Editorial | Nancy Anderson deserves our honour
It is fitting that Jamaica celebrates Nancy Anderson. Unfortunately, she won’t hear the accolades. Worse, those who benefited most from the causes to which she dedicated her life won’t have her help anymore. And they are the ones who can least afford the loss – the people who this newspaper, in its report on Ms Anderson’s death earlier this week, described as “the vulnerable who languished on the margins of society”.
Nancy Anderson wasn’t born in Jamaica. Neither did she look like the vast majority of Jamaicans. And certainly not like the people whose causes she regularly championed – mostly poor, black males whose human rights were encroached upon, often by institutions that would be expected to be fair to them and protective of their rights, to wit, the justice system.
The point is that this white, United States-born lawyer wasn’t detained by class and appeared not to see colour, but people in the fullness of their humanity. All had inalienable rights that demanded the fullest of protection.
Or as Adrian Saunders, the president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), put it: “Nancy was also an indefatigable, courageous fighter for the poor, the marginalised, the powerless; those with little or no voice in the society. She selflessly placed all her legal knowledge and skills to advance those causes. She was also deeply committed to the building up of the institutions and bodies that promoted the human rights of all.”
ADVOCATE FOR POOR
Those “poor, marginalised and powerless” included the likes of Ivan Nettleford and Walter Blackstock, who, though not convicted of crimes, were lost in the cracks of Jamaica’s prison system because they were not mentally capable of pleading in court. And no one in the system cared enough to pay attention. Ms Anderson was also among the advocates in the seminal Shanique Myrie case that not only earned damages for the degrading body-cavity search suffered by a Jamaican woman at the hands of Barbadian immigration officers, but established a right of entry for Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals travelling within the community. There are many hundreds of Jamaicans whose names never made the press, but who will remember Nancy Anderson for her efforts on their behalf in her role as executive director of the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (IJCHR).
Nancy Anderson, however, was not only a hands-on, client-lawyer advocate. She also contributed at the institutional level. She, for example, taught at the Norman Manley Law School, and with another advocate of human rights, Dr Lloyd Barnett, helped to underpin the election-monitoring group, Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE). That was part of her understanding that credible elections provide the foundations for the democracy upon which human rights are anchored.
Ms Anderson would probably say that her work is her legacy, but we believe that, even posthumously, Jamaica should appropriately recognise her contributions to this country and society she made her own. Further, The University of the West Indies, Mona, through its Faculty of Law, should consider ways, via specialised chairs or other faculty programmes, to honour Ms Anderson and other human rights pioneers such as Dr Lloyd Barnett, Dennis Daley, Flo O’Connor and Carolyn Gomes.