Bunting insists external committee must probe JDF claims

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Bunting insists external committee must probe JDF claims

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 24, 2021

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OPPOSITION spokesperson on national security, Senator Peter Bunting, is not backing down in his call for an external oversight committee to investigate the claims of sexual misconduct at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) that have come to public attention.

Bunting told the Jamaica Observer that it is important to not allow the matter to be a nine-day wonder and clear insight into what is going on within the JDF around this issue is needed.

He was referring to last week's edition of the Sunday Observer lead story that a woman soldier was being victimised and punished under the Defence Act after ending a sexual relationship with a male officer, whilst the officer's charges are incomplete. Bunting had also issued a call for the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) to investigate the matter, but INDECOM says it is not in its remit.

Further, Bunting said whenever the INDECOM Act comes up for review, amendments should be made to explicitly give the body the power to look into matters like this as in militaries around the world sexual harassment and sexual violence remain a prevailing issue.

“In the US military, for example, it has been a growing issue. They have put in place measures to supposedly alleviate this issue but notwithstanding that, it's a growing problem for them. The last Pentagon study they did found that a culture of sexual assaults and sexual harassment persists despite the prevention efforts. They attribute that to the toxic and harassing command cultures that sets the stage for sexual violence. This is not unique to Jamaica or even to the US. It's part of military culture and if we're not very proactive we will allow an environment that is discriminatory to women to persist,” Bunting said.

Meanwhile, Bunting said he is not confident that military law is sufficient to deal with these situations.

“The initial article didn't speak to one incident, it spoke to a culture of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. When you're talking about a cultural issue like that you can't expect the same organisation to correct itself. You must have some external oversight. My own discussion with persons familiar with that culture confirm that it is not a healthy culture with respect to sexual harassment and with respect to gender discrimination. If that persists why should it not be subject to external oversight,” he reasoned.

He maintained that society has come a long way with regards to sensitivity and sense of responsibility and as a result our approaches to settling these issues must be modernised.

“Our very own constitution has adopted a charter of rights since 2011. All these thing must signal the need to modernise and update our approaches even within organisations like the JDF,” Bunting said.


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