Tue | Dec 6, 2022

Right to life and liberty hanging in balance

Published:Friday | June 24, 2022 | 12:05 AM


The Minister of legal and constitutional affairs seemed a little pained and discombobulated in trying to distinguish between the right to life and the right to liberty.

According to the United Nations Convention on Human Rights, the right to life and liberty was always held in balance. For our ordinary citizens, the right to life means that nobody, including the Government, can try to end our life. It also means the Government should take appropriate measures to safeguard life by making laws to protect us and, in some circumstances, by taking steps to protect us if our life is at risk.

The right to liberty means that people must not be arrested and detained, unless provided for by law. Their arrest and detention must also not be arbitrary. This right applies to all forms of detention, where people are deprived of their liberty, not just criminal justice processes. Therefore, the rule of law and human rights are two sides of the same principle, the freedom to live in dignity.

The learned Marlene Malahoo Forte should be reminded that dictatorship is a form of government in which one person or a small group possesses absolute power, without effective constitutional limitations. It is this danger to Jamaica’s democracy that is also highlighted in the recent ruling by the Constitutional Court in the Roshaine Clarke vs Attorney General lawsuit, when it declared the Emergency Powers Regulations Sections 22 and 32, in respect to the fundamental right of freedom of movement; Regulations 30, 33 and 38, in respect to the fundamental right to freedom and liberty, “breached the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Constitution” ( Jamaica Observer, June 17).

The court declared the regulations unconstitutional, arguing: “They gave the authorities unduly unfettered power to abrogate the fundamental rights of a wide class of persons in society without evidence establishing that they were reasonably justified for achieving the purposes of the state of emergency” ( The Gleaner, June 17). The “unduly unfettered power to abrogate …” is evident in how we live as a people, where the political tribalism practised by our nation’s two major political parties, along with our authoritarian leadership style in family, religion, education and workplace, are breeding grounds for fostering dictatorships.

At the political level, the habitual suspension of local government elections, the proclamation of a series of public states of emergencies – especially since 2018 – our dehumanisation of political opponents, and when agents of the State and politicians do not abide by the rule of law, further contribute to a growing acceptance of dictatorship as the norm. We have also dehumanised our poor and normalised oppressive environmental structures in the garrison phenomenon, due to the breakdown of governance at the local government level which has become psychological legions destroying our country.

Change is possible, and will occur when we begin loving our neighbours as we love ourselves, and rediscovering our humanity by living in dignity.


Mandeville, Manchester