Uncertainty looms over anniversary celebrations as police say event illegal
As the Accompong Maroons in St Elizabeth prepare for their 284th anniversary celebration today, two of the country’s most respected constitutional lawyers say the group is not immune from obeying the laws of the land, including a warning from the police to cancel the event.
Over the years, the Maroons have argued that Accompong is sovereign territory – a status they ascribe to the 1738 peace treaty their forebears signed with the British colonisers.
The anniversary event is expected to attract hundreds, if not thousands, of patrons, many who started arriving in the island from as far as the United Kingdom, but large gatherings will breach the Government’s Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) imposed to manage the coronavirus outbreak..
“They are not a state unto themselves and are governed by Jamaica,” attorney-at-law and constitutional law expert Dr Lloyd Barnett said in a Gleaner interview on Wednesday.
“You can’t have a sovereignty unless you have a state, and they are not a state. They are part of Jamaica.”
His comments were supported by fellow constitutional law expert Michael Hylton, QC, who stated that Jamaican law does not recognise Accompong or any local Maroon territory as independent.
“All Jamaicans, anywhere you live, are subjected to the same laws, and that applies equally to the Maroons. And I know there are often references made to the treaties that were entered into, but none of those treaties give them a separate country,” Hylton argued.
Efforts to get a comment from Accompong Maroon Chief Richard Currie, who took office almost a year ago, were unsuccessful as calls to his mobile phone went unanswered.
Alex Moore-Minott, Accompong’s foreign affairs minister, declined comment on the police warning that the Maroon celebrations would be illegal.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force, in a press statement on Wednesday, said that under the existing DRMA (Order No. 12), public gatherings are limited to 10 persons.
The police say they have also been informed by their partners in the Ministry of Health and Wellness that no approvals have been given for the staging of the event.
“We are, therefore, warning persons not to attend the event,as such action will constitute a breach of the COVID-19 regulations. The police are also calling on the organisers of the event to comply with the instructions given by the Ministry of Health and Wellness and to cancel the planned event.”
The Gleaner has learnt that three COVID-19 testing sites were being set up for persons entering the Accompong village. Several tents were being erected on Wednesday, and vendors had already started to set up their stalls.
The police warning comes at a time when the island reported 735 new confirmed cases as at Tuesday amid an aggressive spike in infections.