Sat | Feb 22, 2020

No Rasta recompense - Coral Gardens victims waiting in vain two years after PM’s $10m trust fund promise

Published:Monday | September 16, 2019 | 12:12 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
In this 2013 photo, members of the Rastafarian community march in downtown Kingston to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the infamous Coral Gardens Incident. See related story on Page A2.

Two years after Prime Minister Andrew Holness apologised for the State’s role in the 1963 Coral Gardens Massacre and promised compensation to victims and families of the deceased, The Gleaner understands that no money has been disbursed.

Holness, in April 2017 in the House of Representatives, apologised for the killings and announced the establishment of a trust fund of $10 million to compensate the victims.

“(It) was wrong and should never be repeated,” the prime minister said at the time about the 1963 Good Friday attack when the police raided a Rastafarian camp in Coral Gardens, St James, killing eight persons and injuring hundreds.

However, the Government’s decision to withhold the findings of a social enquiry report, which it requested, and which was conducted by the Office of the Public Defender, and submitted in April, appears to be heading to the courts.

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), which has been retained by Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society (RCGBS), says if the Government does not make the report available, it is going to court to get it.

“Shortly after the announcement, the RCGBS retained JFJ to represent the interests of the survivors. JFJ team, headed by attorney Nastassia Robinson, in April 2019, finalised the framework for the trust fund with the Administrator General’s Department and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport,” JFJ said in a response provided to The Gleaner.

“Based on the decision made by Cabinet, the social enquiry report is necessary to establish the formal details in respect of the beneficiaries of the trust fund,” the human-rights entity said, adding that “disbursements are to begin once the public defender’s report has been received by all involved parties”.

JFJ said it is ironic that the Government is withholding from the lobby the report for which it has been asked to provide the framework that would establish compensation to the beneficiaries.

The human-rights body said that in April 2019, the public defender submitted the report to the Office of the Prime Minister.

“However, to date, that report has not been shared with JFJ, the RCGBS, or the Attorney General’s Department. The withholding of this report by the Government has caused serious delays to an already time-sensitive process. Since the announcement of the trust, five of the slated beneficiaries have died, and the health of several others continues to deteriorate,” JFJ said in a response to The Gleaner.

Despite several requests from JFJ and the RCGBS to have the report released, it still remains solely in the hands of the Government. “So at this time, JFJ may have no other option but the courts,” the agency’s Executive Director Rodje Malcolm said.

“The victims of the Coral Gardens Massacre suffered an unimaginable atrocity at the hands of the State. Though decades late, the apology given by the PM and the measures announced to compensate the survivors and their families were a welcome first step.”

However, Malcolm noted that the additional delays were not only disrespectful, but displayed a disregard for the human rights of this long marginalised group. “The Rastafarians whose lives were forever changed on Bad Friday deserve justice and we at JFJ will continue to fight by their side until they receive their due.”