EDITORIAL - Prime advocate

Published: Wednesday | December 4, 2013 Comments 0

It is not often that a seemingly relative routine job change is cause for comment in these columns. Nor is it often that an individual so defines an organisation that it becomes an embodiment of his or her character.

Carolyn Gomes, who has resigned as executive director of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), and the organisation of which she was an integral part for 14 years, are examples of this phenomenon. On balance, Jamaica is better for it. They brought a new dimension to human-rights advocacy.

It ought not to be surprising that JFJ and Dr Gomes' name - and, perhaps, personality - are so intertwined. After all, JFJ had its genesis, and Gomes her transformation from family physician to human-rights campaigner, when she witnessed a policeman shooting dead an alleged criminal on the compound where she worked. Indeed, she was the JFJ's first chairman and served as its executive director for 11 years.

PERFECT TIMING

JFJ and Dr Gomes were neither the first organisation nor individual to passionately promote the cause of human rights in Jamaica, especially of poor people, who are more likely to be the ones to have their rights infringed. Many years before the JFJ, the Jamaica Council for Human Rights existed, and people like Flo O'Connor and Dennis Daley maintained a mostly lonely advocacy.

But a confluence of circumstances was advantageous to the timing of JFJ's and Dr Gomes' emergence. By the end of the 1990s, the diminishing trust of Jamaicans in politicians and political parties and the institutions of the State - not least the police - was apparent.

The suffocation of detainees in a badly overcrowded cell at the Constant Spring lock-up had already taken place, and the beating to death of Michael Gayle by members of the security forces was about to happen. Meanwhile, there was an explosion of media in Jamaica.

Dr Gomes and JFJ exploited these developments to their cause. But that would be too easy an explanation for the JFJ-Carolyn Gomes phenomenon; trite even.

SWITCH TURNED ON

The larger factor, in our view, is that the shooting incident turned on a switch somewhere deep inside her - she believed. Jamaicans, especially the poor, deserved better and a right to demand what was guaranteed by their Constitution.

Dr Gomes appreciated something else in this environment of the mushrooming of media - that it could be co-opted to her cause. She spoke often, and loudly, and in a language and with cadences that merged her in medium and message.

At times, especially early on, she may have been perceived to be politically partisan, or to be insensitive to the pain of victims and perpetrators of crime. The presumption of partisanship may, in some instances, have been evidence of zealousness and the fact that there was nothing against which to judge her. Further, there was an appreciation, as was the case with the advocates before her, that no one's rights are safe if the rights of anyone can be usurped.

Dr Gomes' move to an organisation that promotes the rights of, and support for, victims of HIV/AIDS may well be less hectic. But given the past evidence of Dr Gomes' energy and capacity to raise the decibel on issues about which she is passionate, we are likely to soon hear a lot about the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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