On the evening of October 27, 2023, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in Gaza, and for the “protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations.” The resolution was carried by 120 votes to 14, with 45 abstentions.
Jamaica was the only Caribbean nation that did not vote, and the response from many Jamaicans to this news was overwhelmingly negative.
On X (formerly Twitter), the Barbados-based current affairs account Kevz Politics broke down the voting, pointing out that while Haiti abstained, 12 other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states supported the resolution. Outside CARICOM, Cuba and the Dominican Republic also voted for it. Jamaica was among 13 non-voting countries (mostly African, but also including Venezuela):
#BREAKING – UN General Assembly adopts resolution put forward by Jordan on “protection of civilians & upholding legal and humanitarian obligations” in Gaza crisis.
120 voted in favour
14 voted against
12 CARICOM states voted in favour… pic.twitter.com/NptExXI5AC
— Kevz Politics (@KevzPolitics) October 27, 2023
Responding to a post from Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith, which sought to explain that Jamaica welcomed the vote, but had not had time to conclude “consultations” beforehand, human rights advocate Susan Goffe expressed the feelings of many:
Dear Minister @kaminajsmith, we are the only Caricom country with a vote at the UN not to have registered a vote on this resolution. It is more than regrettable. It is shameful. #Jamaica https://t.co/mMKN0KcDSa
— Susan Goffe (@suezeecue) October 28, 2023
Minister Johnson Smith also pointed out that, as Chair of the CARICOM Caucus at the United Nations, Jamaica (represented by Permanent Representative Brian Wallace) had spoken at the UN vote and shared its statement on behalf of the entire Caribbean Community.
As the UN News website noted, Ambassador Wallace said, “If we do not immediately put an end to conflict, it could escalate into a wider regional war.” He also expressed concerns about the implications for international stability, with devastating consequences, particularly for small, vulnerable island states such as those in CARICOM, which are “already struggling to overcome multi-faceted challenges.” He pleaded with the nations to “recognize once and for all the utter futility of war, violence and terror,” reaffirming CARICOM's continued support for UN Security Council resolution 242, which calls for accelerated efforts for a peaceful and lasting resolution to the conflict.
One Jamaican sarcastically posted on X:
First time I’ve ever seen the “apologies, we were running on Jamaica time” excuse deployed at the highest level of international diplomacy. https://t.co/5lWF3dwblo
— Nick Black (@Jcanguy) October 27, 2023
Jamaican businesswoman and philanthropist Jean Lowrie-Chin expressed regret:
Relieved to know this but feel badly that Jamaica, always in the vanguard for human rights, missed that vote. https://t.co/yDVMsyli7I
— J A Lowrie-Chin 🇯🇲 🙏🏽 (@LowrieChin) October 28, 2023
Many Jamaicans were not impressed, expressing varying degrees of disapproval and even anger, saying it was “not a good look.”
Referring to a statement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, condemning the Hamas attack the day after it happened, attorney and public commentator Clyde Williams wanted answers:
Why not? didn’t JA attend? We abstained? I guess it’s better than voting against. The GoJ, prematurely, bereft of historical context & emotional intelligence, mumbled some wrds (best forgotten) when the conflict broke. That ill-conceived posture hemmed in Jamaica. https://t.co/A4vVOEd05r
— Clyde Williams (@ClydeWilliams46) October 28, 2023
“Jamaica firmly believes that the use of violence and terror has no place in international relations and should never be used against innocent civilians,” Holness said. “We call for a cessation of hostilities, a return to peace within internationally agreed guidelines and the pursuit of diplomatic solutions.” His statement did not include any comment on the struggles of the Palestinian people in Gaza over the years.
Jamaica's opposition People's National Party (PNP), in a statement dated October 28, described Jamaica's non-vote as “a new low in Jamaican foreign policy history,” noting that “it gives the impression that the Government of Jamaica is not interested in standing in solidarity with the suffering Palestinian citizens.”
The rest of the region was also taking note, with one Guyanese commentator saying:
— Jairo Juergen 𝕏 (@JairoJuergen) October 28, 2023
Others referred to Holness’ visit to Israel — the first visit ever by a Jamaican leader — back in 2017. In a meeting, Prime Minister Holness and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged cooperation in agriculture, water, technology, and domestic security. At the time, Netanyahu had thanked Holness for not supporting “an absurd vote at UNESCO” — a controversial UN resolution on heritage sites in Jerusalem that was highly critical of Israel.
A political activist shared a photo of their meeting:
PM Andrew Holness proudly shaking hands with Israel's number one terrorist: Benjamin Netanyahu pic.twitter.com/aRBBEhZg6m
— Lloyd D'Aguilar (@LloydDAguilar) January 29, 2023
Some social media users hinted at Jamaica's reputation for robustly supporting principles of human rights and justice in foreign affairs — a track record that many Jamaicans are very proud of. One commentator posted a thread of quotes from several political administrations to illustrate this point:
PM Seaga said this:
“Irregardless of what governments think, the people of Jamaica have their own views. And irrespective of the government in power, the people of Jamaica had these views through the last regime in power and through the present, and they have not changed”1/2 https://t.co/cQqcwkm8t9
— ML. Simms (@ML_Simms1) October 28, 2023
Pointing to Jamaica's vocal record of opposition to apartheid, another X user called the vote “spineless,” while human rights activist and Anglican priest Sean Major-Campbell called for justice for all:
People who have suffered an oppressive history re: the genocide and holocaust of slavery, racism, prejudice, colonial hegemony among other crimes against humanity, should beware of becoming agents of these crimes when they have overcome this cruel past.
May we stand with Jews and Palestinians for a just social order. A new social order. Two states. Not one or three! Terrorists should not be allowed to hold Palestine hostage to being mischaracterised. Similarly, power-hungry politicians should not be allowed to hold Israel hostage to being mischaracterised. The world should lift its voice for justice.
On the night of October 29, netizens shared a new statement issued by Minister Johnson Smith regarding the vote:
STATEMENT BY SENATOR THE HONOURABLE KAMINA JOHNSON SMITH
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND FOREIGN TRADE
I appreciate the concerns raised by those who feel that Jamaica not having voted in the 10th UN Emergency Special Session last Friday, suggests a shift in our stance on… pic.twitter.com/vyuk1lpDiF
— Robert Nesta Morgan (@NestaJA) October 30, 2023
The following morning, the minister also posted the link, explaining, “Sharing for persons genuinely concerned about whether [Jamaica's] position on [international] human rights and the situation in the Middle East, has changed.”
Yet, many Jamaicans would agree with reggae musician Peter Tosh's words, quoted in the article:
“Everyone is crying out for peace, yes. None is crying out for justice. I don’t want no peace. I need equal rights and justice. I need equal rights and justice.”