by Kathrina Dabdoub
May 23, 2020 marks ten years since a State of Emergency (SOE) was declared, and over 1,000 members of the Jamaica security forces were deployed in and around the communities of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town. In the aftermath, upwards of 70 persons were reportedly killed; at least 3 disappeared, and approximately 4,000 were arbitrarily detained. What began as a hunt for one man’s extradition, in a matter of days became a State-led massacre that has affected hundreds of lives permanently. It is one of the greatest atrocities our country has witnessed.
The aimless violence and abuse that Tivoli and Denham Town communities endured at the hands of the State is the result of historical (and sustained) de facto criminalisation. Ten years later, we are far from a resolution.
The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry
Calls for the establishment of a Commission of Enquiry were made as early as the first week of the dubbed “Tivoli Incursion.” Yet, a Commission was not appointed until February 21, 2014, with hearings beginning on December 1, 2014. By this time, an enquiry was nearly 5 years delayed.
The Commission Report tabled in Parliament and was made public on June 15, 2016. In the report, it was found that many of the allegations of personal injury, property damage or loss, and extrajudicial killings by the security forces were largely credible.
Ultimately, the report had weak and open-ended conclusions. Of note is the common refrain “Further investigation is required” throughout the document. Despite this, the Commission made extensive recommendations for redress and prevention, including:
- A State apology
- Counselling for victims
- Internal administrative reviews within the security forces
- Strengthened oversight of policing operations, namely via the use of body cameras and various policy reforms
The recommendations notably did not include the prosecution of individual perpetrators. In fact, the Commission stopped short of explicitly stating that any officers should be removed from duty, instead stating that they :
“be relieved of any operational commands that they may hold and that they be prohibited from serving in any special operations units.”Report of The Commission of Enquiry Appointed To Enquire Into Events Which Occured In West Kingston And Related Areas In May 2010, Chapter 15.18
Elusive Body Cameras
Furthermore, the lethargy, and in some cases inertia, in adopting these recommendations has been a major hindrance to justice. This is particularly glaring with regard to the fifth recommendation: the introduction of mandatory body cameras.
The introduction of body cameras has been met with several verbal commitments over the years but has yet to be implemented on a wide scale throughout the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). As recently as November 2019, Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson stated that “in the first quarter of next year we will be deploying body-cams.” The first quarter of 2020 has come and gone without any indication that the JCF is actively using the technology, showing that Anderson’s words were another hollow promise.
Restorative Justice and Apologies
Restorative justice efforts came from the Government via the establishment of Restorative Justice Centres in the West Kingston communities in July 2017. The Rejuvenating Communities Project, a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme and the Community Renewal Programme of the Planning Institute of Jamaica was also developed and implemented.
Under the Rejuvenating Communities project, activity days were hosted enabling dialogue between West Kingston residents and the security forces; giving them a space to air their grievances and build a sense of trust. The ‘social cohesion’ approach implemented in these sessions facilitated an environment where all parties felt seen and heard; resulting in a decrease in alienation between residents and the state security forces.
Another crucial part of repairing the damage caused by the Incursion was the official apology given in Parliament on December 6, 2017. At the time, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said, “I believe that the most immediate and appropriate response of the Government is to begin the process (of healing) by apologising to those who were affected.”
Sadly, that “immediate” response was nearly eight years overdue.
On the recommendation of the Commission, a Compensation Committee was convened to determine the amount of reparations the State owed. Some residents of Tivoli began receiving that money in late 2017. Many alleged that they were excluded from the list of claimants. To date, there are still reports of individuals who have not received compensation.
Paulette Wellington, mother of deceased Sheldon Davis, was granted Four Hundred Sixty Nine Thousand Five Hundred and Sixty Dollars Eighty-Six Cents ($469,560.86) in December of 2018. In such cases, there is a question of sufficiency. How is the value of a life lost determined? Can $469,560.86 truly abate the pain caused by such loss?
The JCF Administrative Review
The internal review conducted by the JCF was released in August 2017 to wide critique, including by politicians. The Commission of Enquiry identified five officers against whom credible accusations of extrajudicial killings had been made and recommended administrative accountability.
However, the Review Committee appointed by the JCF concluded that “it did not identify any specific act of dereliction of duty or misconduct on the part of any of the Named Officers.” It further stated in the report that, “no basis existed for the adverse findings and comments mentioned in Chapter 15.18 of the [Commission of Enquiry] Report, and [saw] no reason why, the Named Officers should not be allowed to continue to serve, in their various capacities, the JCF and the people of Jamaica.”
Two of the officers were promoted before the Commission of Enquiry report was completed, which (as the Commission itself noted) does nothing to deter errant behaviour – and may even encourage it.
JCF’s deflection of responsibility has only enabled impunity.
“Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”
Over the past decade, indeed since the atrocity began, Tivoli residents have been outspoken about the abuse and violations they endured at the hands of State force. They have spoken out in the news, reported to the Office of the Public Defender; testified before the Commission of Enquiry. Still, there has been marginal accountability.
The lack of full, impartial accountability discredits and silences the voices of those victims and their families. It hinders closure and is an affront to transparency and human rights principles. The protracted period over which this minimum level of justice has been pursued has forced those affected to live with severe consequences: the loss of friends and family, injuries with high financial and physical costs, and psychological trauma.
The achievement of justice necessitates deeper reflection and reform than our nation has seen over the last ten years.