A bit late, Minister Johnson Smith

Thursday, June 27, 2019

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Dear Editor,

I found it troubling that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just recently engaged in talks with the United States about an incident in which five Jamaican fishermen allege that they had been detained by the US Coast Guard and kept in slave-like conditions for 32 days — a clear breach of the 1997 agreement between the two countries known as the Shiprider Agreement.

Four of the men have since filed a lawsuit through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the fifth is expected to join the suit, having recently retained a US-based lawyer.

When the incident was raised in Parliament by Opposition senators, the minister said she only became aware of the incident the day before and required more information. However, the incident occurred quite some time ago in Haitian waters and the men were deported in 2018. How could the ministry not have known of the incident which is clearly a serious human rights violation?

It was suggested by Opposition senators that the US Coast Guard detained the Jamaican men unlawfully, without contacting Jamaican authorities. The men allege physical and psychological trauma during the detention as they claim to have been “stripped naked, given white, paper-thin overalls and disposable slippers to wear instead, and subsequently chained by their ankles to metal cables”, one report said.

If any of these allegations are true, it is concerning. It is hard to believe that no one in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was alerted of the incident considering that the men were, in fact, deported.

It is good to know that Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith has vested interests in “promoting and protecting the rights of Jamaicans at home and abroad”, but actions speak louder than words, Ma'am.

Now that the ministry has started to probe the incident, two years later, perhaps an internal probe across related departments within the ministry is also required.

P Chin


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