Amnesty offers to help Jamaica

Jamaica Observer:-HUMAN rights watchdog Amnesty International has offered to help Jamaica in addressing human rights issues blamed on the State.

Amnesty made the offer Wednesday after presenting a copy of its latest report on Jamaica to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck at his ministry in Kingston.

“After 50 years of documenting violations, we want to make an effort to focus on the solutions and we are willing to help Jamaica,” said Louise Tillotson, Amnesty researcher for the Caribbean.

The organisation has recommended making the court system friendlier to families of victims and the provision of legal representation for victims of police homicide.

Tillotson, meanwhile, hailed the Jamaican Government for the establishment of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and the reduction in the number of police killings in the country. INDECOM, she said, is a successful model and encouraged the Government to ensure the sustainability of that body.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, after reading the report that documented cases of police killings and harassment, said

Jamaica has always respected and upheld the basic rights of the Jamaican people, as he sought to place into context the challenging policing realities of Jamaica, pointing to the high levels of violence and the tendency of citizens to settle arguments with violence.

Said Chuck: “My focus has been on restorative justice and mediation as appropriate means of preventing disputes from escalating to violent situations,” the minister said.

He told the group that improving the court system was a major challenge, admitting that the system needed to be more efficient in disposing of cases in a timely manner. “We are hoping that the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreements) Act will help to move cases through the system more quickly and we are having discussions with the chief justice, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and attorneys on the provisions of the legislation which we expect to be passed in the Parliament early next year,” said Chuck.

Americas director of Amnesty International, Erika Guevara-Rosas, at a press briefing Wednesday expressed shock at the high levels of police harassment and ill treatment to families of victims of extra-judicial killings.

Amnesty, in its report, claimed that the Jamaican authorities and the police were promoting a culture of fear among women and their families in marginalised communities to cover up thousands of alleged unlawful police killings.

The report titled, “Waiting in Vain: Unlawful police killings and relatives’ long struggle for justice”, said the Jmaican police were using a number of illegal tactics, including systematic intimidation, harassment and threats against relatives at home, work, hospitals, and even during funerals, to discourage relatives from pursuing justice, truth and reparation for their loved ones.

“Amnesty has documented the history of police violence in Jamaica for many years and even the authorities have known that this is a serious human rights concern that they are facing, but something that is quite shocking to see, is the trend in how families of those killed by the police in their own communities are experiencing human right violation by the police in the process of pursuing justice,” Rosa told the Jamaica Observer after the press conference briefing at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston.

“… This is shocking but not surprising because this is something that we experience in other parts of the world,” she said.

Cuban researcher, Louise Tillotson, who spearheaded research for the report, said she also found the reported high levels of police victimisation troubling and shocking.

“The way that the human rights of the family members or witnesses of persons killed by the police is violated is particularly concerning. We didn’t expect when we start interviewing people to find that the vast majority of the more than 50 relatives of the 28 victims have nearly all experienced some level of harassment and police victimisation and it takes place in various ways,” she said.

“We heard testimonies of people seeing the police planting weapons on their relative’s body, dismantling the crime scene. In addition, subsequent to the killing, for a long period of time the police show up in different spheres of the families’ life — they go to their homes, they show up at funerals, and they show up at court,” she added.

Tillotson said this level of intimidation by the police is considered ill-treatment by Amnesty’s conventions but she said it remained a problem primarily because there is a failure on the path of the law enforcers as it relates to police accountability on patterns used by them following a killing.

According to Amnesty, since 2000, law enforcement officials have allegedly killed more than 3,000 people in Jamaica, mostly young men living in marginalised communities. It said that despite overwhelming evidence of police involvement in the crimes, only a handful of officers have been convicted of murder.

The Government, she claimed, has failed to adequately and effectively addressed the structural problems that allow the security forces to continue to murder people in large numbers and avoid justice.

“If the authorities in Jamaica are serious about tackling the country’s shocking levels of police killings and violence they must urgently promote deep police and justice reform to address not only the number of police murders but the root causes of the problem,” she said.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has reaffirmed Government’s commitment to ensure that human rights of all Jamaicans are protected, preserved and maintained following a meeting with Amnesty International.

“Even though the police force has the authority to use force in specified circumstances, it must do so sparingly,” Holnesss said. “We reject violence. The Government is of the view that the state should set the example and not use violence as a means of conflict resolution. We want a far more peaceful and loving society,”

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