Fri | Jan 22, 2021

'No brutality' - Holness promises doors won't be broken down with new crime law

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson and Paul Clarke
Prime Minister Andrew Holness
Major Basil Jarrett

Jamaicans will not be brutalised and have their properties destroyed in the old-style that has characterised operations by the security forces, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has declared as he continues to sell the value of legislation to make some areas special zones in the anti-crime fight.

"When we go into some of these communities to implement the zones of special operations, we're not going to kick off anybody's door or beat up anybody's girl child. No," Holness said last night, highlighting a feature of the proposed zones of special operations law, which will involve committees made up of Government's social agencies accompanying the police and soldiers in targeted communities.

Holness told a Jamaica Labour Party meeting in St Catherine South Central that he met with the National Security Council yesterday for nearly six hours to refine the implementation of the bill, which has been criticised by the Opposition as unnecessary and by members of the human rights community who fear the abuse of citizens' rights and the concentration of power in politicians' hands.

Holness reiterated that while there are issues of inequality and poverty afflicting the nation, those cannot be used to engage in criminality.

"Poverty may be the reason, but poverty is not an excuse. The law is not going to excuse you because you are poor. That would be unfair to the majority of people who are poor who choose not to get involved in crime."

The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is viewing the impending passage of the Zones of Special Operations Act as a potentially massive step towards arresting the runaway gun violence ripping communities apart.

A part of the preparation that Holness spoke about yesterday includes ensuring that members of the JDF are trained to deal with the civilian population.

Basil Jarrett, civil military cooperation and media affairs officer for the army, told The Gleaner yesterday that given what will be asked of soldiers under the proposed law, it is important that JDF personnel be made aware of the importance of human rights in dealing with citizens.

"You will have to remember that our soldiers are not used to this sort of thing, so we will need some time to prepare them, and one of the most important pieces of preparation that we have to do in the next couple of weeks is that of the human rights training on awareness.

"Not that we (JDF) have a human rights issue, but being in an area for such a long time, where you'll be acting under a whole new dispensation, we not only want to remind, but also reinforce to our soldiers as to what their human rights obligation ought to be," Jarrett said.

The Holness Government has been under pressure to respond to a 20 per cent increase in murders so far this year when compared with the similar period last year.

For last week alone, unofficial reports put the number of persons killed at 12, with more than 15 persons, including women and children, left nursing gunshot wounds in a wide-scale outbreak of violence that has touched most inner-city communities.

The special zones bill was approved in the Senate on Friday with 13 changes. It will have to go back to the House of Representatives for approval before becoming law.

Holness is pushing for the enactment of the legislation before Parliament breaks for its summer holiday this month end.

According to Jarrett, the law will help in the hunt for gunmen and their illegal weapons and ammunition caches.

"Even now, as bad as it may seem, because guns are not (being seized or turned in) as much as we would like them to be, the presence of the security forces in the communities is making a difference, so I can see when and if the zones are called for, that it will be a difference maker," he reasoned.