Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke extradition entangles local and international law

Drug Policy — POSTED BY Cosmo on June 3, 2010 at 11:30 am

US request gives Jamaica’s prime minister chance to reclaim control of Tivoli and other lawless Kingston communities.

From The Guardian by Maxine Williams

Since August 2009, the extradition request for one man has spiralled Jamaica into a nightmare which has claimed dozens of lives, injured just as many, severely damaged businesses and tourism, provoked a limited state of emergency, discredited the government and traumatised the population.

Christopher “Dudus” Coke, a Jamaican citizen, was charged by a grand jury in the southern district of New York with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and to traffic in firearms during a period between 1994 to 2007. The acts described in the indictment violate the laws of the United States. Pursuant to an extradition treaty between the two countries, the US issued Diplomatic Note No 296 on 25 August 2009 requesting Coke’s extradition.

The charges in the US indictment against Coke rest on the evidence of cooperating witnesses and on alleged conversations between Coke and his co-conspirators during the relevant period. The way the US authorities came into possession of this evidence is the central legal ground on which the Jamaican government based its prolonged refusal to comply with the extradition request.

It claims that the extradition order was unlawful because the four warrants issued by the Jamaican supreme court to “tap” Coke’s phones authorised the disclosure of intercepted communication only to the commissioner of police, the assistant commissioner, the head of military intelligence and the superintendent of police and not to any US bodies.

Popular opinion is that this legal objection was simply a means of refusing a legitimate request, amid deeply held fear that bringing down this one man could cause the death – literally and politically – of the government and many of its supporters. The Tivoli Gardens community from which Coke hails is associated with the ruling Jamaica Labour party (JLP) and is in fact the prime minister’s constituency.

The practice of political parties hiring gangs of young men and arming them with guns in order for them to exercise political pressure on community members goes back to the 1970s. These gangs have long since diversified their goals and activities leading Jamaica to be in the unenviable position as one of the top five murder capitals of the world.

What we are now witnessing in Jamaica – since 18 May when the government caved under local and international pressure and sent its security forces to apprehend Coke – is the convergence of thorny local and international law issues. Evidence is generally admissible in criminal proceedings in Jamaica even if obtained by improper or unfair means, making arguments not to arrest Coke unsustainable.

The diplomatic and political fall-outs for the Jamaican government if they did not act were severe. The US issued its Narcotics Control Strategy Report of March 2010 stating that the ruling party’s well-known ties with Coke highlighted the “potential depth of corruption in the government”.

The most favourable interpretation of these events is either that the government was following the rule of law in refusing to act on an illegitimate extradition request or it was deliberately thwarting a lawful request on the moral ground that in so doing, it was preventing the anticipated deaths of many citizens. After all, if the command to apprehend Coke had not been given, more than 70 people who have so far been killed in the search and seizure operation would be alive today.

There is a less favourable possibility. This is that, with little regard for whether the request was valid or not, the government sought to maintain a status quo in which a reputed drug king pin controls a massive swath of territory through terror while providing political support to those in power. When the prime minister, Bruce Golding, finally gave instructions to proceed on the extradition request, he insisted that he was acting on the basis of the concepts of fairness and justice by defending Coke’s constitutional rights as a citizen of Jamaica.

The reality is that this “don” provides the services that the state cannot provide: welfare, employment, and most of all protection. Tivoli Gardens, his domain, is the safest part of Kingston where residents walk openly on the street at night.

There is a power vacuum in Jamaica where certain geographical areas fall under the jurisdiction of the Jamaican state in name only. Once successive regimes have allowed, or at least ignored the vacuum, it becomes extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the state to step back in to fill that space when it is called upon to do so.

The prime minister has now declared that “the time for equivocation is over” and that the state will be reclaiming control of Tivoli and the other “garrison communities“. This is a welcome statement if it leads to the dissolution of these alternative regimes run by dons and their associates, albeit at the cost of many more lives in the immediate future. The utilitarian principle of the right acts or policies being those that bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people may yet be accomplished with the ruling JLP being rewarded for its tardy courage.

Maxine Williams is a lawyer with international and human rights experience

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