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Culture minister opens debate to absolve national heroes of criminal liability

Thursday, October 12, 2017

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DEBATE on a Bill to absolve certain national heroes and their supporters of criminal liability started in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The legislation, the National Heroes and Other Freedom Fighters (Absolution from Criminal Liability in Respect of Specified Events) Act, 2017, was piloted by Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Minister Olivia Grange.

When passed, Sam Sharpe, George William Gordon, Paul Bogle, and Marcus Mosiah Garvey, as well as their supporters, sympathisers and participants by association, and other freedom fighters, will be absolved of criminal liability arising from their participation in “acts of liberation with moral justification”.

In her remarks, Grange said the objective is to redeem and restore the dignity and integrity of those who suffered much.

“Our ancestors were of a pedigree that was not daunted by challenges, no matter how great they were or how seemingly unsurmountable the obstacles. They came to Jamaica shackled and belaboured, but within their fertile minds dwelt the militant cultures they had fashioned back home in the various tribal forces of the (African) continent,” she stated.

“They soon became freedom fighters, 'buffalo soldiers, stolen from Africa, fighting on arrival, fighting for survival'. In this prolific and prolonged campaign, they wreaked mayhem and holy war against the oppressors. They made life difficult for those who would try to rule them, making them realise that, though they would enslave the body, they could not enslave their minds,” she added.

Grange further noted that their fertile minds were in a state of constant preparation for the time when they or their children would be free.

The culture minister argued that it would be unjust for the children of the oppressed, who were emboldened by a vision of future liberty for their descendants, to sit silently and allow the names and images of these martyrs for freedom to be tarnished by a brutal uncaring system of governance.

She added that it is the duty of the present generation of Jamaicans, who are inheritors of the new life resulting from the self-sacrifice of their ancestors, to take the bold step and correct the wrongs of the past, and restore the dignity and integrity of the cause for which the nation's forefathers so willingly died.

“This Bill gives new life to these, our heroes and unsung heroes, and seeks to redress the wrongs and set the captives free,” Grange stated.

In his contribution, Opposition Member of Parliament for Central Kingston, Rev Ronald Thwaites said the legislation would enable an engagement that is “appropriate and valid in law”.

“When law is wrongly applied it must be corrected. There is a legal as well as a moral imperative to enact. We are the highest court in the land, and it is of great importance that we should do what we are doing,” he said.

Debate on the Bill will continue at the next sitting of the House of Representatives.

— JIS

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