PM Says Citizens’ Rights Will Be Protected During State of Public Emergency

Photo: Yhomo Hutchinson Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness (centre), responds to questions during a press conference at Jamaica House, today (January 18), where he declared a State of Public Emergency in the parish of St. James. Others (from left) are Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck; and Minister of National Security, Hon. Robert Montague.

Story Highlights

  • Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, is assuring that citizens’ rights will be protected during the State of Public Emergency now in effect in the parish of St. James.
  • “The declaration of a State of Public Emergency does not mean the suspension of the rule of law. The security forces are expected and have been directed to treat citizens with respect and protect the dignity and safety of all,” he said.
  • Mr. Holness said crime and violence, in particular murders, have been escalating in the parish of St. James. “I have been advised by the security forces, in writing, that the level of criminal activity experienced, continued and threatened, is of such a nature and so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety,” he noted.

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, is assuring that citizens’ rights will be protected during the State of Public Emergency now in effect in the parish of St. James.

Speaking at a press conference at Jamaica House, today (January 18), Mr. Holness said while the security forces will have extraordinary powers and some rights are suspended, “this does not mean that the use of these extraordinary powers can be arbitrary or are beyond review”.

“The declaration of a State of Public Emergency does not mean the suspension of the rule of law. The security forces are expected and have been directed to treat citizens with respect and protect the dignity and safety of all,” he said.

Mr. Holness implored the public to cooperate with the security forces, adding that the operations may create some level of discomfort.

“Now is the time, if you know where the guns are, please tell us; if you know where the criminals are, please tell us,” he said.

The Prime Minister added that the reward for guns programme is still in effect, and that persons may call Crime Stop at 311 or the security forces hotline at 837-8888.

Mr. Holness said crime and violence, in particular murders, have been escalating in the parish of St. James. “I have been advised by the security forces, in writing, that the level of criminal activity experienced, continued and threatened, is of such a nature and so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety,” he noted.

He said the Government will continue with a “credible process” of communicating with the public. “We ask the press and the public to be understanding of the sensitivities of this matter,” he said.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the Governor-General signed the Proclamation to effect the State of Public Emergency, and that the Proclamation has also been gazetted.

Meanwhile, Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck, said the Constitution provides that a period of public emergency can be declared by proclamation if the Governor-General is satisfied that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger public safety.

He said the Emergency Powers Act refers to the existence of a State of Public Emergency and empowers the Governor-General to make regulations during a period of public emergency.

The Minister noted that the Emergency Powers Regulations 2018 will be tabled in Parliament during its next sitting, in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act.

For his part, Minister of National Security, Hon. Robert Montague, appealed to the citizens of St. James for their full cooperation during the period.

“Although there will be instances where some activities will be curtailed, as much as possible, we do not intend to stop the good citizens from doing what they are supposed to be doing in the normal scope of things. We need your full cooperation in moving forward in restoring peace and order, so that the good people can continue to contribute to the well-being of Jamaica,” he said.

Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Rocky Meade, said the troops have been refreshed in their training on human rights and how to engage with citizens.

“All citizens of Jamaica, including the violence producers, can feel safe in the hands of the military, as long as you are not threatening the troops. We are ensuring that we enforce the rule of law, that we disrupt gang activities, and the particular focus is on those that are responsible for murders, lotto scamming, trafficking of arms and guns, and extortion,” he said.

He said all persons and vehicles using roads in and out of St. James may be subject to search, and individuals will be asked to provide information to verify their identity.

“In support of the state of emergency, I have requested the call-out of the Jamaica National Reserves, and I have, since dawn this morning, deployed additional troops to St. James,” he said. He added that joint patrols will be carried out throughout the parish.

Commissioner of Police, George Quallo, informed that last year, 335 murders were recorded in St. James. “This is almost twice that of any other parish, with Clarendon having 168 murders over the same period. There are numerous gangs operating in St. James,” he said.

He pointed out that the gangs use murder as a tool to further their criminal interests, protect turf and incite fear.

Mr. Quallo said the key operational objectives of the security forces are to disrupt the activities of the gangs, regularise the security environment, ensure the restoration of peace, the rule of law and the protection of the rights of citizens.

During the State of Public Emergency, the security forces will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, enter places and detain persons without a warrant.

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