Frequently Asked Questions
Some Jamaicans perceive Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) to be anti-police. This speaks to the misunderstanding of role of human rights organisations. JFJ, like other human rights organisations worldwide, works in areas where the imbalance of power is most marked and the protection of rights most vulnerable; the place where the power of the state is used against the individual.
One would expect that the agents of the state who are charged with the defence of rights and the rule of law would need to be held to a higher standard than that of the so-called “criminals.” After all, the state has the primary responsibility to protect, respect, promote and fulfill human rights and is a signatory of international human rights covenants and conventions agreeing to uphold these obligations but often, is in breach of its agreements.
The simple explanation the organisation uses is: ‘When the gun man is breaking down your door, you call the agents of the state, the police in this case, for protection but when it is the police who are breaking down your door, who can you call?
It is in that space of power imbalance and individual vulnerability that most human rights non-governmental organizations (NGO) operate, in an attempt to even the balance and provide protection for society’s vulnerable/against the all-powerful state mechanism.
The work of JFJ has been interpreted by some, as ‘criminal rights defence’ as the defence of rights, especially for those who have been accused of committing crimes by the police, is perceived as the protection of the rights of criminals. There is a general presumption that if one is abused by the police then one must, per se, be a criminal and if one is detained and/or charged by the police they are guilty and as such, are not deserving of being treated humanely. However, citizens, who are beaten, wrongly detained, threatened and murdered by the police are victims, and are equally deserving of protection of their rights EVEN if they have committed crimes.
JFJ’s mandate focuses on advocating for state transparency, accountability and overall good governance with a primary focus on victims whose rights have been breached by agents of the state, specifically members of the security forces (police and soldiers). Owing to the fact that the state is the primary entity responsible for protecting the rights of the citizenry, when a civilian allegedly breaches the rights of another civilian, the state is the institution which is there for redress. However, when it is the state, for example the police, who allegedly infringes on the rights of civilians, the avenues for redress are harder to access. This is why there exists human rights NGOs such as JFJ which seeks to help those who need redress when the state entity that is supposed to be protecting them, ends up violating their rights.
It is within these parameters that JFJ operates which limits the organisation from being able to focus on civilian versus civilian type matters including those involving police officers who are killed by civilians while not acting in the capacity of law officers. However, JFJ does issue statements when a police officer is killed while in the line of duty because an attack on the police when they are lawfully performing their duties represents an attack on the state which lies at the foundation of law and order. For individual cases where a civilian is a victim of police excesses, JFJ agitates on behalf of that individual, only when that person or his/her family members have approached the organisation for assistance.