Sat | Dec 10, 2016

The cost and value of West Kgn commission of enquiry

Published:Monday | February 2, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Jermaine McCalpin, Contributor

THE COST of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry has now taken away the focus from the conduct and proceedings and placed it on economics.

While the cost cannot be ignored and should not be brushed aside, it is clear that the commission will continue. However, I want to balance the focus on cost with a focus on value, the potential value of this commission of enquiry.

I believe that the present and future value of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry and others yet formed has to be based on how well they achieve not just their stated goals but the international human-rights standards for public inquiries.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, there are six mains goals of a commission of inquiry. Ultimately, how this commission conducts itself and what it concludes will determine its real value.

The most important goal of any commission of enquiry, according to the council, is that it establishes accountability for violations that have taken place, ensuring that those responsible for violations are brought to justice. Given the terms of reference of the present commission, only part of this is even within its remit. Clause J seeks to inquire into "whether the rights of any person or persons were violated ..., whose rights were violated, and the manner and extent of such violations and by whom ...".

In essence, the commission will only probe half of the most important goal. There is nothing in its terms of reference to ensure that anyone is brought to justice. This should be the primary raison d'etre of the commission; to bring to justice those responsible, and to render justice to victims.

If the cost of the commission cannot be decreased, its value to Jamaica can only be increased by making recommendations in keeping with accountability and justice.

The second goal is to establish, impartially, whether violations of human rights law and/or humanitarian law have occurred: to investigate whether or not violations are systematic and widespread. The present commission appears low on value here, primarily because Clause J, which deals with violations, does not link these violations to human rights or humanitarian law.

political gymnastics

Importantly, commissions of enquiry are also established to report on a state's ability to deal with the violations. The political gymnastics where both parties want to "sanctify" their responses concerning West Kingston is tragic.

To be clear, it does not matter whether West Kingston is a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)-dominated constituency that was entered into by the police and military, authorised by a JLP prime minister. West Kingston is a constituency of Jamaica and not a breakaway republic. It should be clear the Government of Jamaica (of which the then People's National Party (PNP) opposition was a part) authorised the operation into Tivoli. The then prime minister acted on behalf of the Government of Jamaica, Jamaica has not yet reached a one-party state. The JLP should, however, be reminded that they had an opportunity to initiate a meaningful inquiry into the West Kingston operation, they squandered this away with a tepid Manatt-Dudus Commission of Enquiry that did not deal with the human-rights violations of the people of West Kingston.

The PNP should also be reminded that when one inherits political office, they inherit the obligations that accompany the office. They cannot proclaim that they did not authorise the operations into Tivoli, so they have no moral duty to render justice for victims. The Government, however configured, has an obligation to adequately deal with the violations of human rights.

Fourth, commissions of enquiry are to highlight the root causes of the situation. The present commission has an opportunity to add value to our political development by properly documenting some of the root causes of the situation. This requires a historical contextualisation that goes beyond the notion that the operation was conducted to "capture the fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. Particularly, the commission, in its report, needs to be courageous and resolute in stating what were the root causes and not just trigger factors of the May 2010 operations. That expansive but stereotypical word 'garrison' has to be properly situated into their analysis.

A valuable commission of enquiry, fifth, suggests ways of moving forward. This, unlike the previous goals, can only be properly assessed or valuated once the commission presents its report. The charge is that the report should not be an "endless parade of cliches and empty barrel pronouncements".

It must be, how do we as one nation, irrespective of party preference, social class or other identities, move forward in restoring the nation-building project on the road to progress? It must call all Jamaicans to learn from the past rather than just remind us about the past. Even more value can be added by the commission if it really suggests ways forward to secure against a repetition of such actions by state forces.

Finally, a valuable commission of enquiry produces a historical record of events that have occurred. We must endeavour to be on the right side of history by ensuring that the historical record includes all sides of the story. It must not leave the residents of West Kingston even more vulnerable and voiceless. The military and police and all others must be heard from. We also need to hear of the role of the United States in all aspects of the West Kingston operation. Ultimately, it is the fulfilment of these goals that would have eclipsed the cost of the commission by providing lasting value to Jamaica, one Jamaica.

Dr Jermaine McCalpin is a political scientist in the Department of Government, University of the West Indies, Mona campus. He specialises in truth commissions and commissions of enquiry.