JIS News

Government has no intention of introducing a State of Emergency as a means of quelling crime and violence.
Speaking at the opening of the Commonwealth Workshop on Human Rights Defenders for the Caribbean Region this morning (Feb. 4) at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston, Carol Palmer, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, said that the Government was firmly of the view that a State of Emergency would be too damaging to the rights of individuals, given that it would allow, for example, arbitrary detention without trial.
The increase in violent crimes has prompted calls for the introduction of a State of Emergency from persons who think that the measure would not only curb the crime rate but also restore confidence in law-abiding citizens. The Prime Minister has however, consistently declined to accept that line of reasoning and has pointed to the importance of balancing individual and societal rights, even as the state dealt with the escalating crime rate.
But this balancing of the interests of the individual against the interests of groups in the society, or the society as a whole, sometimes lead to differences of opinion between the state and human rights groups. This has been seen most recently in the debate on the anti-terrorism legislation.
Despite the differences in opinion however, Miss Palmer has said that the state remained sensitive to the concerns of human rights defenders and had lauded their efforts to defend the rights of persons who felt that they had been wronged.
Their work, rather than being antagonistic, she said, was complementary to the work of the state as they were useful vehicles for the dissemination of information and for raising awareness of human rights and fundamental freedoms. “They form and hold opinions and draw public attention to certain matters. They are often times advocates for individuals who feel as though their basic rights have been violated and they participate in public affairs by submitting criticism and proposals to government bodies on how their functioning can be improved,” she stated.
Miss Palmer noted that the Government continued to attach the highest priority to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country and was committed to preserving the fundamental rights and freedoms entrenched in the Constitution, including the right to life, freedom from cruel and inhumane treatment, freedom of movement, protection from arbitrary arrest or detention and freedom of expression.
“We stand by these rights and believe that their promotion and protection constitute the first order of business for the state,” she said.
The two-day workshop brings together members of the public and private bar and representatives of government and civil society groups across the region, to discuss the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and against that backdrop, to examine the interface between national human rights institutions and human rights defenders.
Bringing greetings were Florence Mugasha, Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, who said that the protection and promotion of human rights was an essential commitment of the Commonwealth, while Dr. Clare Roberts, First Vice President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), highlighted the importance of human rights groups in furthering the work of the IACHR.

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