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What about our constitutional rights?

Published:Monday | March 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM

People sometimes ask why I write for The Gleaner. After about a decade of contributing to the Opinions page, my answer has remained unchanged: I write because I hope that I might make some difference in our society. I also tell them that I will continue until the Gleaner gets tired of me or until I become tired of writing.

Over the years, it's only rarely that people have lambasted me for my views but, that's okay, after all, that's precisely what the Opinions page is all about - informing, sometimes humouring, entertaining and facilitating various opinions. However, sometimes it is obvious that some people become excited about criticising whatever is expressed, so excited that they go to extreme lengths to seek out alternative interpretations of what is proffered.

Usually, this does not perturb me in the least and I read the comments with interest, without replying, but last week's letter to the Editor titled, "Rattray's wrong thinking" (Tuesday, March 16) was penned by someone who has obviously badly misunderstood, badly misinterpreted or badly misrepresented what I had written in "The 'Dudus' stick" (Monday, March 15). I need to respond only because the article included something about which I am passionate - our human and constitutional rights.

Confused and dangerous

The reader asserts that my thinking is "confused and dangerous". Incredibly, he attempts to malign the following statements from the piece: "I would love to see our government defend everyone's human and constitutional rights, but this is not the practice ..." and "If politicians were so very concerned about the constitutional and human rights of every citizen, they would have done everything within the law to ensure that we were safe from the rampant, oppressive criminality that we experience daily in Jamaica. They would see to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised, and liberate dependent 'garrison' communities ..."

The reader states, "He is essentially saying that because the Government has not been defending the rights of Jamaicans as it should, it should continue to not defend their rights. Or is he saying ignore the rights of 'Dudus', but defend the rights of others?" I am at a total loss to comprehend how that reader could be so far off-base. In the column I even went on to say, "They would be concerned about the innumerable human-rights violations and injustices that occur across the island. They would address the many other allegations contained in the US report relating to half-hearted anti-crime measures, and the trade in illicit items in and out of our shores."

Exposing the dichotomy

The fact is that this situation exposes the dichotomy of our leadership. As I said, the article was not about Dudus' guilt or innocence; it was about resolving the matter without any political flavour and having the prime minister (who is far too close to the affair) distance himself from it. The article also sought to question this sudden interest in one citizen's constitutional rights when it is sadly lacking for innumerable others.

What about our "right to life; the right to personal liberty; freedom of movement; freedom from inhumane treatment; enjoyment of property; freedom of conscience; freedom of association; respect for private and family life; and freedom from discrimination"? These were matters of great exigency during the election campaigning, but not any longer.

If defending Dudus' constitutional rights is truly at the heart of this affair then do it; but do it right, and remember that the basic human and constitutional rights of many other Jamaican citizens are being trampled on or ignored every single day.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Feedback may be sent to or