Comments by Government Minister Desmond McKenzie at a recent political meeting that talks of “people’s constitutional rights” is impacting the State’s effort to deal with crime have provoked the ire of human rights advocates.
A member of the Advocate Network who speaks on constitutional rights issues, Donna Mattis, said the constant attack on constitutional rights by politicians is very dangerous and borders on authoritarian dictatorship.
McKenzie, the deputy leader for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), addressing Labourites at the JLP’s Area Council One meeting on Sunday in St Andrew, suggested that human rights advocates are only concerned with “criminal” and not the victims of crimes.
“Every time we (government) put one foot forward, we hear them talking about people’s constitutional rights”, the local government and rural development minister stated. “What about the innocent families? What about their rights? Who is going to support the rights of innocent Jamaicans who are murdered by these terrorists?”
Mattis said she finds McKenzie’s statement highly divisive, with the possible ramifications of setting Jamaicans against each other and, more frighteningly, a pushback against human rights groups.
She said if the role of government is to serve all interests and act as a unifier, then statements like McKenzie’s are contradictory.
“This is exploiting the fear among Jamaicans as crime keeps spiralling out of control,” she said, calling it “an attempt to sanction policy by fear”.
She suggested that what is needed is a crime plan that will address the problem but in line with the country’s constitutional provisions.
“They are there to protect our rights and are certainly not ‘niceties’ to be abridged or abrogated,” Mattis said. “Adhering to the principles of our constitution is the function of good governance.
“The constitution is our reference book on how we are to be governed…the Bible of any democratic country. We depend on it. It seems odd that, in recent times, we are using it only at our convenience and wanting to dispense with it at other times,” she said.
The advocate said human rights groups have always maintained that the government and the police must do anything in their power to control crime and lawlessness, but it must be done within the framework of the constitution.
“To make it seem that they are in advocacy for criminals is disingenuous,” she insisted.
Additionally, she said from McKenzie’s statement, the conclusion could be drawn that everyone detained is a criminal.
“Wrong! And if there are criminals among those detained, criminals have rights guaranteed under international law and within our own constitution,” she added.
The educator and advocate said the Advocate Network’s defence of due process is to protect the innocent. She pointed out that individuals are detained without any indication as to when they would be released, and then they are released without being charged, without any course for redress.
“That is one of the concerns of human rights advocates. So, I find Mr McKenzie’s statement quite unfortunate and not complying with good governance,” she said.
In June of this year, the Constitutional Court ruled against aspects of the Emergency Powers Regulations governing earlier versions of SOEs, which were declared unconstitutional. The ruling came out of a case that was brought by St James taxi operator Roshaine Clarke, who was awarded nearly $18 million in damages.
Clarke sued the State after he was detained for seven months during the SOE that was declared for St James in January 2018. Among other things, the court ruled that Clarke’s fundamental right to freedom and liberty had been infringed.