By David McFadden
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KINGSTON, Jamaica _ Jamaica’s most prominent human rights organization has closed its legal department and laid off staff after losing its longstanding status as a charity, a leader of the group said.
Barry Wade, chairman of the Jamaicans for Justice, said the government rejected the watchdog group’s application to renew its charity status, forcing it to dramatically cut its operations and turn down certain grants from international donors. It now also faces some $100,000 in back taxes.
Wade said Tuesday the denial came due to concerns about the group’s advocacy for legislative change, a reason he said is “puzzling.” He also asserts that the decision is “contrary to international norms.”
The government’s Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies, which rejected the group’s renewal application, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Over the years, police officials have portrayed Jamaicans for Justice as being sympathetic to criminals and some politicians have accused it of trying to make the island look bad. But the group is widely respected among many. In 2008, one of its founders received the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for her work against police slayings.
Last year, the organization’s reputation took a hit in Jamaica when it introduced a sex education program for children’s group homes that it acknowledged was not properly vetted. The matter made headlines for weeks on the island, in large part because the sex education material for young wards of the state included references to anal sex, which is illegal in Jamaica.
In 2013, the rights group waged a petition and online video campaign demanding reforms in the treatment of children in state care that prompted Youth Minister Lisa Hanna to describe the work as “dangerous and clearly designed to damage the reputation of the country.”
In a Tuesday statement, Jamaicans for Justice said a new board elected over the weekend will focus on getting the group’s charitable status back and hopefully reach a settlement with the government regarding back taxes.
.photo credit : www.mellofmjamaica.com