Clarify, please! - JFJ 'puzzled' by Holness' INDECOM review call
The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) law needs to be reviewed, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said, as his administration faces growing public pressure to stem the murder surge that's seen an average seven killings per day in the first half of June.
But one of the more vocal local human-rights groups, Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), says Holness needs to quickly clarify what he means, especially because Parliament reviewed the law in 2015.
"I am a bit puzzled by the statement," JFJ spokesperson Susan Goffe told The Gleaner, even as she welcomed Holness' restated commitment Thursday to human rights.
"I am not sure what it is that the prime minister is contemplating or suggesting needs to happen at this stage."
It's the strongest remark from the head of government on the police oversight body that rank-and-file cops represented by the Jamaica Police Federation have campaigned against since it was established in 2010 under the Bruce Golding administration to respond to allegations of rights violations by the security forces.
Speaking at a crime summit n Kingston, Holness noted that INDECOM's establishment has confronted a police force "that has traditionally relied on strong enforcement strategies" but has been transitioning to become more respectful of human rights.
But, even as he pointed to the "evolution", the prime minister said INDECOM's work has been impacting cops who have complained about being 'afraid' to do their work.
"We don't want to pull back INDECOM, but clearly, INDECOM and the operations of that new piece of legislation need to be reviewed like any other new legislation to ensure that its operations are not an obstacle to law enforcement.
"We have to find the right balance," he argued, "to ensure that criminals don't feel that they can use the existing laws as a way to protect them. Laws protect the innocent. Laws must protect human rights."
COPS FEAR INDECOM
The Police Federation has consistently complained of the fear cops have of INDECOM, which it insists could see criminals escaping because cops do not want to the punished for engaging them. The union, and even senior cops, have lamented the leadership style of the agency's commissioner, Terrence Williams.
Holness' call for the review of the INDECOM law follows Justice Minister Delroy Chuck's disclosure to this newspaper earlier this month that the Government has rejected a proposal to set up a non-executive review board.
The proposal was among several settled on by a parliamentary committee that reviewed INDECOM in 2015. Chuck said amendments to the law based on the review are being drafted.
The JFJ spokesperson said she won't speculate on whether the proposed review could lead to a weakened INDECOM, but added that: "The gist of that report was towards the strengthening of INDECOM."
There have been more than 630 murders so far this year, 19 per cent more than the figure last year this time. The situation has heightened public fears and forced a statement to Parliament Tuesday by the security minister, Robert Montague, who has been criticised for telling Jamaicans in a radio interview not to be "overly concerned".
- Additional reporting by Paul Clarke