State of emergency: Not another extension!


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

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There was much fanfare from members of the Government with the recently released murder statistics for St James — a reported 67 per cent decrease. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has, however, proffered arguments for the extension of the state of emergency in the parish. At the end of the debate in Parliament all 52 Members of Parliament who were present voted in favour of the resolution to extend the measure for an additional 90 days.

The prime minister also got the House's approval of the extension of the zones of special operations in Denham Town, west Kingston, and St Catherine north for 60 days. I would imagine that the Government would argue that the extension of both strategies marks a big move in crime fighting.

I welcome the reduced numbers in murder. I welcome any strategy or plan that will cause citizens to live free of fear and free from fear; however, we should not tinker with the rights of citizens, and we should not tinker with emergency powers lest we normalise them. The normalisation of emergency powers can easily careen the society in dangerous waters. We must tread lightly.

I would think by now that a well thought-out plan of action would have surfaced, but what we are seeing is a sly move by the Government. The real questions are:

• Are we going to extend the state of emergency and zones of special operations ad infinitum?

• What are the long-term plans for these communities?

• What are the sustainable development goals for these communities?

• What will happen to these communities when the zones of special operations and states of emergency are lifted? These are questions that we have to consider.

It is common knowledge that we have a problem with organised crime, and at the centre of this is the don. It is common knowledge that the don is the protector and provider for these communities. It is also common knowledge that these dons groom a successor. When we remove these dons from their communities, without implementing proper social intervention policies, what do we expect to happen?

Far too often we operate like the children of Sisyphus. What became of the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP)? We should be seeing more programmes like these in our communities. I am happy to see Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck promoting restorative justice and training teachers in this area. This is a good move.

There is a saying in Jamaica, “Tek sleep and mark death”. recently I came across this article, 'Turkey: Normalising the state of emergency — Draft law permits purging judges, prolonged detention, curbing movement, assembly'. It was quite telling. The article argued, “A draft law being rushed through Turkey's Parliament will preserve many of the abusive powers granted to the president and executive under the country's recent state of emergency, which formally ended on July 18, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.”

It went further, “The proposed law will allow authorities under the presidency, for the next three years, to dismiss judges and all other public officials arbitrarily. It also would allow the authorities to restrict movement within Turkey, ban public assemblies, and allow police to hold some suspects for up to 12 days without charge and repeatedly detain them in the same investigation.

“The Bill does not provide adequate court oversight of use of these powers or meaningful redress for victims where use of these powers violates their rights.”

This is frightening, to say the least. How did Turkey get here? A two-year state of emergency was imposed following a 2016 violent coup attempt in which 250 people were killed. During the time, the Government was allowed to rule by decree without adequate oversight by Parliament or the courts. Turkish authorities dismissed over 130,000 public officials for alleged coup or terrorism links, with courts holding around 77,000 in pre-trial detention on those charges, while many more were put on trial. Many media outlets were closed down.

While this is a more extreme case, the point is that a prolonged state of emergency is dangerous for democracy, which by extension is dangerous for human rights and dangerous for the society on a whole. Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips argued that: “Ninety-nine per cent of the persons detained had their rights trampled on for no reason. It [state of emergency] is an approach to policing that disregards and disrespects the basic rights of the people, and it was not intended by the constitution to be a long-term solution.” Rightly so! The Emergency Act was not drafted to be used at the whim and fancy of the security minister or prime minister. When will we learn?

Let us not fall asleep on this one. I urge civil society and the Opposition to keep a watchful eye on the Government and these calls for extension of powers. We owe it to our country, and we owe it to our fellow citizens. Let us mount the call for a more sustainable crime plan. We are walking through dangerous waters, but we must not lose hope. We still have time to make wrong right.

Lorenzo Smith is an educator with interests in social justice. Send comments to the Observer or to

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