Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Editorial | PM should take apology further

Published:Friday | December 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM

States are not abstract ideas, nor are they ethereal entities of amorphous bodies. They operate with real institutions that have agency and, critically, are run by life-and-blood people. At their apex are governments that provide states with their direction.

This is the backdrop against which we note Prime Minister Andrew Holness' apology for the 2010 security operation in West Kingston he called it in an incursion in which at least 69 persons died and was the subject of a major, and often politically charged, commission of enquiry.

The commission, led by the Barbadian jurist, David Simmons, concluded that at least 20, or 27 per cent, of those deaths and perhaps more were the result of extrajudicial killings by members of the security forces, some of whom, notwithstanding the necessity of the operation, used "disproportionate, unjustified and unjustifiable" force.

It is against that backdrop that they recommended, with which this newspaper concurred, an apology from the Government "to the people of West Kingston, and Jamaica as a whole, for the excesses of the security forces during the operation". It was a way to help in healing the psychological and emotional scars left by the events of May 2010.

 

'Process of healing'

 

"The process of healing," Mr Holness remarked in the apology he delivered in Parliament on Wednesday, "comes not so much from apportioning blame, but from the understanding that violence and conflict make victims of everyone involved."

That maxim may be substantially correct, but hardly the whole truth at least not in most circumstances. Healing usually also insists upon accountability, which is an acknowledgement of wrong and a foundation of the restorative justice in which Sir David grounded his recommendation. In the absence of accountability, people, including states and their agents, such as those who, according to Mr Holness, sometimes "undermine the rule of law that protects citizens", are prone to repeat their mistakes. It is against that backdrop that we perceive a gap in Mr Holness' formal statement of apology, for which any subsequent rectification would not carry the same weight.

The West Kingston operation was not without context. It was to deliver an arrest and extradition warrant on the gangster and community don Christopher Coke in his redoubt of Tivoli Gardens. There is context here, too.

Tivoli Gardens is in West Kingston, the heartland of support for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). And West Kingston, the constituency represented by Mr Holness' two most recent predecessors as JLP leader, is, in politics that often juxtaposes constitutional niceties and enforcing muscle, headquarters of the JLP's Praetorian force. Mr Coke wasn't just any other gangster.

For nine months, the government of the day, on the claim of protecting Coke's constitutional rights, resisted America's request for Coke's extradition. Indeed, the JLP hired a US firm to lobby the US government against the extradition and, as a separate commission of enquiry into that affair, there was an intermingling of government and ruling party efforts in that matter. When the government finally bowed to domestic and international pressure to allow Coke's extradition, the matter was so badly handled that Coke had time to reinforce his Tivoli Gardens garrison and had a large militia present to engage the security forces.

Prime Minister Holness, though not then its leader, was part of the Cabinet that sat at the apex of the Jamaican State, on whose behalf he apologised on Wednesday.

There is no question of the sincerity with which he did so to the Jamaican people. But that was for events in West Kingston.

It would have carried greater weight, and the PM would have gained immediate moral ascendancy, if, in the same statement, without prompting or an addendum, he had expressed specific regret, absent of circumlocution, for how the Cabinet of the day handled the Coke extradition. He can still do so.