our agenda. There are also legislative changes being made—and
we are participating very actively
in that—but the government’s primary responsibility has got to be
protecting citizens’ lives. And if it
is failing to do that, then we must
ask: what measures must be taken
to fix it?
Violent crime and rising murder
rates, inept and corrupt police
forces, the abuse of citizens’ rights,
and the fight against crime are
AQ: You were awarded the UN
prize along with Louise Arbour,
Benazir Bhutto, Ramsey Clark, Dr. human right continues to evolve.
Denis Mukwege, Sr. Dorothy Stang, What do you think are some of the
and Human Rights Watch. Who greatest human rights challenges
are some other human rights ac- that the region faces today?
tivists you admire?
FARC in Colombia. How has your
group harnessed new technologies
and new media to spread its message and work more effectively?
Gomes: One of the interesting
things about this prize is that you
feel like you’re not worthy. There
are so many people who on a day-to-day basis get up and say “no.”
The challenges that the region faces
are so similar… Brazil for instance
is experiencing police abuse and
police killings. There’s a group in
Saint Vincent that stuck its neck
out in defense of a policewoman
who claimed to have been raped
by the prime minister, and went
to court on behalf of this woman.
So it’s hard to be singled out
for recognition—almost like I
shouldn’t accept it.
I admire, for example, the
women we work with, the mothers of the dead children who get
up day after day and face down attempts to intimidate them from
doing their work. They get up and
say: “No, I’m not accepting this, I’m
not going to be paid off, I’m not going to be intimidated.” There are
also the people who take their lives
into their hands to go to court and
testify on behalf of people whom
they are not related to.
AQ: Human rights in the hemisphere have progressed substantially since the 1970s and 1980s,
while what is thought of as a
Gomes: Every child that has to go
to a substandard school is a child
whose human rights are abused. Every person who doesn’t have social security or social support or
the chance to get a decent job or a
decent standard of living—that’s
an abuse of their rights, and it’s a
threat to the development of democracy. The inequity and the inequality that have widened and
worsened over the last 10 to 15 years
are a threat to human rights. Development issues—adequate standards of living and housing—all tie
in together with human rights.
But obviously the primary
threat to human rights is the right
to life. Violent crime and rising
murder rates, inept and corrupt police forces, the abuse of citizens’
rights, and the fight against crime
are immediate challenges, certainly in Jamaica. If a society loses
faith that the government is going
to keep it safe, if its solution to every problem is a stabbing or gunshot, then you are in a situation of
anarchy where there is no acceptance of other’s rights.
AQ: Social networking on sites
like Facebook has become a powerful tool for convening individuals, as was witnessed in the 2008
worldwide protests against the
Gomes: We have a very vibrant
and free media, so we have built
strong relationships with many
media practitioners in Jamaica,
which allows us to get the information out widely. One of the challenges that we face is the fact that
not enough of us speak Spanish, so
it cuts off some of the regional exchanges that would be helpful. But
there are fledgling efforts to build
networks and regionalize efforts in
the English-speaking Caribbean. Increasingly the Internet allows more
instant interchange, which we can
build on going forward.
AQ: Do you have any advice for
your counterparts in the region?
Gomes: One of the things
that we have learned from this
is the necessity to not become
discouraged. Legitimacy requires
not only courage and a loud voice
but also documentation and a
willingness to keep challenging,
to keep pushing, to be clear when
you make a statement, and to
make a statement based on facts.
Time must be taken to analyze
the situation and develop position
papers to always try to be as factual
and as fair as possible. But you must
be prepared to stand up and to say:
“This is where I stand.”