JFJ/Observer Column Article – JFJ Celebrates 15 years of Advocacy in Jamaica

JFJ celebrates 15 years of advocacy in Jamaica
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

FIFTEEN years ago, out of the chaos of the April 1999 gas riots, emerged Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). The riots saw groups of people demonstrating islandwide and brought together, at the foot of Jack’s Hill, two pockets of protesters representing the class divide of the country. The riots had been successful in causing the government to reverse its decision on a gas tax.

At the end of the riots, some of the protesters who had come together at the foot of the hill felt that there needed to be more discussions to address what had happened as well as the perceived miscarriages of justice and corruption that were taking place in the public sector. Over 20 of these protesters would subsequently meet, forming JFJ and becoming its first members.

The direction the group took with its work resulted from the issues facing it in its formative years. JFJ’s first case began when 52 men were arbitrarily detained, fingerprinted and photographed in Grant’s Pen during a joint police-military patrol. Thirteen of the men organised a legal challenge with the help of JFJ members who were attorneys-at-law. This illegal detention case exemplified the modus operandi that would be adopted by JFJ, highlighting state abuse of rights, attempting to make those ‘invisible visible’ and providing legal redress to these abuses.

Following this action, the case of Michael Gayle was brought to JFJ’s attention. Michael Gayle, a 26-year-old mentally ill man from the Olympic Gardens community in Kingston was beaten to death by members of the security forces in August 1999. The case brought into focus issues of impunity and lack of accountability that would form a recurring theme in many of JFJ’s subsequent cases. It also established certain precedence in the investigative practices of cases involving persons who died at the hands of the state.

This included the development of a policy document allowing citizens to have independent observers at the post- mortems of their relatives and the establishment of the Independent Commission of Investigations years later; both resulting from the intense lobbying of JFJ locally and internationally.

Since the Michael Gayle case, JFJ’s work has grown to include routinely monitoring myriad ongoing cases that involve alleged abuses by agents of the state; undertaking advocacy around policy legislation and governance issues affecting the rights of citizens, lobbying for the protection of the rights of children in state care and conducting human rights education and training in schools, children’s homes, communities as well as with police recruits.

The work of JFJ in ensuring that the rights of all Jamaicans are kept with a focus on the society’s most vulnerable has been labelled by some to be criminal rights defence, especially in cases where people have been accused by the police of committing crimes. This speaks to a misconception of the organisation’s work. JFJ, like most human rights non-governmental organisations, works to even the balance and provide protection for the individual against the all-powerful state mechanism. Any Jamaican, at any point in time can become a victim of state abuse. JFJ works to ensure that the rights of all of us are protected.