Research : The final life in the Day

“This government attaches paramountcy to the recognition and protection of human rights. I think there is a feeling that unless someone is convicted, there is a lack of political will. Such a conclusion is unfounded and resented by a government which has done what we have done to make human rights not just a catch phrase.”
Statement by Prime Minister P. J. Patterson to Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sané, September 2000.
“We had a peaceful demonstration to tell Jamaica that once again the police have lied to us.”
Sister of victim of police shooting, Kingston, August 2000.

The population of Jamaica has grown used to a police force some of whose members fail to respect human rights. In September 2000, Amnesty International researchers investigated the public attitude towards the police in deprived, urban areas such as Grants Pen, where many human rights abuses occur. Many described the police not as protectors from crime but as a force to be feared, almost akin to an occupying force. In the communities visited by Amnesty International, almost everyone claimed to have had direct experience of police brutality. It was therefore not surprising that in the three schools Amnesty International visited, only one schoolchild said they would consider becoming a police officer.

Amnesty International is gravely concerned that the authorities in Jamaica — despite numerous assurances to the contrary — are failing to prevent serious and systematic human rights violations at the hands of the police and security forces.

Police abuse has been documented by national and international organisations numerous times in the past 30 years. In 1986, an Americas Watch report, Human Rights in Jamaica, concluded that there existed in Jamaica: “a practice of summary executions by the police; a practice of unlawful detentions by the police at times accompanied by police assaults on detainees; and a practice of confining detainees in police station lock-ups under squalid and degrading conditions.”

Fifteen years later, Amnesty International finds that these practices continue.

The practice of extrajudicial executions, together with the unjustifiable use of excessive force, continues. The rate of lethal police shootings in Jamaica is one of the highest in the world. An average of 140 people per annum have been shot and killed, according to official statistics, for the last ten years, in a country whose population is only 2.6 million. Police accounts of victim-initiated “shoot-outs” continue to be disputed in many cases by witness accounts and contradicted by forensic evidence. Amnesty International considers that the manner in which deadly force is frequently employed and the absence of prompt, thorough and effective investigations are consistent in many instances with a pattern of extrajudicial executions.

The practice of torture and ill-treatment by the security forces continues.

Amnesty International has documented many cases of police brutality, some amounting to torture. Victims commonly include criminal suspects and their relatives, as well as children and women. Documented methods have included beatings, burns with hot irons, suffocation in water and mock executions.

Seven years after the asphyxiation of three men held for two days in an overcrowded police lock-up containing 19 men, the practice of detaining individuals in police custody in appallingly squalid conditions continues.

Severe overcrowding remains the norm and in many cases conditions amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and place those detained at risk of death or serious injury. In most cells there is no natural light, no access to latrines and inadequate food and water. Detainees continue to be routinely denied access to medical care, lawyers and relatives. Amnesty International also finds that, despite commitments given in 1999 to remove all children from police lock-ups, children continue to be detained in police lock-ups.

It is indisputable that Jamaica suffers from appalling levels of violent crime. Exacerbated by poverty, domestic violence, drug and politically motivated violence, the murder rate escalated throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, peaking at 1938 reported homicides in 1997; one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. The most recent report from the US State Department indicated a homicide rate exceeding 30 per 100,000 persons [1]. It is a phenomenon affecting all levels of society.

THE UNIVERSALITY OF HUMAN RIGHTSMany in Jamaica have implied that those who seek to defend human rights care little for the victims of crime. In September 2000, the Prime Minister, P J Patterson, appeared to endorse this view, stating: “Human rights cannot be confined to the murderers and rapists and robbers… The innocent on which they trade also have human rights…” He also accused Amnesty International of being “preoccupied with the perpetrators of crime” and of having “insufficient” concern for the victims.
Amnesty International does not believe that the human rights of those accused or convicted of crimes are in conflict with the rights of victims of violence, nor that such rights mutually exclusive. Society does not need to violate the rights of those suspected or guilty of crimes in order to reduce law breaking. Quite the opposite is true, such violence is more likely to lead to an increase in crime.
As the South Africa Constitutional Court acknowledged in 1995 when it abolished the death penalty, “it is only if there is a willingness to protect the worst and the weakest amongst us that all of us can be secure that our own rights will be protected” (emphasis added).
Amnesty International — as an organization working for the victims of human rights violations — is sympathetic to all victims of violence and their families. The organisation hopes that its campaign, if successful, to halt human rights violations by the security forces in Jamaica will increase the public’s trust and cooperation with law enforcement agencies, thereby leading to a reduction in the level of violent crime.
Amnesty International believes itself supportive of the many professional and dedicated police officers of Jamaica whose reputations are tainted by the actions of their fellow officers guilty of committing human rights violations.

It is also indisputable that the policing of Jamaica is a complex, dangerous and difficult task. Amnesty International does not underestimate the perils faced by Jamaican police officers in the course of their duties. Nor does the organisation, in addressing human rights abuses by police officers and soldiers, seek to detract from the sympathy offered to those officers killed or wounded in the line of duty. At least 112 police officers have been killed over past ten years. On 11 September 2000, Amnesty International’s Secretary General personally offered the organisation’s condolences to the Commissioner of Police for officers killed in the line of duty.

Extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment continue, despite the fact that Jamaican law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and provides mechanisms to enable victims to obtain redress [2], and despite other reforms that have taken place since the early 1990s [3].

If the mechanisms currently exist in Jamaica to fairly adjudicate whether a police officer is guilty of human rights abuses, the resources those mechanisms require and the political will to enforce them appear to be lacking. Prosecutions for extrajudicial killings, torture and other human rights abuses remain exceptional occurrences. Investigations fail to conform to international standards. The scenes of shootings are not preserved; with forensic and ballistics evidence contaminated or removed. Autopsy reports are so poor that one respected international pathologist described them as “not autopsies in the normally understood sense of the term”. Witnesses, relatives of victims or victims themselves have been intimidated, and, in a substantial number of cases, received death threats.

In this report, Amnesty International documents a disturbing pattern of brutality and calls on the authorities of Jamaica to turn their vocal commitment to human rights into action. The organisation makes recommendations to the Jamaican authorities, and to the international community, to enable Jamaica to fully respect human rights and to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law.

This paper is published as part of Amnesty International’s worldwide campaign against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

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