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Stabroek News

Human rights in paradise
published: Friday | November 28, 2008

Our parliamentarians have used their consciences and most have voted to resume hanging.

So, six months from now, when the number of murders increases further, what are they going to do? Are they going to arm the security forces and send them out to shoot down all suspected murderers and gunmen in the streets? Oh, I forgot, we are doing that already!

No solution

If the fear of being shot down in the streets by the police is not deterring murderers, I cannot see how the fear of being apprehended by the police, being brought to trial, convicted and hung from the neck until dead, is going to deter anyone from committing murder, especially if witnesses have to be found to testify in court.

I do not see how the 'conscience vote', last Tuesday, has taken us any closer to solving our high murder rate.

I must say that I had hoped for better but did not expect it. Remember, these are more or less the same people who voted (I assume they used their consciences then also) to exempt party political activists from ever facing the hangman (capital murder), and we all know that a lot of violence in Jamaica is politically motivated.

These are more or less the same cast of characters, which voted to exempt policemen from ever facing the hangman, even though we have probably the highest rate of police killings in the world.


Judging from past voting performance, our parliamentarians do not support the death penalty for their political cronies and henchmen, nor for the agents of the State, the security forces.

I leave it to you to work out who they support the death penalty for.

I heartily congratulate Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of Jamaicans For Justice, on receiving the 2008 United Nations Award for Human Rights.

She advocates the protection of ordinary Jamaicans whose human rights are being threatened by agents of the Jamaican state.

I would never expect the Jamaican state to honour her for her work, which fundamentally challenges them.

Our local prophets - working for human rights and for the conservation of our natural environment - are not without honour, except in their own country.

Previous recipients of the UN Human Rights Award include Nelson Mandela, who advocated against apartheid in South Africa, and Dr Martin Luther King, who advocated against racism and segregation in the United States.

I hope you realise that the award Dr Gomes has received says as much about her sterling work as about the human rights situation here in Jamaica. It is not possible to win such an award for your work in paradise! In this sense, her award is consistent with the 'conscience vote' in parliament last Tuesday.

Moral leadership

When Nelson Mandela became the first post-apartheid president of South Africa, he might have been excused if he made sure that the killers of Steve Biko and so many others paid the supreme penalty for their violent racism. Instead, he abolished the death penalty (which the white racists had put in place under apartheid).

Dr Martin Luther King advocated non-violence as the way to achieve his dream of racial quality in the US.

These two men are very special because they provided moral leadership. By their words and their example, they changed the world.

I believe that most Jamaicans have a dream for Jamaica. That one day we will have racial equality; that one day the apartheid in our education system will come to an end and that children, who go to primary schools, will be able to achieve as much as children who go to prep schools.


That one day there will be equality before the law, so that all law-breakers, from whatever background, will be brought to equal justice; that one day we will all work together to achieve sustained sustainable development, so that future generations will be able to enjoy the same healthy, natural environment, which previous generations did.

These dreams seem so far away. Where is the quality leadership?

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon.

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