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PM apologises in Parliament for 2010 West Kingston operation

… Sets January date for resumption of Vale Royal Talks

By Balford Henry
Senior staff reporter

Thursday, December 07, 2017

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness confirmed yesterday that his Government would be returning next year to the bipartisan dialogue on national issues, which began approximately a decade ago as the 'Vale Royal Talks'.

“We do intend to restart the Vale Royal Talks, and we intend to do so in the second week of January, and I will advise the Leader of the Opposition of the specific date,” Holness told the House of Representatives.

The bipartisan talks, began under former Prime Minister P J Patterson in 2006, and focused on dealing with crime and violence.

Holness said that there may be a change of name for the discussions which were named after the official residence of Jamaica's minister of finance.

He said that the formula would provide the framework for the two major political parties — the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) — to start conversations “particularly to address the issue of garrisonisation” — inner-city communities made up largely of supporters of one party.

Holness made the announcement after reading an apology to residents of Western Kingston, who suffered breaches of their human rights during the 2010 Western Kingston operation. He said it was the intention of his Government to address the recommendation by the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry to dismantle political garrisons.

The operation in West Kingston was triggered by, what was up to May that year, an abortive attempt by the security forces to capture fugitive drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke in Tivoli Gardens. About 73 people, including a member of the security forces, were killed in the process.

Coke was eventually captured and extradited to the United States where he pleaded guilty to federal drug and weapons trafficking charges in May 2011 and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

However, memories of the bloody incident lingered leading to the Government's appointment of a Commission of Enquiry in 2013, which recommended: compensation for the victims of the incursion for wrongful death and injury and property damage, as well as efforts to control the use of force by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF); and the dismantling of the so-called “political garrisons”, as well as mitigating the circumstances which have given rise to them in Jamaica.

In his apology to “the people of West Kingston, specifically, and the citizens of Jamaica” for the negative results of the event, Holness noted that the commission, which was chaired by Barbadian jurist Sir David Simmons, found that the operation by the security forces was justified, but that the “manner of execution by some members of the security forces….was disproportionate, unjustified and unjustifiable”.

“As the commission has rightly concluded, the Government is the last resort responsible for the conduct of the security forces,” Holness pointed out.

The report recommended that, in that event, the Government should apologise to the people of West Kingston and its environs and the people of Jamaica, “as one form of redress and promoting justice as well as restoring trust and confidence in the State”.

Ironically, West Kingston is regarded as the JLP's main political stronghold, and Holness said yesterday that while his Government agrees that the events, as they unfolded, presented enormous challenges to the security forces, “we must all agree that even under those conditions, the standards of human rights must be observed by agents of the State”.

He said that was the “single most fundamental factor that separates those who are guardians of the rule of law, and those who are inclined to observe the law more in the breach”.

“Consequently, Mr Speaker, I believe that the most immediate and appropriate response of the Government of Jamaica is to begin the process of healing by apologising to those who were affected,” the prime minister said.

He said that the process of healing comes not so much from the apportioning of blame, but from the understanding that violence makes victims of everyone involved.

“As such, I stand here in this Honourable House to unreservedly and unequivocally apologise to:

(1) the people of Jamaica for the fear and uncertainty that defined that time, as each and every Jamaican was affected in some way or the other;

(2) the people of West Kingston and, in particular, the residents of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town, who were most affected through loss of life and damage to property, and the pain they endured by the violence that took place;

(3) the men and women of the security forces who were facing unprecedented levels of violence; a number of members of the security forces also lost their lives and their families continue to grieve and are still trying to pick up the pieces; and

(4) all the families of those who lost loved ones or had persons injured during that period.

Holness said that the Government was leading by “extending the hand of peace”” to start the process of healing and “in engineering the recovery of a country from one of violence and conflict to one of peace, order and supremacy of the rule of law”.