The cash crunch being faced by Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) should trouble every citizen who understands the importance of protecting human rights and ending abuse.
Since an estimated 38 per cent of Jamaicans have no sense of what human rights really mean, the value of the work being undertaken by JFJ and other such rights groups may not be readily appreciated.
However, the work of these volunteers reflects a wholehearted commitment to better the lives of their fellow citizens, and it takes much time, energy and spirit to accomplish this.
It was revealed, during JFJ's recent annual general meeting, that failure to secure a $35-million international grant within the next few months could lead to JFJ slashing some of the services it now offers. That would be a tragedy for this organisation, which should be seeking to expand its services rather than contract them.
Free legal advice and representation is among the greatest calls on JFJ's budget. Despite the fact that there is a Legal Aid Clinic and a public defender, it seems that there are still so many cases where people are denied justice. Therefore, the advocacy of JFJ and like organisations is critical to strengthening the voices of the weak in the face of injustice.
Fulfilling a need
It is the incapacity of the country to provide its hard-pressed citizens with justice that gives rise to organisations such as JFJ, and so many of them peter out for lack of funding.
Local companies and individuals should be prepared to fill the resource gap left by international bodies that obviously have more demand than they can possibly respond to. JFJ, too, should be thinking of creative ways in which to raise funds. For example, civic-minded Jamaicans could be encouraged to make the celebration of milestones like anniversaries and birthdays more meaningful by making donations to JFJ.
Bringing the concept of human and constitutional rights to life and making them a reality in the hearts and minds of more Jamaicans requires specialist education. Training will hopefully foster meaningful and sustainable community-driven changes. Thus, JFJ has been conducting workshops in communities and working with schools to advance this education. But these services do not come cheaply, as the executive director, Dr Carolyn Gomes, explained to the meeting.
Revise business model
It is inevitable that for JFJ to survive, it will need to rethink its business model because it has no guaranteed source of revenue.
The important thing is to keep true to its mission while making the necessary adjustments to access funding for its operations.
Many arms of Government remain callous and brutal in dealing with poor citizens of this country, so it is important that JFJ remain a viable organisation. In the international arena, Jamaica's image has been tarnished by continued violations of citizens' rights, including contempt for the dignity of people in prisons; abandonment of the poor by the justice system; sexual crimes against women and children; extrajudicial killings and discrimination.
If all JFJ does is to call attention to these abuses and demand remedial action, the country would have been well served. Of course, JFJ does so much more.
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