Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Abrogating, abridging and infringing not the answer

Published:Thursday | July 14, 2016 | 7:00 AM

It's frightening that so many of our current and former leaders are always so eager to propose and/or endorse the violation of people's rights - supposedly to solve crime and violence. One would expect that by now, they would appreciate (or at least understand) that abrogating, abridging and infringing people's rights will not address crime and violence. In fact, that is the very reason we are in this predicament, because successive governments do not prioritise the protection of human rights and have therefore allowed, to an extent, the contravention of rights to continue unabated.

The rhetoric from some parliamentarians is laden with ignorance and is palpably dangerous. I reckon we are so comfortable to proffer these measures because, as a friend said, "Those [of us] who won't be inconvenienced or wrongly charged will harp on about the abrogation of rights being the right path for us to fight crime". If that was not the case, there wouldn't even be a whiff of consensus to the proposal which, in my humble opinion, is a blatant attempt to abdicate responsibility for the Government's seeming ineptitude.

All this tough talking about solving crime is a smokescreen. If you look at the record, that's all we have been doing over the years when we think crime is out of control - talking tough. As Rodje Malcolm, the advocacy manager at Jamaicans for Justice, said, "We have cause for concern when decision-makers are proposing legislation out of panic, especially one of dubious empirical basis. Based on police crime statistics at June, crime is actually down by roughly 20 per cent. Only murders and shootings were slightly increased."

 

NO DRASTIC MEASURES NECESSARY

 

It might, therefore, be helpful if our leaders challenge themselves (we know how difficult this might be) to recognise and accept that there is absolutely no need to sanction the abuse of rights to 'solve' crime and violence. All that is required is the Government taking responsibility for its (in)action and moving with alacrity to address the issue through the implementation of the many plans that we have developed over the years. As Malcolm pointed out, "It's illogical that the Government, in the same statement, can recognise that we have faced 'implementation and enforcement deficits', their words, but insist that the only way to respond to crime is to abrogate basic human rights. We should aim to plug implementation gaps first. Crime statistics for the past five years show that substantial reductions in crime have been achieved without emergency measures. To be clear: We absolutely must do something about crime, but don't confuse something with anything."

I find it rather shameful that our leaders continue to exploit people's fears and insatiable appetite for draconian measures to rid us of the social maladies that exist in our society. Have we forgotten about the 'legacy' of abuses in pretrial detention that some human rights defenders have been complaining about over the years? Did we not learn anything from what happened to Mario Deane, who was reportedly denied bail unlawfully?

I wholeheartedly agree with Malcolm: "It should shock the public conscience that the stated spirit of pending legislation is the abrogation and infringement of human rights. That should never be the legislative spirit of a government. The public needs specific details on the seven stated laws to be amended, and must be involved in robust consultations. We can't simply be notified afterwards that our rights have been snatched."

I commend to all parliamentarians, as well as journalists and social commentators who are overly excited about these proposed tough measures, to research on the Government's obligations to respect human rights.

The Government's responsibility is "to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights". Importantly, the Government must recognise that in whatever they do, they have an obligation to "refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights". It means, therefore, that "The obligation to protect requires [the Government] to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses [and its] obligation to fulfil means that [they] must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights".

We must ensure the Government never lose sight of this mandate. Let us remain resolute in our stance and spare no effort in lowering the level of crime and violence in our country. However, notwithstanding our concerns, anger and anxiety, let us caution about the fallacy that it is now necessary to abridge, abrogate, and infringe rights to solve crime.

• Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.