It is now five years since the so-called security forces in Jamaica inflicted mayhem on the down-town Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens in late May 2010. Supposedly in search of Christopher (Dudus) Coke for whom an extradition warrant had been served in August 2009, the onslaught resulted in at least 76 deaths (over 200 unofficially), most of which the Public Defender’s report considered to be extrajudicial. It was by far the most serious incident of its kind since the Morant Bay uprising in 1865.
Although it was clear that Coke had fled by the Monday afternoon (24 May), the operation continued for two more days, searching every dwelling, causing enormous material and emotional damage, personal injury and the detention of several thousand young men, very few of whom were eventually charged, and only a handful of guns discovered. Since that time no responsibility for the massacre has been accepted by those in ultimate command which includes the Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson, Chief of Defence Staff Major General Stuart Saunders and Police Commissioner Owen Ellington.
After years of delay, the Public Defender published his report in April 2013 based on a wide range of evidence. A Commission of Enquiry was recommended which finally began in late November 2014, guided by a Terms of Reference of which only six out of sixteen directly address the brutality unleashed on the citizens.
The independence of the three-person Commission panel is doubted by many, partly because they and their three- person support team are being paid over J$250 million, including over J$50 million for the chairman. This compares to the compassionate grants (not compensation) paid to the Tivoli residents of just J$92 million which includes just J$250,000 for each of the 94 houses ‘completely destroyed’ (a small house cannot be built for less than about J$4 million). With another 200 houses ‘severely’ damaged and many hundreds injured, the scale of the operation becomes apparent.
Residents from Tivoli gave harrowing evidence to the enquiry in November/December 2104. A sample of the abuse can be seen on one of many videos posted on YouTube by Tivoli Committee convenor Lloyd D’Aguilar. This was followed by the appearance of Bruce Golding, Dwight Nelson, Dorothy Lightbourne (Attorney General), Stuart Saunders and Owen Ellington amongst others. All denied any wrong-doing with the notion of ‘command responsibility’ (ie not passing the buck) seemingly having no relevance whatsoever.
In recent weeks the enquiry has been hearing from some of the ground commanders. They have been painting a picture of organised resistance to Coke’s arrest on such a scale that they had no alternative but to effectively declare war including the use of inaccurate mortar-bombs. Problem is, war on some gunmen, or indiscriminate war on a whole community, with only ineffective measures to avoid ‘collateral damage’? Not only deaths, serious injuries, property damage and unwarranted detention but the abuse of just about every resident – akin to what happens all too often in Jamaica (see ‘Death Squads‘)
Unless the Commission re-acquaints itself with, and properly factors in the evidence given by the Tivoli residents in November/December, their report will be worthless, a white-wash similar to the recent Marikana report on the deaths of 39 miners just published in South Africa. The struggle for justice for the people of Tivoli, and West Kingston, will clearly be a long one, extending well beyond the present enquiry and no doubt requiring the involvement of international human rights organisations such as the International Criminal Court.
It is not only the May 2010 atrocity which must be addressed. The stark class divide in Jamaica, which has left Tivoli and similar communities in comparative and even absolute poverty, which portrays every inner-city young man as a threat, must also be addressed. Resources must be pumped in regardless of any nay-saying from the IMF and those it represents – and even more, so political commitment. Otherwise the slaughter will re-occur when the privileged, and the state which protects them, feel just a little too vulnerable.
- The Tivoli Committee, which is participating in the enquiry alongside the Office of the Public Defender and INDECOM, has recently engaged a new attorney. Funds are needed to cover this and other costs especially publicity and public events aimed at sustaining support for the victims of the 2010 Tivoli massacre. Please give what you can through CLS
- c/o 29 Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UA
- cheques made payable to Caribbean Labour Solidarity and marked Tivoli Support Committee on the reverse