Interviews

Sosjamaica, reggae people fighting for human rights

Written by Phil Dinham

Human rights organisations, Amnesty International, Jamaicans For Justice(JFJ) , Families Against State Terrorism (FAST) have for sometime been seeking to address the state of human rights violations in Jamaica. SOS Jamaica have joined the effort, the human rights watchdog group with Headquarters in Italy wants to send the outside world the message that Jamaica is dying a violent death.

The mission of SOS Jamaica is to give correct information about the political and cultural environment in Jamaica, while aiding the Jamaican people in solving the most serious case of human rights violations.

SOS Jamaica believes that Jamaica’s problems are not confined to Jamaican people alone. Yet, the message and the model that the culture and politics of Jamaica spread through reggae make it necessary for the citizenry of the world to be aware of the realities facing the people.

SOS Jamaica believes that Jamaica and Jamaicans have sought to stir social conscience through the art form of music where reggae has taken root and thus should be accountable to the world audience. Reggae music dictates imported behavioral models which in many ways are utterly inappropriate, and unacceptable. The use of heavily sexist, domineering and disrespectful language, the unconditional use of marijuana, with no view to measured consumption and consequent reduction of harm, thug like macho attitudes and sexual abuse of women, as well as dubious religious identification with Rastafarianism in its less tolerant forms.

This to SOS Jamaica is unfortunate, all too often people find themselves agreeing with the message of the music, and sharing the language which it transcends yet their is a disconnection with the realities of Jamaican living. The organisation points out that outside Jamaica it is easy to find people accepting reggae without the slightest critical awareness of the message in the music, not even when the lyrics are violent and racist, and against minorities and diversity.

Here are a few questions we sought to ask SOS Jamaica about their rallying point surrounding their human rights advocacy.

What is your opinion on the state of human rights violations in Jamaica at this time, and, do you think the Jamaican public at home and abroad are sensitized to the alarming rates at which equal rights and justice maybe deteriorating?

We are aware of the difficult situation in Jamaica today and we think that it is relevant to be part of any action which could help to inform and find solutions for it.

When there is an emergency there is also a strong temptation to put human rights one side. It is necessary to understand that this is not the solution also because human rights defend mainly the poor, the ones which have no voice neither representatives. It is fundamental to investigate on the reasons for violence. We totally refuse to believe that Jamaican society is violent just like this. The roots of its problem lay in unemployment, poverty, lack of chances, mafia, corruption; it is a long way to go but it is much more productive to try to find real solutions more than advocate restrictions, and punishments which won’t be a real improvement. Also if corruption is heavily influencing the justice system, there is no short cut to take but the need to focus the problem and face it as it is.

What is SOS Jamaica’s status on the Janice Allen case and is your organisation prepared to take the case all the way to the highest court?

Janice Allen has been chosen for our campaign with a particular attention because she was just a 13 years old girl and nobody can try to say that she was a gunman or a bad woman. Sometimes people are murdered twice, one time when they are killed, and then when their memory is covered with shame. SOS Jamaica has sent a lot of postcards from all over Europe to remember that we won’t forget and we won’t allow anybody to dump her case.

Our organisation has the aim to inform and sensitize but it is not us taking cases to court, it is an Amnesty International and Jamaicans for Justice job to follow trials and they have our full support and help.

Would you say SOS Jamaica is just in its infancy and are your activism campaigns picking up momentum?

SOS Jamaica was born 3 years ago and since then we are growing because there is a strong love and interest to Jamaica in our countries so people are particularly interested in it.

Jamaica has exported abroad the Marley message and many people look at it as a model to imitate so there is quite a lot of attention on Jamaica which help us to carry on our information and support campaign.

It is also useful to let people know that, if they go to Jamaica as tourists, they should try to learn and know about it and not just sit on a white sand beach ignoring that Jamaica is a country with its problems.

What are the objectives and events of SOS Jamaica for the year 2005?

For 2005 we are strongly hoping that some of the most famous cases could reach a fair trial: Janice Allen, Michael Gayle, Braeton, August Town murderers need to be addressed and there is a need to give an answer to all the ones which feel that in their country there is no justice and it is necessary to feel fear to speak out.

We are also part of the campaign against domestic abuse and we are particularly interested in participate to the debate on violence in some music lyrics which are picturing the rough side of Jamaica. Our main goal is informing people and promote a deeper understanding on issues concerning Jamaica.

Also in the next months we are organizing a public meeting/debate to speak about the Marley message and why it is so powerful, popular and important for the youths of today 24 years after his death.

As every year in summer we will organize just near our headquarters, Rome – Italy, a reggae/ska festival called ‘Positive Vibration’ (www.positivevibration.it). We organize this festival together with several NGO associations, with the support of reggae bands, selectors and sound systems. This is the right occasion where listen good reggae music, stay together in harmony with the nature and discuss about some important topics such as human rights and many others subject.

This year we are also carrying on the cross-cultural exchange “School meets School” between Italian and Jamaican schools, started in 2003. At present two schools from Rome and the Titchfield College from Port Antonio – Jamaica are participating, while SOS Jamaica crew is operating as mediator between the two realities.

Aim of the project is to promote human rights among youth and to build a bridge for the dialogue between cultures through the exchange of traditional proverbs, fairy tales, legends, usages and customs from both countries. This is helping everybody to know better their cultural roots and understand a different reality.

The students are very happy of this new experience and they communicate by mail, they send to each other music, photos, and videos. The Italian students have also collected and sent a financial contribution to the College to support a project that particularly needs funds. In Italy the project is promoted by the Cultural Anthropology Chair of the University of Rome and the UNESCO centre of research.

How is SOS Jamaica funded?

SOS Jamaica was founded in the 2001 by reggae fans that beyond loving this music they are also loving of the land where this is been born: Jamaica. SOS Jamaica is mainly funded by the money collected through reggae shows and tours. Reggae music is popular and it is a good vehicle to introduce people to Jamaica. Also the ones working in the reggae industry are donating their skills to us Reggae bands, sound systems and selectors perform for free and help us to do fund raising for Jamaica. Also we are producing some merchandising such as T-shirts, belts, bags and their sales brings us some further funds. We are also planning to produce a compilation with all those artists willing support us and believe in our commitment.

We send the money to Jamaica, to the coordinator of Amnesty International Jamaica Chapter and she uses to assist prisoners, to pay lawyers, to help in some emergencies.

Who can be apart of SOS Jamaica, is membership to your organisation prohibited strictly to Jamaicans?

Everybody can be part of SOS Jamaica and it is wonderful to see that people from different countries, cultures and beliefs, is unite to defend human rights and lobby for their love for Jamaica. It would be extremely positive to have Jamaican members which could be very helpful to understand better Jamaican reality and to illustrate their concerns and wishes.

Last year we have been invited to Spain by some Spanish reggae posses and the year before we were in Germany in the same way. Every day we receive a lot of letters and e-mails showing their support from reggae people from all over the world, and this is very exciting for us because it is the confirmation of our intentions and motto: SOS Jamaica, reggae people unite against injustice.

About the Writer, Philip Dinham

Phil Dinham is a member of our Jamaica prime time news team. He remains a Jamaican citizen in Ft Lauderdale, United States where he is an Arts and Science major at Nova Southeastern Univeristy. Philip is a certified media professional with over six years of experience in formal media relations and radio broadcasting. Comment on this article and all Jamaica Prime Time presentations by writing respective authors at [email protected]

About the author

Phil Dinham