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EDITORIAL - Towards a Tivoli enquiry

Published:Thursday | June 14, 2012 | 12:00 AM

It is clearly urgent that Earl Witter, the public defender, complete and send to Parliament his promised interim report into the death of civilians during the Tivoli Gardens intervention two years ago.

For Peter Bunting, the national security minister, has made clear that Mr Witter's findings will be influential in the Government's decision on whether it establishes a commission of enquiry into the events of May 2010. That is the same position as the previous administration.

In the absence of persuasive arguments to the contrary, which may be adduced by Mr Witter, this newspaper supports a call for a commission of enquiry. For we believe that Jamaicans deserve a full and clear picture of what took place in that west Kingston community, and if, as it is alleged, an extrajudicial killing spree by the security forces accounted for most of the 73 lives lost in that operation. Not only are the facts increasingly obfuscated, as society discovers that the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) prevaricated about the operation.

The Tivoli operation was to capture Christopher Coke, the mobster who was recently sentenced to 23 years in jail by a court in America, to which he was extradited to face charges of drug and gunrunning. With the then administration acquiescing reluctantly to the extradition request, only after a long delay, Coke's militia barricaded the community and fired on the security forces.

We are happy that the challenge to the State was stopped, and that Coke was forced to face the law, respect for which depends, in large part, on the integrity with which it is executed. Moral enforcement is important. However, extrajudicial killings of the kind that it is claimed took place in Tivoli Gardens is anathema to the rule of law and democratic governance.

Time for resolution

The truth of this incident has to be resolved, and it is unlikely to happen with any satisfaction in a report provided by the public defender, or even within a court of law with its restrictive structure for arriving at truth.

Further, in an environment of low trust for authority, the JDF, which used to be among the most respected institution in the country and had the major role in the Tivoli Gardens operation, will have lost some of that public confidence, and with it trust in what it did in Tivoli.

In recent months, Jamaicans have learnt that the JDF misled them on whether a United States surveillance aircraft helped with visual intelligence during the operation and the kind of weapons used by its soldiers. It turned out that they fired mortars. The JDF's delays and meanderings in providing information on the killing by soldiers of businessman Keith Clarke during a search for Coke far from Tivoli Gardens lends to the public's sense of being taken around the proverbial mulberry bush.

So, let's get the enquiry going, quickly.

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