KINGSTON, Jamaica, April 28, 2015 (AMG) — Long-standing human rights organisation, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), has been forced to close its legal department and dismiss staff after a decision by the Government of Jamaica to strip it of its charity status.
While the government’s decision was first made in October 2014, and a JFJ appeal was refused in February 2015, the organisatioon’s financial straits are now so dire that its ability to continue as a going concern is now under threat: JFJ has accrued new tax liabilities of up to US$100,000, and it is now ineligible for critical grant funding.
Dr. Barry Wade, JFJ Chairman, claims that the government’s actions came amid concerns that JFJ’s advocacy for legislative change served a political, rather than charitable, objective — a move which Wade contends is “contrary to international norms.”
Jamaicans for Justice has frequently been at odds with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) with its advocacy against fatal police shootings on the island. The advocacy group has also agitated for years over the perceived failure of the JCF to bring the island’s murder rate under control.
More recently, the organisation was mired in controversy over a sex education programme that it introduced in children’s homes, which made reference to anal sex. The issue ignited a media firestorm for weeks in Jamaica, particularly among hardline conservatives and faith-based groups who support the illegality of anal sex in Jamaica. JFJ later admitted culpability over the improper vetting of the programme, after sustained opposition.
Similarly disruptive was JFJ’s push for reforms to ensure better treatment for children in Jamaica’s state care. The group initiated a campaign which cited incidents of attempted suicides within children’s correctional facilities, while highlighting the issue of improper imprisonment of wayward adolescents, to push for changes to reforms in juvenile justice. The campaign was met with condemnation from Youth Minister, Lisa Hanna, who called the campaign “dangerous and clearly designed to damage the reputation of the country.”
With the closure of its legal department, JFJ has had to suspend its legal advisory services to victims of state abuse; its petitions to international bodies on human rights issues in Jamaica; as well as legal representation for victims in Jamaica’s Coroners’ Courts, Circuit Courts and the Privy Council.
A media statement by JFJ said that its new board is hoping to reach a settlement with the Government for the reinstatement of its charitable status, and on the payment of its back taxes.
AMG will continue to monitor and report on developments in this ongoing issue.