Jamaica: Tivoli Gardens killings- No justice for 74 killed

Authorities in Jamaica must bring to justice those responsible for the human rights violations during an operation to arrest a suspected gang leader in Tivoli Gardens last year, which resulted in the killing of 74 people, said Amnesty International today [23 May].

To date, no one has been prosecuted for the killings during the operation.
 
The operation was carried out by Jamaica’s security forces to restore order in the community and to arrest suspected gang leader Christopher Coke which began on 24 May 2010. Within two days, 74 people were killed and at least 54 were injured, including 28 members of the security forces.  During the two-month state of emergency that followed, more than 4,000 people, including Children's rights, were detained, most without charge. Two people reportedly taken into custody remain unaccounted for.

Amnesty International’s Jamaica Researcher Chiara Liguouri said:

“An independent commission of enquiry must be established in order to ensure that all human rights violations committed in Tivoli last year do not go unpunished.”

Amnesty International has found that investigations initiated by the authorities in Jamaica suffered shortcomings in the initial phase, including the lack of protection of crime scenes and the failure to remove from service the firearms used during the confrontations for ballistic testing. These shortcomings might have compromised results.
 
Amnesty also documented a general lack of resources for the investigations, particularly in the Legal Medicine Unit of the Ministry of National Security where only two forensic pathologists work.

Chiara Liguori added:
 
“The lack of effective investigations for human rights crimes is nothing new in Jamaica. The reality is that for far too long, inner-city communities have been trapped between drug gangs and a state that ignores them.”

Amnesty International has issued over 50 recommendations to the Jamaican authorities and is supporting local calls for a full commission of inquiry into the human rights violations committed during the state of emergency.

ONE MOTHER’S STORY

Sheldon Gary Davis, aged 29, was killed by the security forces on Sunday, 30 May 2010 in Denham Town, West Kingston, after he had been taken into custody to be “checked out”.

Sheldon’s mother, Paulette Wellington, told Amnesty International:

“It happened about a week after everything was finished in Tivoli. Sheldon and I were at home, when soldiers knocked our door. It was about 10am. They said that they were just checking. They searched the house. When they saw Sheldon, they asked for his ID and questioned why he was walking with a limp. They said: ‘That limp may be from a gunshot wound’, but I explained them that he was unable to bend his foot since the age of six after a sickness and that he had been operated several times. They took him out. They said they wanted to check him out.

“From the window I saw that the police forced him in a jeep. There were four police officers in that jeep, but they were not the same who had searched the house. Less than an hour after I heard some gunshots on the opposite side of the building.

“In the afternoon, as Sheldon had still not come back, I started looking for him. I went to seven different police stations but nobody had seen him. On Monday, I went again. I took a photo of him with me, showing it to people, trying to find him. Nothing. On Tuesday, the same. Every day I started searching for him since the morning, as soon as I got up. I was unable to eat. I just wanted to know where he was.

“On Wednesday, in Kingston Mall, a policewoman checked in a book and told me that he was dead. She told me to go to the Blood Bank because it was there that he had been killed.

“I went there on Thursday morning... Finally [a police officer] told me that they killed him there because he was trying to take a soldier’s gun.

“In those days, the police was using the Blood Bank to hold people. When I went there, some young men told me that they witnessed Sheldon’s killing. The police put him under a mango tree and shot him. A police officer said, ‘Young man, aren’t you dead yet?’ He shot him again. These witnesses are too afraid to give statements. The autopsy was done about a month after. It showed that he had been shot twice, once in the foot and once in the abdomen.

I buried him on 4 July, on the day of my birthday. Sheldon was helping me a lot. Now I am alone, in dire financial straits and I don’t know how to pay for my daughter’s school fees.”

Notes to the Editor

A full copy of Amnesty International’s report “ Jamaica: A long road to justice? – Human Rights violations under the state of emergency ” is available.

Christopher Coke was eventually deported to the USA to face drug and arms-trafficking charges.

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