US-born human rights activist, educator and lawyer Nancy Anderson died on November 29 in Kingston, Jamaica, from a brief illness. A graduate of Michigan State University, the University of London and Norman Manley Law School, Anderson first arrived in Jamaica as a United States Peace Corps volunteer in 1969, spending a year as a teacher at the Ministry of Education. She stayed, the island became her home, and she eventually became a Jamaican citizen. She was admitted to practice as a lawyer in Jamaica in 1981.
Perhaps in keeping with her life and legacy, Anderson died on International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders, as part of the 16 Days of Activism. One of Anderson’s main accomplishments was to help make legal services more widely available to the poor in Jamaica, as director of the Kingston Legal Aid Clinic from 1990 until his death. After a stint in private practice, she became Executive Director of the Legal Aid Council at the Jamaica Department of Justice in 2002.
Making her mark as a compassionate and determined human rights defender, Anderson served as a lawyer at the Jamaican Independent Council for Human Rights, Jamaica’s oldest human rights NGO, from 2003 until her death. In 2020, following a wave of public concern over reports of large numbers of mentally disturbed inmates who had not been released from prison, she joined the chief justice committee tasked with resolving the problem in partnership with the Ministry of National Security:
(1/2) Yesterday we officially opened the infirmary at the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Center Medical Center. This facility is the first of its kind and is expected to house approximately 20 bedridden and infirm inmates who are not eligible for release. pic.twitter.com/dsuoww3KkI
– Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) October 31, 2021
(2/2) This new facility follows a pledge made by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang after the death of Noel Chambers at the Tower Street Adult Correction Center (TSACC) in January. pic.twitter.com/YFLw15PKvt
– Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) October 31, 2021
In 2017, Anderson was physically assaulted by a mentally ill inmate, but said that would not deter her from working. the previous year, she had received the Jamaican Order of Distinction.
Anderson has been involved in a number of important human rights cases in local and regional jurisdictions. She represented Shanique Myrie, who successfully sued the government of Barbados for unlawful detention, in a high-profile case heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice. In addition to serving as an advisor to the Belize Court of Appeal, after being admitted to practice there in 2015, Anderson has contributed to the compilation of legal reports for Trinidad and Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean, and was scheduled to appear before the Jamaican Court of Appeal on the day of his death.
Lawyer and radio talk show host Jodi-Ann Quarrie explained how, as a young lawyer, Anderson opened her eyes to the plight of prisoners deemed “unfit to plead” who were left in the prison system, including the high profile case of Noel Chambers:
It was Nancy Anderson who even let me know that such horrors exist. She took me to Tower Street to meet one of these men. It was a defining moment in my life. I have worked with her for years since then. Rest in eternal peace, Mrs. Anderson. https://t.co/AZ64HnUbx2
– Jodi-Ann Quarrie (Yoo Need More Jodi) (@yooneedmorejodi) November 29, 2021
A group of women’s rights activists paid tribute to Anderson via WhatsApp, recalling her networking activities with several lobby groups, as well as her support for women’s rights, disability rights and mental health. Prominent lawyer, women’s activist and former Jamaican High Commissioner to the UK Aloun N’Dombet Assamba told Global Voices:
I met Nancy in 1979 while attending Norman Manley Law School. She had been in Jamaica for a few years then. She was associated with [attorneys] Crafton Miller & Co. as a legal clerk throughout our law studies and joined his firm after being called to the bar […] I saw her in London, as she always took her advocacy team to visit me on the way back to Jamaica after their matches. […] She was so proud of her job tutoring the team as part of her law school job. She was a very proud human rights activist […] She applied to become Jamaican because she loved the country and had no plans to return to live in the United States.
Anderson was heavily involved in other areas, including election monitoring. She was Director of Citizens’ Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) from 2000. CAFFE paid tribute to her on Twitter, observe:
Miss Anderson was never afraid to take on difficult tasks or was never hesitant to offer her services free of charge to the poor when the need arose and the cause was worth it.
Anderson’s willingness to serve and share his knowledge knew no bounds. She has served on advisory committees and review tribunals related to HIV / AIDS, drug addiction and witness protection, and served with the Justice Training Institute, chaired by the Chief Justice, from 2010 to 2016.
A young lawyer expressed his admiration for Anderson’s life of service:
Nancy fought tirelessly for the poor and dedicated her life to service… what a way to remember man
– Less (@_lessismaur) November 29, 2021
Mentoring students has become one of Anderson’s greatest passions. She taught advocacy and ethics at Norman Manley Law School from 2009 until her death, and was particularly involved in the school’s advocacy team, which met with great success as a global laureate. for four consecutive years. She was a judge at the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court competition in Geneva in 2017, and at the Jessup competition of the International Law Students Association in 2018 and July 2021.
On Twitter, there was an immediate wave of emotional tributes from Jamaicans, especially from young lawyers she had mentored and inspired. Many simply remembered her as kind and selfless.
Norman Manley Law School students tweeted:
The NMLSSA extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Nancy Anderson.⁰
Time can never erase the memories we made with Ms. Anderson. It has touched our lives abundantly. We will never forget its invaluable impact. pic.twitter.com/A5uLlhHjjv
– Norman Manley Student Association. (@ NMLS_Students) November 29, 2021
A media professional paid tribute to her determination:
Nancy Anderson was the lawyer in the first case I heard of someone who spent decades in a Jamaican jail without a trial and she didn’t stop until this woman was released. I admired his selflessness. She will be missed. https://t.co/VEh0H3GptV
– YT: News2me (@mediagirlpro) November 29, 2021
A young Jamaican from a low-income community shared:
You taught me so much. Your kindness and exceptional service continue to live on in the minds and lives of so many young lawyers and hard-core Jamaican street people. #TEAR #NancyAnderson https://t.co/twd20gOelj
– Anthony Williams (@Mr_Suave_Jez) November 29, 2021
Political scientist and women’s rights activist Leanne Levers noted:
When I first became interested in human rights as a teenager, Nancy took me under her wing, took me to prisons, gave me research opportunities and my first real internship. . And always stayed in touch. I owe a lot to Nancy Anderson. This country owes him so much. ??
– Leanne Levers (her) (@LeaLevers) November 29, 2021
Anderson was modest, never one to show off. One Jamaican summed it up simply:
When I have a PURE heart, Nancy Anderson has a T.
– Anti Jo (@Jodieolivia) November 29, 2021
Although Anderson was not born in Jamaica, her love and dedication to helping the most marginalized of Jamaicans, in addition to guiding and encouraging many young lawyers, attracted her to many, who will be dearly missed as as champion of human rights.