My fellow Jamaicans:
Emancipation day, the 1st of August each year is a very important and momentous day in the archives of Jamaican history. It is the day when the system of chattel slavery ended by law in Jamaica and the process of building a society based on freedom, equals rights and justice began.
Freedom was not free and neither did it come overnight. The Emancipation Act which took effect on this day in 1834, 180 years ago, represents over 300 years of struggle, resistance and blood-shed against a dehumanizing, unfair and brutal system of organizing a society. The struggle for freedom continues even to today. The forms of our challenges today, are certainly different from those faced by our forefathers then. However, at the root of all our challenges is the struggle for freedom, but it is also a struggle with freedom.
Today, as a people we struggle to secure and protect the human rights and civil rights of our citizens, particularly with state forces. It is a struggle that is bearing fruit. My government passed the law creating INDECOM, this too came after many years of complaints about the abuse of human rights by state forces. Along with several other measures and strategic reviews we see where our state forces are themselves beginning to accept and internalize respect for human rights in the conduct of their duties. It will take some time before we can say definitively that respect for human rights is a fundamental tenant and practice of our state forces, but the struggle in that direction continues.
Equally, as we seek to have our state forces respect human and civil rights in thinking and practice, we struggle with controlling crime in a free society. There are those among us who have used the freedoms hard fought and won by our forefathers in such a way as to take away the freedoms, and rights of others. There are many in our society who are not free to move about as they wish because criminals have drawn artificial borderlines, there are business people who are not free to conduct business because of extortion, and each time you close that padlock on that grill at home you remember that a little bit of your freedom is whittled away because crime is at your doorstep.
We must never make excuses for criminals, there are hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans who are poor and dispossessed but who use their freedom not to choose crime as a way of life. In a sense however, many of those drawn into crime do so because of limited options and opportunities. The lesson to be learnt from our struggle for freedom and with freedom is that people have to be empowered to use their freedom in positive and meaningful ways. Our history shows that the churches and later the state started this process of educating the emancipated. The process of education must be intensified. Education is the most effective vaccine against poverty, crime and social decay. We have accomplished some key milestones on our education journey but we have many, many more miles to go.
The recent report of the Human Development Index which shows a precipitous fall for Jamaica in the rankings is a cause for concern and a wake-up call for the renewed emphasis on not just the access, but more so now the quality and relevance of our education.
Today we make the connection with our past. We honour the work and struggle of all the heroes who have gone before to secure the rights and freedoms we have today. We must never allow the anguish and agony Nanny of the Maroons, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon to be forgotten or noble and gallant efforts of Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley to go in vain. The greatest honour we can pay to those heroes is to recommit ourselves to expanding, advancing and protecting the rights of all Jamaicans.
My fellow Jamaicans,
May the flame of freedom never die but continue to burn bright as a beacon for a progressive and prosperous Jamaica.
Thank you and God bless you all.