We welcome the unprecedented move by the Government of inviting public comment on its draft terms of reference for the proposed commission of enquiry into the west Kingston state of emergency in 2010 during which at least 76 civilians died.
But we urge Sir Patrick Allen, the governor general, in whom is vested the authority to establish commissions of enquiry and to appoint their commissioners, to take a keen interest in this matter.
He must not allow, through an abrogation of responsibility, the proposed enquiry to become a partisan political spectacle or campaign tool. There are not many things in the draft with which this newspaper would take exception. However, we are aware of the opportunity provided for political mischief-making, such as whether the partial subject of the enquiry, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, was in contact with officials of the then Government during the Tivoli operation.
Ultimately, what this enquiry ought to be about is whether institutions that are critical to Jamaica's democracy cracked during a period of stress and, if that is the case, what is to be done to restore confidence in them.
Extend deadline for public comment
Further, we propose that the 10 days being provided for the public to comment on the terms of reference be extended by a further 21 days and that the administration vigorously encourage the public's involvement, especially in communities that were particularly affected by the events of May 2010.
The basis of this proposed enquiry was the effort by the island's security forces to arrest, for extradition to the United States, Coke the notorious mobster and influential figure on the periphery of Jamaican politics.
It is conventional wisdom that Coke's supporters barricaded themselves in his west Kingston redoubt of Tivoli Gardens and had provoked confrontation with the security forces by burning police stations. Police officers were also killed elsewhere in the capital, many believe, by Coke's supporters.
Claims of extrajudicial killings
The security forces claim that the civilians who died in the subsequent operation to retake Tivoli Gardens and restore the authority of the Jamaican state died in firefights. Earl Witter, the public defender, in a partial report on his investigation of the incident, suggests that there were many cases of extrajudicial killings.
It is important that the truth be known, including whether our police and soldiers acted ultra vires of the Constitution that guarantees citizens, except in a few specific circumstances, their right to life.
In this search for the truth, uncomfortable, potentially institution-shaking facts may emerge. What, however, must not happen is that rumour and innuendo be allowed to supersede facts. Neither must the actions or behaviour of some residents stand as proxy for an entire community.
In that regard, Sir Patrick must ensure that the commissioners do not share the cerebral somnolence of the previous Coke/Tivoli commission, chaired by Emile George into the previous Government's mishandling of the extradition of Coke and the commingling of government/state and party affairs.
Though truths may have emerged from those hearings, the findings - to be charitable to the chairman and his fellow commissioners - embarrassed even their poor effort. That ought not to be the case again.
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