Ministry seeks answers about treatment of J'can fishermen

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (MFAFT) reiterated yesterday that it has no record of any complaint from the Jamaican fishermen seeking redress from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) since a 2017 incident in Haitian waters.

However, in a release following a preliminary statement made in the Senate on Friday by the minister, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, the ministry said that enquiries will be made regarding the procedures followed by the US Coast Guard (USCG) in its cooperative efforts to address regional maritime security challenges.

Noting that “public discourse” has raised the question of the circumstances under which the men were arrested and deported to Jamaica, the ministry said that it has already started discussions with the US Embassy in Jamaica in this regard.

According to the ministry, its records reflect that in 2017 a waiver of jurisdiction was requested and granted, pursuant to the 1997 agreement between the United States and Jamaica concerning Cooperation in Suppressing Illicit Maritime Drug Trafficking/the Maritime Drug Trafficking (Suppression) Act 1998. These arrangements are usually referred to in the public as 'the Ship Rider Agreement'.

The ministry noted that four of the five men arrested in such circumstances in 2017 have now been identified as the people bringing the case against the USCG for mistreatment.

The ministry stated that standard protocols under the Ship Rider Agreement were followed, in that the waiver was granted, based on information provided to the Government regarding suspicion of trafficking in contraband, the location of the vessel, the Jamaican registration of the vessel and nationality of the crew.

However, the waiver was granted on condition that: the health of the Jamaican citizens were guaranteed; the men would have a right to consular access and representation, in keeping with international law as well as US domestic law, unless they expressly declined to avail themselves of these rights, and the men would have the right to legal representation in any criminal cases in the United States.

“We wish to assure the people of Jamaica that its Government will always seek to ensure that where it is established that human rights violations have occurred, there is justice for our citizens. The Government also values its partnerships which seek to address our very real capacity issues, in stemming the scourge of the illicit activities carried out in our surrounding waters,” the ministry stated.

“We do so, however, in anticipation that international standards will apply to the arrests, detentions and prosecutions thereunder. These remain our underpinning expectations,” the statement concluded.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Washington, DC, and a law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, last Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the US Coast Guard, seeking damages on behalf of four of the fishermen whom they reported were secretly detained without due process at sea in inhumane conditions on four coast guard ships for some 32 days. No information about the fifth person has been available.

According to a Florida Southern District Court affidavit from at least one of the Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) agent who was involved in the arrest of the men, they were eventually charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute some 613 pounds of marijuana, which the coast guard claimed was thrown overboard by the Jamaican crew after their boat was sighted some 12 nautical miles south-west of Navassa Island, on September 24, 2017. They were deported to Jamaica in 2018 after being jailed for some 10 months.

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