Protocols needed for states of emergency - Bert Samuels
Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels is convinced that the human rights abuses suffered by Jamaicans during the 2010 police-military operation in Tivoli Gardens were meted out because of a lack of experience among the security forces in dealing with states of emergency.
It is for this reason that Samuels has called for protocols to be established for how the police and military deal with property and life during a state of emergency.
"What is the protocol for taking over property? There is no system to deal with the state of emergency where these great powers are given to the police and that's the fallout. How do you expect my clients to respect the police force and the work of the force during the state of emergency when she has not ... been compensated for the occupation of her building by the soldiers and police for three weeks," he said.
Pointing to the experience of some of his clients, while participating in a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last week at the newspaper's downtown Kingston offices, to examine the recommendations of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry report, Samuels argued that no proper account has been made for citizens' properties and stock items, which were taken over by the security forces during the state of emergency.
"My client ... had a building opposite to Tivoli ... all their phone cards went. There is no accountability as to what they found there and what was left when the police extracted themselves. So what I think is needed is that we have to look at the input that goes into the police force because if you don't understand the rights of the citizen when you have the power to take over, then you would want to know that all your stock and property is secured," he explained.
According to Samuels, more needs to be done to increase awareness on the rights of citizens during states of emergency among members of the police and military. This, he said, is needed because of the limited experience of the security forces in dealing with states of emergency.
There have been a total of five declarations of states of emergency since Jamaica's Independence. The first was declared in October of 1966 in response to outbursts of political gang violence in troubled zones. The 1976 declaration, during which a general election was held, was in force for eight months and 10 days, the longest in Jamaica's history, and was in response to increased violence across the country. The 2004 and 2007 states of emergency were instituted as a result of hurricanes Ivan and Dean, respectively.
Five years on from the 2010 state of emergency, which lasted for 61 days, the impact on the lives of citizens continues to be felt.
"The problem I am having is that a state of emergency is a very contained period of time. We don't have much experience in how we should administer it because with the lack of education, there are police officers in the force who have never operated in a state of emergency and they take it as a blank cheque to go in, and there is now an ultimate disregard for life," he said.