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Victims of Coral Gardens Massacre still await compensation over two years after PM’s promise  

Attorneys-at-Law at Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) have been working assiduously to secure financial compensation from the government for the victims of the 1963 Coral Gardens Massacre. The Coral Gardens Massacre, also known as ‘Bad Friday’ in the Rastafarian community, is arguably the worst human rights catastrophe in Jamaica’s history as an independent nation.  

On April 11 (what most observe as Good Friday), 56 years ago, police raided a Rastafarian camp in Coral Gardens, St James. At the end of the raid, eight Rastafarians were dead and hundreds more injured and displaced at the hands of the state.

 

PM Holness apologizes for Bad Friday massacre; establishes Trust fund for survivors

In April 2017, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Most Honourable Andrew Holness, apologised for the state’s role in the massacre. “(It) was wrong and should never be repeated” the Prime Minister said at the time. Coupled with his apology was the announcement of several actions the Government would take to make amends with the Rastafari community and in particular the survivors of the Bad Friday Massacre. This included the establishment of a $10M trust to compensate the survivors of the tragedy. With the interest accrued since the establishment, the trust now holds $13M.

Shortly after the announcement, the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society retained the services of JFJ to represent the interests of the survivors of the Coral Gardens massacre and their families. The team at JFJ, headed by attorney Nastassia Robinson, in April 2019 finalized the framework for Trust Fund with the Administrator General’s Department (AGD) and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport (MCGES). Disbursements are to begin once the Public Defender’s Social Enquiry Report has been received by all involved parties. Based on the decision made by Cabinet, the Social Enquiry Report is necessary to establish the formal details in respect of the beneficiaries of the Trust Fund.

 

Gov’t withholding report that would establish beneficiaries

In April 2019, the Public Defender submitted the required Social Enquiry Report to the Office of the Prime Minister. However, to date, that report has not been shared with JFJ, the RCGBS nor the AGD. The withholding of this report by the government has caused serious delays to an already time-sensitive process. Since the announcement of the Trust, five of the slated beneficiaries have died, and the health of several others continues to deteriorate. Despite several requests from JFJ, the AGD and the RCGBS to have the report released, the report still remains solely in the hands of the government. At this time, JFJ is pursuing legal options to have the report released. 

The victims of the Coral Gardens Massacre suffered an unimaginable atrocity at the hands of the state. Though decades late, the apology given by the PM and the measures announced to compensate the survivors and their families, were a welcome first step. However, the additional delays are not only disrespectful, but display a disregard for the human rights of this long marginalized group. The Rastafarians whose lives were forever changed on Bad Friday deserve justice and we at JFJ will continue to fight by their side until they receive their due. 

UPDATE (September 19, 2019)

After continued advocacy by JFJ and RCGBS all the information that was needed to complete the Trust was made available to all parties on September 19, 2019.

 

Important developments on the road to compensation for victims of the Coral Gardens Massacre   

 

  • December 2015 – Public Defender publishes report on Coral Gardens atrocity and calls for reparations
  • March 2017 – Prime Minister commits to apology and compensation in his budget presentation. Importantly, the Prime Minister announced that “A Trust Fund of no less than $10M will be established for the benefit of survivors of the Coral Gardens Incident.” See attached Prime Ministerial statement.
  •  July 2018 – Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport announces in Parliament that “12 Million Jamaican Dollars has been transferred to the Administrator General, as Trustee, to establish the Trust Fund” and that the government is “committed to transfer 30 Million Dollars annually over the next three years to ensure the sustainability of the Fund.”
  • October 2018 – Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society retains Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) to represent them in the reparations negotiations. 
  • April 2019 – Jamaicans for Justice, Administrator General’s Department and Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport establish framework for Trust Fund, pending receipt of the Public Defender’s report required to establish formal beneficiaries
  • April 2019 – Public Defender submits Social Enquiry Report to Prime Minister Andrew Holness
  • June 12, 2019 – Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society writes to Prime Minister Holness expressing alarm at the situation and requesting the release of the social enquiry report to the community about which the report was written and to the Administrator General as is required by the Cabinet decision to establish the Trust Fund
  • June 2019 – Administrator General’s Department writes to Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport regarding withholding of social enquiry report necessary for them to establish Trust
  • July 1 – Coral Gardens Benevolent Society writes to Member of Parliament Horace Chang expressing “absolute disgust” with the manner in which they have been dealt with and expressing the view that the government “is waiting for them to die instead of honouring its commitments to pay compensation.”