19 December 2004


Common Sense
John Maxwell

At least one of my readers is under the misapprehension that last week I was praising the Government's human rights record. I was doing no such thing.

When I reported Mr Nicholson's claims it was because I thought that most of us would have been vividly aware of the truth: when it comes to human rights, this Government is nowhere to be found.

The record is long and shameful. In 1994 when Haitians were (according to President Clinton) "having their faces chopped off," I was one of those who pleaded in vain for the Government of Mr Patterson to show some backbone and some mercy.

Backbone wasn't terribly necessary; the Clinton Administration would not, I believe, have been offended had the Jamaican Government decided to accept Haitian refugees as they were morally bound to do.Instead, the Government decided to fall in with the US plan to capture Haitians at sea, destroy their boats, bring them to Jamaica, "process" them and send them back to be murdered. It was a new birth of Caribbean piracy, if we go by the law.

The whole infamous process was not only brutal and wicked, it was doubly illegal, since no human being seeking refuge in Jamaican waters should, in law, be turned over to any other government unless it can be determined - by the courts - that he/she is a fleeing felon.

The Government of Jamaica allowed Haitians who 'landed' in Jamaica to be kidnapped and taken aboard the floating barracoons in Kingston Harbour, to languish under the hot sun while 22 per cent of them were selected for transport to the US and the possibility of asylum. The rest were interned, as if they were prisoners of war, at Guantanamo Bay, now famous for its American-run torture camp.

While Mr Nicholson boldly spoke about the Government's adherence to the Protocol on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), he forgot to mention that Jamaica, alone in the world except for North Korea, had resiled from its adherence to the Optional Protocol on Civil and Political Rights which forbids cruel and inhuman treatments, including capital punishment.

Not content with that, Mr Patterson declared his intention to denounce our membership in the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights and was dumbfounded by the discovery that he could not weasel out of that one without giving up membership in the Organisation of American States. Rather like Seaga asking the Cuban doctors to stay behind when he had thrown out their embassy.

The whole bizarre and abject performance was in pursuit of Mr Patterson's and Mr Knight's desire to hang convicted murderers more expeditiously. There were several things wrong with this lust to resume state murder, as some of us pointed out at the time.

First, a major part of the delays in hearing appeals from convicted murderers is the fault of the Jamaican Government. The international commissions on human rights have complained for years that Jamaica did not fulfil its obligations, either at all or in a timely fashion, by providing the necessary documentation for the hearing of the appeals.

Second, police work in Jamaica is so threadbare that people who do commit murder have about a 66 per cent chance of getting away scot free. If you want to punish murderers, you first have to catch them.

Third, police evidence - as we have lately seen in several notorious cases - is not the most reliable in the world. Most convictions depend on the least trustworthy evidence of all - so-called 'eyewitness' evidence, which is open to purchase or hire. The conviction of Paul Gooden on forensic evidence is the first such conviction that I can remember for many moons.

Fourth, because of the police resistance to, and circumvention of the law, coroner's inquests are rarely if ever held - which means that the public interest is subverted at source by lack of transparency, particularly when policemen are accused of murder.

Finally, the courts are overcrowded, overburdened, under-equipped and understaffed, and the juries are still - three decades after the law was reformed - selected by the police. Judges' notes, often illegible, are often the only material for appeals because there is an acute shortage of shorthand writers and recording equipment in the courts.

When judges transcribe evidence, cross-examination becomes exponentially more difficult as witnesses are given minutes to consider their next lie while lawyers wait on the judge to laboriously write down questions and, hopefully, answers. Perhaps things have changed since I was last in court, but I doubt it.

I have been writing about all these questions for more than 40 years. I even assisted the police in solving a couple of murders they found too difficult. The first was the Headless Corpse case of 1953, the second the Milton Cassells murder in 1965.

In the second case the police found the investigation very arduous and it was left to my friend Rolly Simms and me, with a little forensic assistance from Dr Ken McNeill, to solve that one. The murderer in that case was a cop.

All those factors, coupled with the resistance of the police to change, compound the difficulty of achieving justice in Jamaica. The Government's wholehearted swallowing of the Globalisation gospel means that the dice are loaded against justice in any sector, at any time.

By stripping itself naked of revenue, by sweating blood to bribe the rich not to bet against the dollar, by borrowing to meet recurrent expenses, the Government is digging an ever deeper hole for the Jamaican society. Casinos to finance education! There is a diabolic sense of fitness in that. Justice is a lottery.

Having castrated our revenue services by recklessly and unfairly destroying the progressive taxation system, the Government has loaded the dice against the poorest in the society. In consequence, the police have abandoned the villages of the poor, as have the education and health systems. The community development programmes which were a model for the world in the 1950s have disappeared without a trace.

People who learned from people who learned from people who were taught by people like Tom Girvan, Eddie Burke and others, are now explaining to us what community development means. But unlike Eddie Burke and Tom Girvan, these new experts are paid by NGOs, paid by USAID or the European community.

With our Government now so far distanced from the people who elected it, it is no wonder that the travails and tribulations of our neighbours in Haiti go unnoticed. Mr KD Knight, MP QC minister of foreign affairs, can preen himself on his cosy chat with the American ambassador to the OAS, John Maisto. Maisto is outspokenly anti-Aristide and, judging by his speeches, not a terribly serious believer in democracy.

According to the Observer on Wednesday, Maisto said the United States wants all democratic institutions in Haiti, including Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas party, to participate in the country's political process but does not believe that Aristide himself should be part of Haiti's future. Maisto's predecessors are, from the available evidence, dedicated racists like their former boss, Jesse Helms, co-author of the Helms Burton Act.

Maisto describes President Bush as a "multilateralist". If you can believe Maisto, you should be in the market for a somewhat used Flat Bridge I have for sale in the Bog Walk gorge.

Mr Knight's conversation must have been extremely polite. He suggested that the US do a rethink on the Helms Burton Act. This Act is, in reality, an outrageous affront to all norms of international law and recognised as such by, among others, the Canadian and French governments.

Knight must have been even more polite and servile about Haiti than about Cuba, since he was in fact interfering in the internal affairs of that serially molested country. Speaking to a representative of Haiti's most consistent abuser, Mr Knight delivered himself of the thought "that Jamaica remained concerned about the situation in Haiti, pointing to the unstable security situation, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, sham trials and the prominence of rebels who helped to destabilise the country.

Whilst calling for adherence to the election timetable, Minister Knight reiterated that the Lavalas Party must be a part of the process". What Mr Knight does not understand is that Lavalas will be a part of the process as soon as the goons now in charge murder enough, rape enough and imprison enough of the leaders of Lavalas to intimidate the population into believing that some Vichy style regime will satisfy their 200-year hunger for justice. Of course, they need to shorten Lavalas, as Procrustes did to his guests, perhaps to "Laval", which would concrete the whole obscene charade and fix it firmly where it belongs, in the annals of fascism.

The Haitians know who their leader is. They have elected him twice, which is more than the Americans did for George Bush. But the United States is no doubt following the Jeffersonian doctrine that blacks, especially Haitian blacks, should never get an even break.

Thomas Jefferson, that great democrat, averred that Toussaint's army were 'cannibals'. Jefferson led the campaign to blockade and embargo Haitian trade, an embargo that lasted 62 years - a 19th Century version of Helms Burton, and for the same reason: to forestall excitement among those still enslaved.

Jefferson's libel against Haiti and his racist attitude have poisoned American images and attitudes toward Haiti for 200 years. It is easy to despise a people who are 40 per cent less than human, as the US Supreme Court decided.

It is easy to mock them for behaving just as other 19th century people did. The Emperor Dessalines was far less ridiculous than Maximilian of Mexico, Dom Pedro of Brazil or for that matter, the Empress Victoria of India. Dessalines at least, was family to those he ruled.

Haiti has to defend itself against the weight of ignorant prejudice and racism, some of it assumed by the very people the Haitians helped to liberate in the United States, in Latin America and in the Caribbean. It is a heavy burden, and they have carried it for two centuries.

Their crime was simple: as slaves inhabiting the world's richest colony, they had no right to overthrow their masters, or to abolish slavery or, most impertinent of all, to defeat the armies of Napoleon, of Britain and of Spain sent to re-enslave them.

It does not take any knowledge of history to understand fundamental human rights or to understand that freedom is indivisible. The world cannot be half-slave and half-free. Toussaint and Dessalines and their comrades understood that, two centuries ago. Patterson and Knight should be able to understand it also. At the very least.