KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday March 5, 2014, CMC – Attorney General Patrick Atkinson says Jamaicans need to know the truth as to what occurred during the attempt by security forces to arrest Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was wanted in the United States on drug and gun related charges.
Atkinson also dismissed suggestions that former OECS Supreme Court judge, Justice Velma Hylton was biased and that she should be removed from the three-member Commission of Enquiry set up to probe the circumstances that led to the 2010 West Kingston incursion that left more than 70 people dead.
Opposition legislators Tuesday walked out in protest, but in a statement Atkinson said “if there was the slightest hint of anything that would render Ms. Hylton inappropriate for this Commission of Enquiry, she would not have been recommended to the Governor General.
“It is important to add that Ms Hylton is one of three Commissioners each distinguished in their own right and we take notice of the fact that one of the most significant features of a Commissioner of Enquiry (COE) is that the public will have an opportunity to see and hear the witnesses as they testify and observe them as they are cross examined”.
Atkinson said that every Jamaican would be able to form his or her own opinion as to what took place in West Kingston in May of 2010.
“We anticipated from pronouncements that were made some in this house and others on the political platform that regardless of who was chosen as Commissioners or the Terms of Reference (TOR) that there would have been objections and obstructions to this COE.
“Mr Speaker, the people of Jamaica deserve to know the truth concerning what happened in West Kingston in May 2010. No attempt to destroy the reputation of the distinguished Commissioners will be entertained. We need to stop this practice of destroying people who are willing and prepared to serve with professionalism, integrity and impartiality.
“Mr Speaker: We on this Side had hoped that the Opposition would have been interested in unearthing the truth. All we expect of this Commission is for the issues to be placed on the table and let the chips fall where they may,” he added.
The 2010 Kingston incursion, which began on May 23, ended with the deaths of 73 people and injury to 35 others. Four soldiers were also killed and more than 500 people arrested as the security forces battled gunmen loyal to Coke, who was eventually captured one month later.
Coke has since been extradited to the United States and sentenced to 23 years in jail.
The Office of the Prime Minister said that great care had been taken to identify the Commissioners who have the required experience, skill and reputation to ensure a fair and impartial enquiry that will enjoy the confidence of the public.
But Member of Parliament for West Kingston, Desmond McKenzie, who first raised opposition to Hylton’s appointment, stood his ground on his objection.
Last month, McKenzie said his objection was based on comments Hylton made at the 2001 enquiry into a similar confrontation between civilians and the security forces in West Kingston, which resulted in the deaths of 25 civilians.
McKenzie said that he was appealing to “all well-thinking Jamaicans to join the people of West Kingston in their quest to protect their human rights and to ensure that the commission in no way is tainted in considering its outcome.
“It is not a political issue, and this matter should not be used as a political football. The people of West Kingston deserve to be treated like [all] other Jamaican citizens,” McKenzie said.
But Atkinson said no one has ever questioned Ms Hylton’s integrity, impartiality or her abilities and accused McKenzie of using “spurious grounds” in a bid to “discredit the Commission of Enquiry even before it has started”.
He said that in 2002, Justice Hylton was Counsel to a Commission of Enquiry into police activity in Tivoli Gardens and accused McKenzie of taking out of context “a part of her submission on evidence adduced from the Enquiry to the Commissioners, that women dressed in night wear along with children formed a human a shield for gunmen as they fired at the police and civilians.
“She said and I quote: “In my respectful submission, if the women and children deliberately put themselves between law and order forces…to enable those gunmen behind them to fire at the security forces and to fire at civilians, I for one do not understand why, in all circumstances, they cannot return the fire’”.
“This was an accurate statement in law and would have had to be made for the benefit of the Commissioners as to what would be appropriate in those circumstances,” Atkinson said, adding “it is important to note that Ms Hylton was not suggesting that women and children present ought to be disregarded, in any and every gun battle between police and gunmen.
“She was clearly referring only to circumstances where they were deliberate in putting themselves in the line of fire to enable gunmen behind them to fire at the security forces and civilians. If a law enforcement officer was shot and killed in these specific circumstances, those women would be guilty of that murder along with the gunmen who fired the shots.
“It is of note that in the very same submission Ms Hylton commented on evidence given by the Rev. Al Miller that he saw two young men lying on their stomachs on the asphalt on North Street in the heat of the day under the watch of the security forces. She described the conduct of the security forces as “inhumane and degrading”.
Atkinson said “there is no other evidence advanced by the Member of Parliament, of Ms Hylton’s conflict of interest either actual or apparent.
“These allegations do not come close to bias and cannot be said to be impropriety and are certainly not any basis on which this distinguished and qualified Queens Counsel should be maligned and asked to withdraw.
“If there was the slightest hint of anything that would render Ms. Hylton inappropriate for this Commission of Enquiry, she would not have been recommended to the Governor General,” Atkinson added.