Government Restates Position on Anti-Terrorism Bill


As the debate on the Anti-Terrorism Bill now before Parliament intensifies, the Government has reiterated its position that the measure is not aimed at depriving Jamaicans of their fundamental rights and freedoms as prescribed by the Constitution, but rather to fulfil the country’s international obligations.
Tabled in the House of Representatives in October, 2003, by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, K.D. Knight, the Bill seeks to implement United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1373, by the prevention and suppression of the financing, preparation, facilitation and commission of acts of terrorism, as well as protect the political, social and economic security of the state.
Dismissing suggestions that the legislation was a way of suppressing the rights of Jamaicans, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A.J. Nicholson tells JIS News, “I can’t be a part of that, I have to think of the cherished rights of our people. I have to have the upliftment and advancement of the people at heart”Giving details about the Anti-Terrorism Bill, Senator Nicholson says, “some people say there is no definition of terrorism and because there is no definition of terrorism we are bound to go wrong from there. But that is not exactly true.”
Clarifying this, the Justice Minister says the Bill defines the action of terrorism, “you will not find the definition for example, of a ‘terrorist’ but just in the same way you will not find the definition of a ‘murderer’. You would find a definition of murder, you will read in the law that he who does so and so is likely to commit the offence of murder. It is the same approach we have taken in the Terrorism Prevention Bill, he who does so and so in certain circumstances is likely to be labelled a terrorist or that he has assisted terrorists”.
He however, explains that there are three elements that must co-exist before a person can be labelled a terrorist.
“First, the act that he is doing must be to cause death or seriously disrupt a vast section of the population. Two, he must have been doing it for a political, religious or that kind of motive and thirdly, he must intend to cause all of these things,” he says.
Citing an example, Senator Nicholson says the blocking of roads in order to highlight concerns to the government or private sector would not be considered as a form of terrorist act.
He maintains that while there are international obligations to be met, the government recognizes that there are certain cherished individual rights and freedoms in the Constitution that have to be upheld.
He argues that the Government has been very facilitating and open as it relates to freedom of speech and has no intention of breaching the fundamental rights of Jamaicans.
“Persons who have come and visited Jamaica have wondered about the kind of patience and forbearance that this Government has and we intend to continue along that route. Regardless of what the international observance might be, we have no intention whatsoever of trying to breach any of the fundamental rights and freedom that we have,” he adds.
“On the contrary, we intend to widen them. The Charter of Rights is coming this year and in that Charter it is not only the obligations that the Government has to a citizen but it is also the obligations from one citizen to another. So it is a two-fold all embracing movement that we are putting forward over the protection of our human rights,” he says.
He explains that while the legislation says, “that a person is obliged to go to the police when they know or have reasonable grounds to suspect that a terrorism offence has been committed, we are not saying that persons, be it Journalist or carpenter or whoever has to tell the authorities where he got that information”.
The Attorney General concedes that the Bill is a difficult piece of legislation and that the Government invites dialogue on it and is asking members of the public to make submissions of their concerns.
The Bill is currently before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, which is expected to meet the second week of this month.
Meanwhile, one such group, which has taken up this invitation, is Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ). Executive Director of JFJ, Dr. Carolyn Gomes tells JIS News that the Bill has a number of flaws, pointing out that “the Bill as drafted has a number of problems.
The Bill subverts the presumption of innocence, applies broadly to actions of Jamaicans citizens in Jamaica rather than limiting its objectives to international terrorism, it defines terrorism offence much too broadly and speculatively and has the potential to make terrorists of many citizens and entities.”
She contends that the Bill in its present form can also be used to suppress political opposition, trade unions and other civil society organizations and to criminalize civil disobedience.
The JFJ Executive Director suggests that the Bill should be withdrawn and that the Government should instead draft legislation that brings into place all the International Conventions so as to meet our international obligations.
She also calls on the Joint Select Committee to facilitate the public as it relates to the Bill. “I think that it needs wide public discussion and debate and we hope that the Joint Select Committee will be inviting people to come in and make their concerns known to them and will be taking the matter out to a broader public,” she says.

JIS Social