Jamaican Human Rights -

Document Sample
Jamaican Human Rights - Powered By Docstoc
					Jamaican Human Rights - The Year in Review (2007)
Michael Kuelker

[Note: This text is the basis of a Jamaica human rights overview posted at    Amnesty International USA. The
author is a country specialist on Jamaica for AIUSA. For more on Jamaica, see

A new major report on public security in Jamaica is forthcoming from Amnesty International in spring 2008.]

    With poverty and public security being key human rights concerns, Jamaicans face challenges that
are replicated among many of the world's nations, especially in the developing world. In 2007, the
Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked
Jamaica 101 out of 177 countries, situating the country in the medium Human Development category
and on the lower end (second to Haiti) in the Caribbean. Crime and violence occur there at
perennially alarming levels. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the right
to life, warrants special mention. The year 2005 was particularly deadly with 1650 homicides (a rate
of 63 per 100,000), and was followed by 1300 in 2006 and over 1500 in 2007. Discussions in print or
broadcast media in Jamaica, or in academic discourse, about what ails the nation frequently come
down in some way to how poverty is related to and exacerbated by the failure of institutions. Inner-
city communities are invariably the most troubled by the presence of well-armed gangs. At the same
time, citizens in these same communities have frequently made credible charges of unlawful lethal
force by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defense Force, and they point to a
record of police impunity.

   In other respects, though, Jamaica has a human rights record which compares favorably to other
developing nations. Basic civil and political rights remain protected. For most of its near half-decade
of independence, political power has shifted between leaders and parties nonviolently, and elections
are routinely judged by impartial observers to be free and fair. Although it has a climate of opposition
to the LGBT community, Jamaica generally doesn't outwardly persecute its activists, and in contrast
to certain other of its geographical neighbors, one does not find in Jamaica prisoners of conscience,
murdered journalists or kidnap victims. Moreover, Jamaica is a country whose natural resources
remain bountiful and whose culture is uncommonly rich and international in impact.

    Jamaica entered 2008 with a familiar unease, the economy staying stagnant and the level of
under-employment chronically high. Gun violence takes place at a per capita rate on par with South
Africa and Columbia, the world's most violent nations. At the same time that poverty is endemic and
public services are under-resourced, the Jamaican government spends nearly 60 cents of every dollar
it collects on debt servicing and recurrent expenditure. Meanwhile, Jamaicans must cope with slides
in the value of their dollar and cost hikes in food, fuel and interest rates.

    Community and group conflict in Jamaica has often had political associations. Factionalism at its
most intense is frequently manifested in the garrison communities of Kingston. Characterized by
homogeneous voting and the distribution, or denial, of public services or employment opportunities
along party lines, today's garrisons have roots in the 1960s and 1970s, when housing was established
for supporters to solidify political control. Garrisons typically are places of abandonment and neglect,
and neighborhoods siding next to each other where residents hold differing political commitments can
be flashpoints of planned or spontaneous acts of violence. Underdevelopment for these communities
means limitations in access to food, health, social inclusion, education and employment.

    Acting as both cause and effect of these conditions, authoritarian leaders known as dons are
engaged variously in organized crime, extortion and community outreach. Depending on the level of
distrust of the police, gangs might be viewed as an affliction to a community or protectors of it. Gang
members may kill innocent civilians in reprisal acts against others, and the dons' powerful alternative
subculture pervades to such things as "community courts," in which they or local tribunals administer
justice and punishment. Community courts represent an extreme manifestation of a general lack of
confidence in the criminal justice system in Jamaica, and they point to the extent of social disciplining
involved in the stigma of the police "informer" there. The lack of confidence in the justice system
extends to members of the police force themselves and their engagement in extrajudicial killings.

   September 2007 saw the Jamaica Labor Party win a majority of seats in Parliament for the first
time in 18 years, led by the new Prime Minister, Bruce Golding. He succeeded Portia Simpson Miller,
who served as the country's first female prime minister for 16 months. The election season unfolded
with relatively little violence. A handful of breaks in the peace and occasionally inflammatory
pronouncements by campaigning politicians were reported, and a fracas in Mandeville between
supporters of the PNP and JLP and the stabbing death of a 23-year-old man led to the police
commissioner suspending political activities there a few days before the election. Turnout was
reported to be 60.4% of eligible voters. In December 2007 observer group Citizens Action for Free
and Fair Elections (CAFFE) "unreservedly condemned" two JLP government ministers for giving
speeches in the run-up to local government elections linking the administration of social services to
partisan votes.

   Although crime and violence are concentrated in Kingston and surrounding communities, where
about 1.2 million of 2.7 million Jamaicans live, major breaches of law and order occur well beyond the
capital city. The parish of Clarendon, in the country's middle-south, had over 120 killings in 2007,
and a headline from the Daily Gleaner newspaper dated December 14, 2007, evidences the spread of
gang-related conflict with the state: "Montego Bay cops cut down three Stone Crusher gang
members." The latter incident was part of the long-running record of killings and reprisals that spiked
that year. The setting was a "scheme," or housing project, communities where, as in the garrisons of
Kingston, the indices of crime, poverty and violence run high, and the deaths were three of the 207 at
the hands of police in 2007. Just after midnight on December 13, 2007, a joint police-military team
descended on the Moneauge Housing Scheme in the parish of St. Ann. Gunfire ensued, pitting gang
members against operatives of Operation Kingfish, an elite crime task force.

   By the measure of media attention, the authorities' application of lethal force was uncontroversial.
At other times when civilians have been killed by police, the incidents have aroused considerable
protests. In 2007 the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) cited police abuses and
extra-judicial killings as the number one most reported case of human rights abuse by Jamaicans.
The IJCHR takes cases of alleged wrongful deaths and pursues them in the legal arena.

    One person in its caseload of 85 (December 2007) was the mother of the Ravin Thompson. On
July 27, 2007, Thompson, 18, was shot in the arm in what police termed a shootout; the incident
occurred in Whitfield Town in the beleaguered Kingston area of South West St. Andrew. Witnesses
reported that in the aftermath of shooting, police loaded the wounded young man into a police jeep
for transport to the hospital, and when an aunt of Thompson's tried to accompany them, she was
kicked off from the jeep by police. By the time family arrived at the hospital, Ravin Thompson was
lying dead in the jeep. An autopsy report later revealed evidence of gunshot wounds to his hands,
leg, chest and head as well as fractures to his hands and ribs.

    This motif -- police claiming shootout and the lives of individuals, families and communities
damaged as a result -- has been a feature of the Jamaican narrative of human rights for many years.
By September 2007, the Jamaican press was reporting nearly 200 deaths from the police thus far for
the year. A fuller accounting of police misconduct and corruption remains difficult to achieve in part
because when cases are formally contested, litigation takes years and the vast majority of the cases
are settled out of court. Human rights advocates and others have pressed for reforms in police
training and a more vigorous and transparent means of investigating complaints against the police
and addressing corruption in the Force.

   Elsewhere in embattled Jamaica, efforts have been successful in quelling unrest. In Spanish
Town, outreach for peace, unity and development has involved an engaged citizenry with church
leaders, civic leaders, government officials and others working in groups such as the Social
Development Commission and the Crime Prevention Committee. In June 2007 it was announced that
Spanish Town would be the site of a new YMCA skills center, an initiative spurred by the Rotary Club
of Spanish Town in concert with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund. Located on Monk Road, and
coming at a cost of US$300,000, the facility will offer certificate programs in job training as well as
drama, dance and music. The twin presence of job training and cultural uplift is widely seen in
Jamaica as an important bulwark against criminal excess.

    One of the government's responses to the security crisis in Jamaica has been Operation Kingfish,
launched in 2004 in collaboration with the U.S. and British governments. At the time it came into
being, the country's highest ranking police official estimated there to be 85 gangs operating on the
island, syndicates bearing names such as the Gideon Warriors, One Order, Clansman, Spanglers and
the aforementioned Stone Crushers. Operation Kingfish, chiefly concerned with gang power, criminal
dons, extortion schemes and the trade in illegal drugs, has tallied impressive numbers in the number
of arrests made and the amount of drugs and weaponry seized. Satisfaction polls in Jamaica
generally show skepticism, however, and violent crime ranks in the country's most urgent concerns.

    At the same time, homicide deaths of the police force are consistently reported. Nearly 100
policemen have died at the hands of criminals in Jamaica since 2001; the year 2007 saw 19 killings,
the highest since 1984. At the funeral of a murdered sergeant in December 2007, the chairman of
the Jamaica Police Federation mourned the loss of life and gave voice to the generalized belief that a
destructive reflexive opposition to police exists in Jamaican society. The level of lawlessness, he said,
showed the need for more cohesion and cooperation from the Jamaican public, and when he asked,
"Where are the Jamaicans who believe in justice? Where are our Jamaicans who say they are for
justice? Where are Jamaicans for justice?", he was not calling simply for unity or mutual respect.
Listeners at the funeral would have recognized the joust at an advocacy organization on police and
justice matters, Jamaicans for Justice, whose work sometimes faces backlash.

    Violence and discrimination against women and girls continue to be human rights concerns in
Jamaica. Amnesty International documented the contexts of gender-based violence in a 2006 report,
"'Just a little sex': Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in Jamaica," in which it asserted:

       Violence against women in Jamaica persists because the state is failing to   tackle
discrimination against women, allowing social and cultural attitudes     which             encourage
discrimination and violence. [...] Shortcomings in national      legislation do not deal adequately
with marital rape, incest or sexual harassment, among others, thereby encouraging impunity for
such crimes and       leaving women without the protection of the law.

Women are raped in Jamaica at the rate of twice a day, and the impunity for sexual violence runs
high. Incidents of domestic violence, incest and sexual harassment take place in disturbing numbers,
and the situation is complicated by the problems of under-reporting, inadequate legislation and police
who fail to investigate allegations of rape or abuse. One means of support for victims comes through
the Centre for Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) of the Jamaican Constabulary Force, which
was established in 1989 to offer counseling and other assistance. In 2005, there were 606 reported
cases of rape and only 275 arrests. Amnesty International in its report documented that girls were
the victims of 70% of all sexual crimes reported in 2004. Low rates of reporting were thought to be
due to police discrimination, fear of retaliation by perpetrators, poverty and an unresponsive judicial
system. The AI report closed with a package of recommendations, including the implementation of a
manifesto issued by a coalition of women's and other advocacy groups in 2002.

    Human trafficking has been a recurrent concern in Jamaica. Victims of it are at risk for sexual
exploitation and forced labor. The 2005 report by the U.S. State Department put Jamaica on notice
with a Tier 3 rating, one of 14 in the 150 nations surveyed; consequently, the country risked
suspension of non-humanitarian assistance from the United States, the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank. Although the Jamaican government disputed the rating, it implemented
reforms, and later that year, Jamaica returned to Tier 2, a watch-list level, where it has stayed.

   HIV/AIDS infection rates are among the highest in the world in the Caribbean, second only to sub-
Saharan Africa, a health crisis with human rights dimensions. Incidents of discrimination and a
pervasive stigma against people with HIV/AIDS have been consistently documented, including anti-
gay violence and neglect from health care workers. Rampant economic insecurity and the presence of
tourists can lead men and women into commercial sex work; country to city migration is a factor in
the spread of this and other diseases. Among the positive developments are efforts by government
and the business community to implement HIV/AIDS workplace policies and to promote health

    Jamaica is internationally renowned for its tourism, but in terms of economic security and the
human rights environment that flows from it, at least two things may be said. One, Jamaica's tourist
industry remains robust and has weathered (albeit not unscathed) several destructive tropical storms
as well as shifts in the industry since 2001. Secondly, most Jamaicans' lives have not been materially
affected for the better as a consequence, for the tourist dollar, in large measure, gets spent at all-
inclusive resort properties. Since 1976, when the first all-inclusive was founded in Negril, the
Jamaican economy has become more service-driven, trumping the manufacturing and agricultural
sectors, and more oriented to the all-inclusive model of tourism. Economists speak in terms of
leakage and linkage. Although the hospitality industry provides employment to Jamaicans, a vertical
rather than horizontal flow of dollars ("leakage") has been repeatedly documented. In 1996, a United
Nations report [] estimated that 40% of the
tourist revenue left the island, and later studies have confirmed number advantages in hotel rooms
and dollar concentration for all-inclusive resorts.      Linkages more broadly with Jamaica have
consequently become limited, although some efforts are made to emphasize community-based
vacation options and the cultural distinctions of Jamaica.

    Moreover, a web of human rights implications grows around the tourism industry. Job seekers
and others may "capture" land nearby resorts and create informal communities where potable water,
electricity and infrastructure are in poor or short supply. A lack of adequate roads poses problems for
police and emergency vehicles. These are among the concerns bound up in property and housing
issues and Jamaica's capacity to uphold Article 25 of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights
(1948). The first clause of Article 25 refers to the right to "a standard of living adequate for the
health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and
necessary social services."

    It would be well to note here that, however much the UDHR is helpful in focusing attention on root
elements of human rights, such as Article 25's declaration of a right to an "adequate standard,"
Jamaicans are frequently dismissive of the reach of international law. In practice this has meant, for
instance, stiff opposition to changes in the law regarding homosexuals. A prohibition against
"buggery" has been on the books since the days of English colonialism and has been upheld since
then across Jamaican society, from religious leaders to music artists to ordinary people. The UDHR
simply is not widely viewed as an instrument for liberation in Jamaica. On one hand, nationalists
argue against the sovereignty of international law, and on the other, many Jamaicans are culturally
conservative, with beliefs that fall out of bounds with the larger human rights movement, which
favors tolerance for homosexuals and the abolition of capital punishment.

   Although it can be said that there is no right to access to openly acknowledged gay social space,
the fact that virtually none exists in Jamaica is telling. It remains a country where homophobia is
widely accepted and where one finds occasional attacks against homosexuals. The nadir was when
two gay activists were murdered in consecutive years, 2004 and 2005, deaths widely accepted as
being triggered by sexual orientation.

    In 2004, AI released a public appeal titled "Jamaica's Gays: Protection from Homophobes Urgently
Needed. Gays and Lesbians Are Being Beaten, Cut, Burned, and Shot." The risks described in the title
of the dispatch remain in place, and in the intervening years, human rights complaints have ranged
from police harassment and arbitrary detention to mob attacks and harassment of homosexual
patients by staff of hospitals and prisons. LGBT-related violence is generally considered to go under-
reported because of the stigma by the public and the police. A signal of positive change, though,
came in April 2007 when a forum of church officials, human rights advocates and politicians from the
JLP and PNP called for Jamaicans to end violence against homosexuals and to foster a culture of
    There are many reasons why the realization of Article 23 of the UDHR -- "the right to work, to free
employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment" --
remains at the millennial horizon. One factor may be the national minimum wage. When it was
increased in 2007. a public admission was made by the Minister of Labour and Social Security that the
new minimum was below the wage level at which workers ought to be paid.

    Most children in Jamaica complete secondary education. However, economic insecurity frequently
underpins those instances when Article 26, the right to education, is not fully achieved, such as
children having to stay home to help with the housework or school fees being prohibitive. Attendance
rates and pass levels are regularly of concern along with salaries and qualifications for teachers. The
Jamaica Teachers' Association announced in August 2006 that some 60% of the 9000 public
secondary school teachers are teaching in areas where they were not trained.

    Jamaica retains the death penalty, and popular support for capital punishment is far-reaching.
But there has not been an execution since the late 1980s, legal appeals in the overburdened criminal
justice system being systematically slow. A landmark decision by the UK-based Privy Council, Pratt &
Morgan (1993), which upheld the Constitutional guarantee against cruel and inhuman punishment.
The ruling has had the consequence of putting death row prisoners out of reach of the executioner.

       "[A] State that wishes to retain capital punishment must accept the    responsibility       of
ensuring that execution follows as swiftly as practicable after sentence, allowing a reasonable time
for appeal and consideration of reprieve.

        "[...] any case in which execution is to take place more than 5 years after   sentence there
will be strong grounds for believing that the delay is such as    to constitute 'inhuman or degrading
punishment or other treatment.'"

As a result, the Governor-General refers all such cases to the Jamaican Privy Council who will
recommend commutation to life imprisonment. The subject is one in the long and ongoing discourse
Jamaicans have about sovereignty, crime reduction, the rights of the convicted and the rights of those
affected by violent crime.

    Working vigorously for peace and justice in Jamaica are a number of human rights organizations.
Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), established in 1999, advocates for police and justice reform. The
Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) engages on a broad range of human rights
issues from the courtroom to the classroom; working with the Jamaica Constabulary Force, for
instance, it is developing a 45-hour course for police recruits. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-
Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) provides material care and support for victims of homophobic violence
and advocacy in the justice system. Other NGOs include Amnesty International-Jamaica, Jamaica
AIDS Support, Stand Up Jamaica, SOS Jamaica, Families Against State Terrorism (FAST), and a
number of women's groups.

    The efforts of human rights activists are augmented by community-building collaborations
between government agencies and civil society groups. Two examples may speak for the many. One
is Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) in which adolescents are mentored one-on-one and at the
group level through the Jamaican government's Citizen Security and Justice Programme (with support
from the Inter-American Development Bank). By late 2007, though, funding was drawing to an end,
prompting concern about the program's future. Another "early intervention" organization is Peace
Management Initiative (PMI), launched by the Jamaican government in 2001 with civic leaders on the
vanguard. PMI members programmatically address a variety of needs in troubled communities and
often act as first-responders at moments of crisis.

   Human rights campaigns address particular people and very specific things.      Activists demand
that leaders release prisoners or request that reforms of legislation be made. But it is well to note
that any discussion of the human rights environment in Jamaica, bound as it is in issues of poverty,
must at some point confront the illegal economies in drugs and weapons, and in order to take
adequate measure of these complex realities, we must know many things. Some of them are not
generally articulated within the human rights framework, although we would be helped by knowing
them, such as how and why Jamaica functions as an originating source or transshipment point for
drugs. In that discussion we might speak of many factors in Jamaica, including political tribalism,
port authority, transport routes and criminal strategies. Additionally, the trades in guns and illegal
drugs are international in scope, extending to anyone in America or elsewhere involved in the supply
and demand cycle as well as to the several governments in interdiction efforts.

    In all of this is a persistent dialogue about gun culture and the influence of mass media,
particularly of dancehall artists, in shaping social values in Jamaica. While certain entertainers
compose positive ("conscious") lyrics and advocate for the development of community, others are
defined by vulgar or violent ("slack") content. These distinctions were first articulated in the 1980s
with the ascent of Yellowman, the ranking Jamaican artist after the death of Bob Marley. Virtually
any summary account of violence in Jamaica comes back in some way to the powerful presence of
dancehall music in the culture, where gun lyrics, outlawism, sexist attitudes and homophobia are,
variously, celebrated or made the objects of critique and exploration.

    Amnesty International has regularly condemned LGBT violence and called for investigations and
legal reforms, but it has stopped short of the stances of some advocacy organizations which call for
the denial of visas or performance opportunities to artists who are notorious for lyrics promoting
violent homophobia. This is in keeping with a general AI policy against officially endorsing sanctions
and boycotts.

    Complicating the stresses on the society is a high level of deportations of Jamaican nationals from
the United States. In 2006, having over 1400 criminal and non-criminal deportations, Jamaica was
among the top 10 countries in the hemisphere. The impact of the deportations on the Caribbean
prompted CARICOM leaders to put it on the agenda at a meeting in 2007 with Bush administration
officials and the Congressional Black Caucus.

    On the horizon in Jamaican human rights is the possible replacement by the Jamaican parliament
of Chapter 3 of the Constitution, Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, with a Charter of Rights. The
present draft of the Charter does not guarantee the right to health, continues the exceptions to the
right to life, fails to widen the non-discrimination clause to include 'sexual orientation' and fails to
state specifically that the courts are to take into account international law when interpreting the

    Finally, one of the topics of the human rights future in Jamaica hitherto unmentioned, though one
which may prove to have momentous impact, is climate change. In the 384-page UN Human
Development Report 2007-08, climate change was termed the "defining development issue of our
generation." Jamaica stands as one of the many countries of the world to be affected profoundly if
the more dire predictions come true. That is, if temperatures rise, Jamaicans may experience more
periods of drought and flooding, with consequent effects on agriculture and the country's ability to
export products like coffee, sugar, bananas and bauxite. As sea levels rise, more violent hurricanes
can be expected, leading to the destruction of industries and communities as well as to the erosion of
beaches. The economic impact might then be compounded by a health crisis, specifically the spread
of diseases such as dengue fever and malaria. In this scenario the countries with the most vulnerable
people may suffer soonest from climate change even though they have contributed greenhouse gases
in far lower levels than industrialized nations.

    However climate change may be resolved through international agreements or regarded the
courts of public opinion, the discourse on it points to the increasing needs in the 21st century for
effective inter-relationships between people, governments and non-governmental organizations in the
promotion of human rights. Jamaica demonstrates by example the epitomizing points of conflict.

     In addition to doing work for Amnesty International USA, Michael Kuelker is a teacher and writer
living in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the editor of Book of Memory: A Rastafari Testimony (CaribSound
2005), the spiritual autobiography of Jamaican Rastafarian elder Prince Williams. For more, see

Shared By: