Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Ian Boyne | ZOSO: time for action

Published:Sunday | September 3, 2017 | 9:00 AM

On January 8, The Gleaner published my most controversial column of the year, titled 'Is Holness tough enough?' in reference to crime. The firestorm ignited was so intense that by the next day, the paper was forced to publish a front-page, lead story titled, 'Boyne under fire'. Predictably, human-rights fundamentalists were outraged.

The prime minister, in his New Year's message, had said that he would be "creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it is absent and to separate criminals from communities they have captured". I thought it was an excellent idea. "We will be creating under this framework," he continued, "zones where the security forces and other government agencies will be able to conduct special long-term operations in high-crime areas, including extensive searches for guns and contraband".

Go for it, I was saying. But I asked whether Holness was tough enough to take on the very powerful and very vocal human-rights lobby, which has reflexive support in our media. The prime minister said in that New Year's message: "I believe the Jamaican people are now prepared and expectant of firm and decisive action in breaking the neck of the crime monster once and for all." I wrote in that controversial column, "Mr Prime Minister, they have been ready for a long, long time. It is our elite which has not been ready, using sophistry and obfuscation to escape crystal-clear conclusions: We are at war with criminals."

Now, 1,005 murders later, all the vociferous groups and influential media voices are finally ready and are pleading for the zones of special operations. The first, Mount Salem, was declared last Friday morning. Did it really have to take so many Jamaican lives for us to reach consensus that we need these zones of special operations, where some civil liberties would be suspended to save lives and liberate communities from criminal control? Did thousands of Jamaicans have to mourn the loss of loved ones; did so many children have to grieve for their mothers and fathers for us to see editorials clamouring for these zones to be declared; and for the Opposition People's National Party to be urging the Government to declare the first zone? Did we have to sacrifice so many lives?

The prime minister said: "I have been around the country and everywhere I go the cry is the same: Deal with the criminals. I no longer detect an ambivalence." I had written in that January 8 column: "There was never any ambivalence with the people, Mr Prime Minister. The problem was with our elite who are out of touch with people's everyday realities ... ."

 

Committed to human rights

 

No one can ever say this prime minister has not bent over backward, forward and sideways to appease human-rights activists. I think he himself is committed to human-rights protection. Genuinely. We all should be. My issue has never been with human-rights activism. I distinguish between human-rights fundamentalism and advocacy per se.

My point has been that preventative detention and search without warrant - which are both facilitated in this special zones of operations legislation - are constitutionally justifiable in our circumstances. The most fundamental human right is the right to life. The Jamaican Constitution (Section 13) allows that where it is "demonstrably justified", the Jamaican State can abrogate, abridge and infringe rights. Human-rights purists overlook that fact and talk nonsense about any infringement of civil liberties being necessarily unconstitutional.

But there are balanced, sharp and well-thinking human-rights activists - whose learning and advocacy credentials can never be questioned - who disagree with these fundamentalists. Former acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu, in an insightful In Focus article titled, 'Rights can be proportionately infringed', says of Section 13 of our Constitution: "What we have here is a provision that confers on the State a right to encroach on our rights ... . This short and oftentimes forgotten provision offers, to an extent, the answer to Mr Boyne's critics."

The fearless human-rights defender goes on to say: "I am awfully perplexed by those persons who give the impression that all rights are absolute. Our Constitution does not prescribe rights as being absolute."

Mukulu concludes: "There will come a time in the country when the rights that citizens enjoy, the qualified ones, must be infringed upon and curtailed." This will happen whenever a zone is declared, but if people get to keep their lives from would-be murderers, I say that's not a bad bargain.

I am sure those 1,005 persons slaughtered since the beginning of the year when I wrote my column calling for these zones would have happily bargained for their lives over their right not to have their homes or cars searched without a warrant. They would have rather seen some criminals detained rather than have them snuff out their lives.

The people themselves in these communities are now begging for the zones. Cliff Hughes, himself a relentless and ardent critic of our security forces, has been carrying the anguished voices of scared and terrorised residents pleading for the security forces to come rescue them from hardened and heartless murderers. Grass-roots people know the oppression of criminal control. It's uptown people in their gated communities and with their own firearms and security apparatuses who can spout human-rights fundamentalist drivel.

 

Time for action

 

The prime minister has waited long enough. He has listened enough, consulted enough, and made enough concessions. It is time now to act to save some lives - in Mount Salem and elsewhere. In meeting with the hierarchy of the Jamaica Constabulary Force last week, Mr Holness said, "A key indicator of the success of the zones is that there must be no murders in areas where you have control over."

When people ask me what difference these zones will make, I tell them when security forces, including the feared soldiers, swarm an area and have it under their control, murderers cannot roam freely. Dem haffi run, or face serious fire.

For those citizens whose human rights are violated by dons and shottas, they welcome security forces' presence so they can sleep, study and have family worship in peace. They don't have to fear sending out their 12-year-old girls (and boys) to dons. Their friends can visit them outside of curfew hours (and in those zones, incidentally, people won't be under permanent curfews.) People can go to church and have their lovers visit them and stay late.

The Government has been stressing human-rights protection. But human beings are prone to indiscipline and a lack of emotional control. I urge the security forces to respect people's rights.

People don't want to swap criminal oppression for state oppression. They don't want to escape the rule of shottas for the rule of security forces personnel who abuse their rights and act as state criminals. Respect the residents. It's not just criminals who live in areas that will be declared zones of special operations. Don't assume that every youth in cut-up pants and streetwear is a criminal.

The security forces must know that there are those just wishing and hoping that they will do something wrong. There are people just thirsting to get some juicy news about citizen abuse and security forces excess. Disappoint them. It must be possible to separate criminals from their communities without violating people's rights. Security personnel must learn to take abuse and insults.

The commanders must take the strongest action against any member of the security forces who abuses anyone. There must be absolutely no tolerance for abuse and trampling of citizens' rights.

The media and human-rights activists have done a marvellous job in sensitising the society about state abuse of human rights. Our human-rights lobby has played an important role in highlighting abuses and corruption in security forces. I have never opposed them for this. I have opposed their unbalanced views.

Human-rights advocacy has made Jamaica a better place. The zones of special operations must not fail. If they do, dog nyam wi supper.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.