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JAMAICA | Ja' Government could have done more for the fishermen says ACLU

Featured ACLU Human Rights Attorney, Steven Watt, who brought the human rights claim against the United States Coast Guard on  behalf of four of the five Jamaican fishermen who were held off the coast of Haiti in 2017 and who are suing the US Coast Guard for inhumane treatment. ACLU Human Rights Attorney, Steven Watt, who brought the human rights claim against the United States Coast Guard on behalf of four of the five Jamaican fishermen who were held off the coast of Haiti in 2017 and who are suing the US Coast Guard for inhumane treatment.
KINGSTON, Jamaica, June 20, 2019 - Steven Watt, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney for the four Jamaican fishermen who are suing the US Coast Guard for inhumane treatment, says the Ministry was aware of the fishermen’s detention and could have done significantly more to notify family members that the men were in custody.

Speaking on the RJR discussion programme Hotline with Emily Shields this afternoon, Mr. Watt pointed out that both the US and Jamaican governments could have done more.

He said “it is "incumbent upon the United States to notify Jamaican nationals of their right to consular representation, but if they don't, I think it's incumbent upon the Jamaican consulate to actually make active enquiries at detention facilities within its jurisdiction."

The Ministry on Tuesday stated that there was no record of any complaint of mistreatment lodged with the Jamaican Government by the men, and their families did not contact the Ministry when they went missing.

However, Mr. Watt contended that the families did report the men missing to the police, the coast guard, put messages on social media, and did everything in their power to find them.

He argued that the ministry by contrast did nothing to notify family members despite knowing that they had been detained.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Ministry said it granted a waiver for the US Coast Guard to detain the men in 2017.

The fishermen say they were subjected to inhumane treatment while they were kept aboard four US coast guard vessels for more than a month.

National Security Minister Dr. Horace Chang claimed that Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith was misinterpreted when she told the Senate last week that the case involving the Jamaican fishermen came to her attention for the first time through the media.

On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Chang told RJR's Hotline that when the Foreign Affairs Minister spoke in the Senate, she meant that it was the first time she was made aware of allegations of mistreatment by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Dr. Chang reaffirmed the position that the relatives of the fishermen should have brought the situation to the government's attention, however, no complaint was made.

He outlined for future reference that if Jamaicans are in difficulty in a foreign country that they contact the consular office for assistance.

A lawsuit was filed last week Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, on behalf of four of the five Jamaican fishermen: Dexter Weir, Patrick Wayne Ferguson, David Roderick Williams, and Luther Fian Patterson. the fifth Jamaican George Thompson chose not joined the suit.

The suit claimed that “after stopping their fishing boat in the Caribbean Sea, the Coast Guard seized the fishermen; removed them from their boat, which Coast Guard officers then destroyed; forced them to strip naked, supplying them with paper-thin coveralls; stripped naked, given white, paper-thin overalls and disposable slippers to wear instead, and subsequently chained by their ankles to metal cables on multiple Coast Guard ships which made stops in Guantanamo Bay, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Miami.

They were held incommunicado for more than a month, all while denying them access to shelter, basic sanitation, proper food and medical care.”

The ACLU alleges the US Coast Guard held the men for trafficking marijuana but could not find any of the drug on either their person or the vessel.

The men were eventually charged and plead guilty to providing false information regarding their destination.

However, Mr. Watt says this is a common tactic used by the authorities, where those held under duress are urged to plead guilty to a lesser charge as a means of getting home quickly.

Watt says fifth Jamaican fisherman, George Thompson, was so traumatized by the incident he has refused to be party to the suit.

The attorney says along with proper compensation for the fishermen, the ACLU will be calling for the courts to quash the practice being used by the US Coast Guard.

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Last modified onFriday, 21 June 2019 08:25
  • Countries: Jamaica

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