Regional

Public defender moves to implement Coral Gardens recommendations

BY ANTHONY LEWIS
Observer West writer

Thursday, January 11, 2018

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MONTEGO BAY, St James: The Office of the Public Defender says it will be redoubling its efforts to have recommendations into the Coral Gardens atrocity, which took place in St James in 1963, implemented.

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry says her office has had successes in having the recommendations accepted by both former and present administrations.

“And to give an example, this administration has accepted several recommendations coming from us in our report on the events of 1963 at Coral Gardens,” said Harrison Henry.

She added, “We take this opportunity to redouble our commitment to the Coral Gardens Rastafari Benevolent Society that the remaining work to be done to reap success will start later this month in Montego Bay.”

Harrison Henry was addressing a ceremony to mark the official opening of the Office of the Public Defender Western Region in Montego Bay held at the St James Parish Church Hall on Friday.

In April, Prime Minister Andrew Holiness, who had in Parliament officially apologised to the Rastafari community, had also listed compensation to be given to those who were affected.

These include:

A trust fund of no less than $10 million to be made available to them and their families, and six lots at Pinnacle will become designated protected heritage sites, which will also include a Rastafari Village.

The public defender is also to continue the work her office started in finding survivors and gathering important information on the affected Rastafari members and their relatives.

Harrison Henry told the Jamaica Observer West that dialogue is being had with the Coral Gardens Rastafari Benevolent Society with the aim of identifying the survivors to be compensated. She said more time is needed to complete this process.

Violence flared up at Coral Gardens in 1963 leading to the death of civilians, particularly Rastafarians, and significant personal injury and destruction of property.

During Friday's ceremony, the public defender also stated that 2017 was a 'hectic year' for her office, which has secured rewards and relief for people whose rights were breached during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion by the security forces.

She made it clear that while both she and her deputy, Herbert McKenzie, are trained attorneys-at-law they do not have the power of sanction, but rather “a mandate of persuasions”.

“I am asking you to continue to keep interest in this office; to continue to communicate with us, to be partner in our journey, as we seek to provide more avenues for every citizen to have better access to justice and access to the work of our office,” she said.

The Montego Bay office, which is located at shop #18, St Claver Avenue, will serve the parish of St James and the other western parishes of Hanover, Trelawny and Westmoreland.

Meanwhile, Mayor of Montego Bay Homer Davis in his remarks said the opening of the office was commendable.

“That to my opinion is quite commendable, because we in the west sometimes think that Kingston is Jamaica. And we are saying the west is the better part of Jamaica. We have contributed more to the economic development of Jamaica in this region. The government has depended on us so much, and it means whichever government,” argued Mayor Davis, adding “we have an airport which sees over four million arrivals here [Montego Bay]. So that is to say, we are no ordinary west.”

“I cannot overemphasise the importance of this office in its quest to ensure that Jamaicans have a dedicated system to protect, enforce and defend rights and foster a culture of accountability and justice. The Office of the Public Defender here in western Jamaica is a signal of commitment, to broadening the scope of service rather than just having it at a central location.”

Parish Judge Kaysha Grant, who spoke on behalf of Senior Parish Judge Sandria Wong Small, also pointed out that the Office of the Public Defender, “is most welcomed in St James where we have so many persons coming before the court feeling hopeless”.

“Feeling their rights have been affected in ways that sometimes we cannot even imagine. They want to know that they can vent their frustrations and that persons who are trained and have the power to change things will listen to them and create a change in his or her life,” she argued.

The office was also welcomed by Operations Officer in charge of the St James Police Division Superintendent Gary McKenzie and Donnette Johnson of the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI).

Superintendent McKenzie stressed that the police have embraced, and will continue to give support and full cooperation to the office.

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