Jackson accuses foreign affairs ministry of dishonesty in case of fishermen

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saunders@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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OPPOSITION spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson has accused the Government of being dishonest in its explanation of the situation involving the five fishermen held at sea in September 2017 by the US Coast Guard and allegedly taken captive for a month under inhumane conditions.

Four of the five men, through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and law firm Stroock and Stroock and Lavan, are now suing the US Coast Guard, claiming degrading treatment and appalling human rights violations.

“[In] every matter involving a foreign government the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the conduit. Even with extradition matters, it doesn't come through the Ministry of National Security; it comes through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot plead ignorance, and that's why the minister is being dishonest, not disingenuous,” Jackson charged.

He described the case as repugnant as, having granted the waiver under the “Shiprider Agreement” for the US Coast Guard to detain the Jamaican nationals and board their vessel – the Jossette — the Government's responsibility was to have continued interaction with US authorities on the status of the individuals.

“It's a clear dereliction of duty on the part of the Jamaican Government,” Jackson argued.

Jackson said the minister has refused to acknowledge that the ministry fell down in its duty of care to the fishermen.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is headed by Kamina Johnson Smith.

In her explanantion to the Senate last week, Johnson Smith the ministry was unaware of the situation until it came to public attention.

She said further, that there is no record of any complaint of mistreatment lodged with the Jamaican Government since the time of the arrest by the US authorities in 2017, including during their deportation from the United States in 2018, when they engaged directly with the staff of the Consulate-General in Miami, nor on their return to Jamaica.

“It is also regretted that the family of the men did not report them to the Ministry as missing, as has been done in many prior consular cases,” Johnson Smith said Friday,

But Jackson countered that families would not necessarily be aware that they should have reported their missing relative to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“It's they [the foreign affairs ministry] who should have informed the [national security] ministry because they know; they give the people authority to board the vessel...in this case the Government knew, because they were advised,” he stated.

“I don't think people really understand the gravity of this dereliction of duty for all of us as Jamaicans,” he added.

The men are claiming for false imprisonment; negligence; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of international law; compensatory damages for the destruction of the Jossette and its contents; battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; forced disappearance in violation of customary international law; and compensatory and punitive damages for violations of maritime law in an amount that is fair, just, and reasonable.

The US Coast Guard has disputed some of the claims, claiming that it saw the men dumping approximately 600 pounds of marijuana, which was recovered, and the basis on which the waiver was sought from the Jamaican Government.


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