On August 1, 2008, we Jamaicans celebrate our emancipation from the horrors of slavery which was characterised by the denial of the rights and freedoms that would normally be enjoyed by people who are free. For the past one hundred and seventy years, our task has been to create the conditions that would make our emancipation an ongoing and truly liberating experience.
Our most urgent responsibility, going forward, is to translate the full meaning of emancipation, and the freedom to be persons, into an understanding of those fundamental rights and freedoms which we enjoy today and which are guaranteed by our Constitution. In 1962 we celebrated not merely the achievement of independence, but codified those rights and freedoms, which every citizen, regardless of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex should enjoy.
We need to remind ourselves, on an occasion like this, that among the legacies of emancipation are the right to life, liberty, security of persons, enjoyment of property, equal protection of the law, freedom of conscience, of expression, of peaceful assembly and the respect for private and family life.
Yet even today, we can all agree that all the expectations of emancipation have not been fully met. Therefore, we must hasten to ensure that every Jamaican, while fully respecting the needs of others, will not be impeded in the enjoyment of those inalienable rights and freedoms. In order to achieve this, we must urgently conclude the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides a wider and more effective protection of those rights and freedoms to which every Jamaican is entitled.
It is our responsibility, as citizens, to assist in shaping positive values and attitudes and in building a more cohesive and inclusive society in which every Jamaican will be committed to participate. Of even greater urgency is the need to create the environment – economic, social, political and cultural, that would guarantee the full enjoyment of our rights and freedoms.
It is my hope that over the next few years, we will be able to celebrate Emancipation Day as an occasion on which we can reflect on our past achievements, while strengthening and expanding the vision of a truly free Jamaica.