Jamaica: 'Grim' outlook on public security crisis, but new initiatives to improve situation welcomed, says Amnesty

84 people killed by police between January and May 2009 – an increase of 58 per cent over the same period in 2008

Amnesty International today welcomed initiatives by the Jamaican Government to tackle the country’s public security crisis but warned that success will only be measured in terms of lives saved and people lifted out of poverty.

The organisation’s assessment is part of a 32-page report, entitled ‘public security reforms and human rights in Jamaica’, which evaluates the Jamaican Government’s plans to tackle deep rooted violence, serious human rights violations and impunity.

Jamaica has extremely high rates of violent crime. According to police statistics, in 2008 alone there were 1,611 murders in Jamaica – in a population of only 2.7 million. Most of the victims live in socially-excluded inner-city areas. In 2008 the proportion of child victims grew significantly.

During 2008, an additional 224 people were fatally shot by police officers. It is estimated that in the first five months of 2009 alone, police killings increased by 58%, however, police officers are rarely punished for these crimes. No police officer has had any convictions brought against him since 2006, and only four convictions between 1999 and 2009 have been laid down out of a total of more than 1,700 reports of fatal shootings.

Amnesty International Americas Deputy Director, Kerrie Howard said:

“The outlook for Jamaica is still grim with alarming rates of killings and almost no convictions of state agents accused of serious human rights violations.

“What is different now is that we finally see initiatives that might lead to real change.

“Jamaicans cannot afford to wait any longer. Initiatives have to be implemented and produce concrete results soon. The lives of thousands depend on that.”

Amongst the government’s proposals are plans to reform the Jamaican Constabulary Force, to modernise the justice system and to develop a community safety and security policy that would tackle some of the issues behind the high levels of violence in the country.

Bilateral and multilateral donors have committed to supporting many of the recommendations included in these plans.

Amnesty International also reviewed the proposal to reform the Jamaican Constabulary Force. In 2008 a strategic review of the force resulted in 124 recommendations that were accepted by the government. Some of the key objectives include the improvement of the forces’ professionalism, responsiveness and accountability.

The organisation praised the authorities’ project Justice System Reform to undertake a comprehensive review of the justice system and develop strategies and mechanisms for its modernisation. In June 2007, the Justice System Reform Task Force issued a detailed set of recommendations which, if implemented, could significantly improve access to justice for victims of criminal violence and police abuses.

Kerrie Howard continued:

“The government has embarked on a process of reform that if correctly and fully implemented could remove many of the factors contributing to the public security crisis and drastically improve respect for human rights in Jamaica.”

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