KINGSTON, Jamaica, December 8, 2014 (AMG) — A Commission of Enquiry has begun to look into the circumstances that led to the deaths of 70 people during a joint police-military operation in Kingston, Jamaica in May 2010.
The enquiry, which began on December 1, will hear from over 500 witnesses over a three-month period. The commission chairman and former Barbados Attorney-General, Sir David Simmons, and two other justices will determine, among other things, whether security forces used excessive measures during an incursion into the West Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens – a depressed inner-city slum which was the stronghold of convicted gangster Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.
The killings occurred over a four-day period in May 2010 after the government led by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared a State of Emergency to allow the police and the military to execute a warrant for Coke’s arrest. Coke was subsequently extradited to the United States, where he is currently serving a 23-year sentence.
During the first week of testimony at the enquiry, eight residents of West Kingston gave various accounts of being beaten and shot at by soldiers or police officers. Several witnesses described being denied the opportunity to seek medical care for their injuries and alleged that the security forces damaged valuable property as they sought to learn Coke’s whereabouts.
The commission has already seen fiery exchanges, most notably between Convenor of the Tivoli Committee, Lloyd D’Aguilar, and Sir David. Mr. D’Aguilar was evicted from the Jamaica Conference Centre on the second day of the enquiry and barred for the duration of the proceedings after he engaged in a verbal tirade with the commission chairman, calling him a ‘political hack’ and ‘an enemy of the people of Tivoli Gardens”.
In the meantime, after several testy interactions between witnesses and lawyers representing the police and the military, the Office of the Public Defender, which represents most of the civilian witnesses, says it will consider debriefing the witnesses after giving testimony.
Included in the Terms of Reference for the commissioners is to examine the conduct of operations by the security forces in Tivoli Gardens and look into allegations that persons were especially armed to repel any law enforcement effort to capture the fugitive Christopher “Dudus” Coke.
The enquiry is also seeking to determine what arrangements were made, and what precautions were taken, to protect citizens in Tivoli Gardens and other affected areas from unnecessary injury or property damage during the State of Emergency.
AMG will continue to monitor developments as the hearings continue.