By Derrick A. Scott
WASHINGTON, USA -- Minister of Justice, Senator Mark Golding says that Jamaica has made major strides in introducing several programs and policies that have significantly improved the human rights and justice landscape over the past fifty years.
The strides made include the right to a decent life, right to education, free speech and expression, liberty, freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination, as well as gender and rights of the child.
Delivering the third lecture in the Jamaica 50 Lecture Series under the theme: “Justice and Human Rights Issues since Independence” in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Thursday, February 21, 2013, Golding said that human rights have continued to command special attention over the years since independence.
Golding pointed to several legislative changes, which include the amendment of the Constitution in 1999 to grant Jamaican women equal rights with men with respect to the acquisition of Jamaica citizenship by their children through descent.
The Status of Children Act 1976 abolished illegitimacy and legal disabilities. The Maternity Leave Act 1979 provides for job security for women after childbirth. The property Rights of Spouse’s Act of 2006 provides for the equitable distribution of property to the spouses in a long-term relationship.
Regarding the rights to liberty and freedom of movement, the minister said that the emergence of the gun culture in urban communities have put huge stresses on the country’s criminal justice system. The legislative and law enforcement responses to the prevalence of gun-related crimes, which have eroded basic rights and freedoms, have resulted in the state trying to balance the right to freedom with the right to peace and order.
The minister said examples of such erosion include lengthy periods of detention without charges, incidents of the use of excessive force in law enforcement, restricted rights to bail and freedom of movement during states of emergencies, over-crowded lockups and prisons and lengthy mandatory minimum sentencing for firearm offences.
In relation to human rights, Golding said, Jamaica has demonstrated its commitment to protecting the rights of its citizens by becoming a member of the Inter-American Convention and Human Rights and the Convention on Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.
Turning the right to free speech and expression, the justice minister noted that the Information Act of 2004 provides for a legally enforceable mechanism for obtaining information from the executive and public sector. This he said is to promote transparency and accountability.
Further, he said that the deregulation of the electronic media, has given greater voice to journalists and civil society. This has deepened democracy and heightened public awareness of corruption and injustice.
The justice minister told the over 100 participants at the lecture that, as human rights and justice in Jamaica continues to evolve, efforts are being made by the justice system to keep pace with developments within the society and to strengthen human rights.
“We should not allow the magnitude of problems we face to cripple the significant strides we have taken”, he said. “At the same time, we must not allow these strides to make us complacent. It is for the citizens to nourish and nurture Jamaica by being actively engaged in good causes.”
He said that, in addition to the vital support that members of the Diaspora continue to provide Jamaica, it can also play a significant role in the promotion of human rights and justice, thereby contributing further to development.
While in Washington, Golding and national security minister Peter Bunting, along with Police Commissioner Owen Ellington and the director of public prosecution, Paula Llewellyn, participated in a meeting organized by the Inter-American Dialogue, where they provided an update on the Jamaican government’s efforts to combat the lotto scam problem in the country.