States. Under the Constitution, Congress is only authorised to define and punish conduct occurring on the high seas that has potential effects in this country; simply lying about one's intended destination has no effect in the United States and would give the Coast Guard overboard powers of arrest. We are asking the court to recognise this fact and to strike down the law as unconstitutional and set aside the men's convictions,” the ACLU stated.

The US Coast Guard has disputed some of those claims and reported seeing the men dump approximately 600 pounds of marijuana, which was recovered.

In 2004, the Government of Jamaica signed a protocol with the US amending the 1997 US-Jamaica Maritime Counter Narcotics Cooperation Agreement, also known as the “Shiprider Agreement”, to facilitate further cooperation in deterring the activities in the illegal drug trade through Jamaican territorial waters from South America to the US. The protocol provides for cooperation in ship boarding, ship riding and overflight.

The foreign affairs ministry in 2017 granted a waiver of jurisdiction, concerning five fishermen, to the US under the “Shiprider Agreement”, but has said that there was no record of any complaint of mistreatment lodged with the Jamaican Government by the five men since the time of their arrest by the US authorities.

Only four of the five fishermen have filed suits.

Since the shocking report of alleged human rights violation came to the fore in June, there has been suggestions locally that the agreement should be reviewed.

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