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The Commission of Enquiry – daytime drama?

Published:Tuesday | October 21, 2014 | 11:15 PM

There is a lot of banter about The Commission of Enquiry into the May 2010 West incursion, which is expected to commence in a couple weeks. Already, people are eagerly anticipating another daytime drama as was the Manatt-Phelps and Phillips Enquiry, because most of us are not hopeful that it will be a fruitful exercise. So we have no problem with the State using scarce resources to satisfy our desires for comedy at the expense of people who have endured very dreadful experiences and are mourning the death or disappearance of their loved ones.

It is disheartening that an event which resulted in more than 70 persons dying, several others injured, and millions of dollars lost does not concern us much more. We all have a responsibility, particularly when the commission begins, to remind ourselves and others that this is an important process that affected all of us and extends beyond the geographic boundaries of West Kingston. I know we are not very often concerned about what happens in our inner-city and low-income communities across Jamaica, because we often think that the injustices perpetrated against people in these communities are 'justified'. We cannot continue to be so apathetic in this regard - even if the communities are among the most violent and a haven for criminal elements.

Four years have passed since the West Kingston incursion and it is embarrassing that much more has not been done to restore the affected communities, build the residents' resilience by empowering them, instil pride in them and ensure there is justice and reconciliation in the process. It's distressing that more of us, particularly those of us with the vocabulary to be the voice of the poor and most vulnerable, have not been willing to speak up in this regard.

May I remind us, borrowing the words of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, the onus is ours to ensure "The Government should be looking at what steps should be taken to avoid situations like this not only recurring in West Kingston, but elsewhere". It is incumbent on us to ensure this enquiry is productive and not just another expensive (comedic?) exercise. We need to remind ourselves of the sanctity of life and recognise that it is an absolute right for all of us, whether we are poor, criminals, or vagrants.

enquiry workshop

I recently attended a workshop on the enquiry which was convened by the United Nations Development Programme on October 2. I was most struck by a presentation by Dr Ramona Biholar, lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies, in which she postulated that the enquiry is not a victim-oriented process. According to her, the Commission of Enquiry does not "make specific reference to the allegations of and specify the investigation of gross human rights violations" in relation to "extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture".

Conversely, it very clearly focuses on the need to investigate the attacks against law-enforcement officers, attacks against state property such as police stations and military vehicles, events and activities relating to the arrest of Coke, and the conduct of law-enforcement officials in relation to the decisions concerning the operations.

Dr Biholar also argues that, based on the terms of reference, it does not "specify the investigation of planning, training, equipping and monitoring of operations which would enable the assessment of security forces' conduct in accordance to international human rights law and principles Jamaica has committed to".

civic duty misunderstood

Therefore, given the number of similar events that have occurred in Tivoli Gardens over the years, the residents' palpable frustration and lack of interest is understandable. It certainly doesn't help that so many of us are unclear about its purpose and are interested in it for the wrong reasons. Our civic duty in this regard is blatantly (and perhaps deliberately) misunderstood.

The Gleaner reported on October 19, 2014, that residents "declared that they were in no mood to entertain the commission of enquiry [...] unless something tangible was in it for them". Previous reports suggest they are interested in monetary compensation - about J$1 million each. I understand where they are coming from. If I were in their position, I, too, would probably want money to help rebuild or establish myself.

The people want results; they have been saying this for a while. We must ensure that this happens, regardless of the inadequacies of the terms of reference for the enquiry. At the very least, we can show them respect throughout the hearing. Let us not take their suffering for granted or argue that they deserve what happened to them. Any one of us could be in their position.

n Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and