Jamaica: Poorer communities neglected by government and left to the mercy of gang leaders

Hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans have been condemned to live with violent criminal gangs and abusive policing revealed Amnesty International today in a new report launched at a press conference in Kingston, Jamaica.

With approximately 1500 homicides and 272 police killings in 2007, Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the Americas.

Most of the victims of violent crime live in deprived communities – where they also suffer from unemployment, poor access to health and education services, limited supplies of drinking water and poor sanitation.

The human rights organisation criticised the Jamaican authorities for stigmatising and wilfully neglecting people living in impoverished communities by failing to tackle the corruption and violence that is shattering their neighbourhoods.

Amnesty International’s Jamaica Researcher, Fernanda Doz Costa, said:

“Poor inner-city Jamaicans are paying the price of this public security crisis with their lives. They are being held hostage in an endless confrontation between criminal gangs, police officers who kill with impunity and authorities who are failing to protect their human rights.”

The inhabitants of these areas are left at the mercy of gang leaders who use the vacuum left by the state to control huge aspects of their lives – including the collection of “taxes”, allocation of jobs, distribution of food and “scholarships”, and the punishment of those who transgress gang rules.

The two main political parties – People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) – created criminal gangs in the 1960s. Since then the country’s political leaders have continued to actively maintain an environment in which gang violence could flourish.

Fernanda Doz Costa continued:

Criminal gangs make up a small proportion of the community population but their actions are devastating: they keep thousands of people living in constant fear and provide an excuse for government officials to label all community members as criminals.”

When rival gangs are “at war” over territorial control, violence in inner-city neighbourhoods is particularly high.

Entire populations are shut down by barricades and unable to leave their homes after 5pm. Children's rights don’t go to school out of fear and adults don't go to work because transport is suspended.

One woman told Amnesty International: “At night we had to sleep on the floor, all of us, the Children's rights, the grandma, all of us; covered by the mattress because sometimes the shots can go through the house and kill us.”

Despite the violence they experience daily, people living in these areas are reluctant to report abuses due to fear of reprisals by gang leaders, lack of confidence in the judicial system and mistrust of police officers working in their communities.

Doz Costa continued:

“There are many good serving police officers in Jamaica who risk their lives every day to help improve security for Jamaican citizens. However, the political determination to bring human rights abusers to justice and purge corruption is still lacking.”

Amnesty International calls on the Jamaican authorities to take urgent and effective measures to tackle the underlying causes of this public security and human rights crisis – including the reduction of homicide rates in inner-cities, the introduction of human rights-based policing, and the reform of the judicial system to improve access to justice.

Doz Costa said:

“The conversation that needs to take place in Jamaica is no longer about ‘ifs’ or ‘hows’ but about when to make the changes needed to stop the crisis taking any more lives. And the answer is today.”

  • read the report

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