Maintaining human rights

I wish to support calls by the president of the Bar Association, Minister Michael Lashley, and others, for there to be a complete overhaul of the way in which the Royal Barbados Police Force conducts its business.

I honestly do not want to come across as one simply bent on bashing the police department, but I believe that this is too serious an issue to be dismissed or ignored by the public.

There needs to be transparency with regard to arrest, detention and interrogation of suspects. There have been too many accusations of police brutality made by suspects over the years for us to ignore them. The challenge lies in the fact that most, or all, of these suspects are disenfranchised black males who have, unfortunately, gotten themselves involved in a life of crime. To our middle-classed minds, they deserve whatever they get.

I wish to dispel this belief by reminding all of us that, irrespective of our choices, or our station in life, and irrespective of whatever we may do or have done, we are all children of God. We, who call ourselves a Christian nation, cannot tolerate or allow any child of God, no matter how far he or she may have fallen, to be treated as less than human. The rights which we expect and desire for ourselves should be extended to all, even those whom we might think don’t deserve it.

Having said that, it goes without saying that offences against individuals, and the state, must be punished, and, more importantly (and this is an area which has been neglected), restitution must be made by the guilty to the injured party. Also, persons must be deterred from committing these acts. However, it must be understood that, in maintaining law and order, basic human rights must be guaranteed.

One might ask why. The most important answer is that scripture says so. Beginning from Genesis 1:26 where God state that we are all made in His image, there are several key passages of scripture which speak to the issue of ensuring that the rights of all persons are respected and maintained. Proverbs 31:8-9, Psalms. 82:3, Isaiah. 1:17 and Milachi. 6:8 come immediately to mind, but there are several others.

Secondly, we cannot keep criminals locked up forever, nor can we kill them all. Efforts must be made to rehabilitate as many of them as we can (we will never be able to rescue all) so that they can be reintegrated in a positive way into society.

If we demonstrate to them that the state is willing to tolerate their abuse at the point of their arrest and detention, we cannot hope to convince them at a later stage that this is a just and fair society where anyone can turn their life around and become a success. All we will be doing is creating serial criminals who will then turn around and imbue another generation with their own mistrust of society.

It is therefore imperative that we get it right from step one. The administration of justice begins at the point of arrest and detention – perhaps even before that. I must state here that I think that the comments attributed to the attorney-general recently with regard to this issue are not becoming of that office.

I must also express my deep disappointment that the church, and by that I mean each and every denomination, has so far been silent on human rights issues in this country. Pretending that an issue does not exist has never, in my experience, made it go away.

– Mark A. Parris

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