Public defender still has SOE human rights concerns

Public defender still has SOE human rights concerns

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

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WHILE conceding that improvements have been made in the conditions of detainees under the ongoing states of public emergency (SOEs), the Office of the Public Defender is insisting that it is far from satisfied as the rights of individuals are still being violated.

“Yes, our minister made mention of the improvements; there have been some but there are still quite a bit of human rights issues that are of deep concern to the Office of the Public Defender,” investigator in the Office of the Public Defender, Yvonne Smith, told individuals yesterday during the observation of Human Rights Day 2019, under the theme 'Youth Standing up for Human Rights', at Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.

Smith, who was speaking on behalf of Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry, made the comment moments after Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, in an earlier address, said “…notwithstanding the states of emergency right across parishes in Jamaica, apart from the initial complaints of poor conditions, we have heard no further complaints”.

Chuck said: “I am aware that the public defender has been to several of these lock-up areas and can confirm that we are doing everything to ensure that the human rights of the detainees are protected.”

But, according to the public defender, this is not entirely the case.

“Indeed, our youth should be mindful that arbitrary detention, while it may be practised under the state of public emergency, is not supported by any law in Jamaica and may well be an illegal act that can be challenged. Our youth should also appreciate that they have every right to agitate, within the law, against arbitrary detention,” Smith said, adding that the office “continues to be a voice of dissent against any breach of human rights”.

In the meantime, she warned youth in attendance that they were not to see themselves as insulated from the effects of the provisions.

“Think, too, about the consequences of states of public emergencies for our youths if they fail to take a stand for human rights. Examine, too, the practice of detention under the various states of emergency and zones of special operations now in play.

“Having been one that goes out to investigate, it is quite disheartening sometimes to see young men — some of who [were] coming from work — being detained, being put in a place with other persons, leaving their families and children unattended. Some of you young men and women within this room could experience it. You are not immune,” Smith cautioned.

According to Smith, any review of the available data will confirm that a majority of the individuals detained, or taken in for processing, are youth.

There are currently SOEs in place in the parishes of St James (which includes Montego Bay), Hanover, Westmoreland, Clarendon, St Catherine, and part of St Andrew.

The Government has also put in place a number of zones of special operations (ZOSOs). These are currently active in Denham Town in Kingston and Mount Salem in Montego Bay.

The measures of both the SOEs and ZOSOs allow the military to support the police in joint security operations, in response to recent violence and shooting incidents.

The ZOSOs, which were first introduced in 2017, formed part of the State's response to the increase in murders then.

Since the introduction of the measures, concerns have been raised about the experience of detainees under the SOEs, who were reportedly made to sleep on concrete, fed poor diets and faced diseases because of poor hygienic conditions. Alarm was also raised over the detention of children and youth, who were held in less than ideal conditions.

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