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JAMAICA | Opposition vote against extending States of Emergency - Private Sector Concerned

Featured Soldiers and Police in State of Emergency Operation in St. James Soldiers and Police in State of Emergency Operation in St. James
KINGSTON, December 12, 2018 - Jamaica's major private sector organizations want to meet with the government and the opposition People's National Party (PNP) to address concerns and review the issues surrounding the decision to end the states of public emergency, following last night's vote against the extension of the states of public emergency (SOEs) in St James, St Catherine North and sections of the Corporate Area.

The Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), in a joint statement today, said they wished to meet with both parties prior to the dates of expiration of the SOEs.

The States of Emergency which were declared in St. James, the St. Catherine North Police Division as well as sections of the Corporate Area will not be extended when they expire next month as the Parliamentary Opposition last night voted against resolutions for the security measures to continue.

However, the House of Representatives voted to extend the zones of special operations in Mount Salem, St. James and Denham Town in Kingston.

The three private sector groups said they were of the view that the SOE, as one of the anti-crime initiatives, had been effective in reducing the level of crime in the areas implemented; for example, in St James where there has been a 72 per cent reduction in murder and a 63 per cent reduction in shootings.

"We note the concerns regarding the treatment of detainees and the broader human rights issues. However, at the same time, we recognise that crime is one of the biggest infringements on the very rights we are trying to protect.  So, as we seek to protect the lives and rights of all our citizens, it is important that we assess the initiatives that are put in place to ensure that we reap the desired results and explore ways to balance the scale between competing rights," the statement added.

During a marathon sitting of the House of Representatives, which ended after 11pm, resolutions were voted on to extend the States of Emergency for a further 90 days.

While the 33 Government members voted in favour, the resolutions did not get the required two thirds majority. With the Opposition voting against the extension, it means that the St James SOE will terminate on January 31, 2019, while the emergency powers will cease to apply for St Catherine North on January 2 and sections of the Corporate Area on January 7.

National Security Minister, Dr. Horace Chang said that Government will now have to look at other anti-crime measures to protect residents of crime plagued communities which were placed under the States of Emergency.

He described the decision to vote against the resolutions as unfortunate.

“The States of Emergency is a special kind of operation. We have to examine, how we can access and maintain public safety in these areas. It will be challenging, but we have a committment as a government and a responsibility which we intend to fulfill,” the National Security Minister said.

The Parliamentary Opposition stated that it was against the States of Emergency continuing due to among other things, the arbitrary detention of young men.

“Just being detained, they are presumed to be guilty and treated as a guilty criminal. Over 3,500 young Jamaicans have been subjected to that experience - that is what we have created ! And I want to emphasize the point Mr. Speaker ..... the Prime Minister spoke about the many lives being lost , we all were calling for action to be taken. We took no comfort. We wanted action. There is a wrong and a right way to do the right thing,”said the opposition’s spokesman on National Security, Fitz Jackson.

Meanwhile, former National Security Minister Peter Bunting argued that there was no need to extend the States of Emergency in St. James and St. Catherine North.

“In the months since the declaration of the SOEs in St. James and St. Catherine in particular, there has been a significant reduction in crime in both these geographic areas. So it is hard to see how the government could show that further extensions are demonstrably justified,” Bunting noted.

During his contribution to the debate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness insisted that the States of Emergency were never meant to be recurring anti-crime measures. He said there was a plan to eventually end them but the Government had decided not to make the timetable public.

“The point that was made regarding when it would end, is a valid point. If it were an issue that the government was saying "we are not going to end, we are going to go on forever” I could understand the posture. We do have a plan not to continue the use of States of Public Emergency, but I have gone to great extents to say that I cannot give away the strategic intent of the government to say when. The moment you do that - you make the tool ineffective,” the Prime Minister said.

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