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Jamaica violence: Investigation must be thorough

Amnesty International has called for a thorough investigation into the deaths of dozens of people during the recent security operation in Kingston, Jamaica to arrest an alleged drug dealer.

Amnesty International’s Americas programme Deputy Director Kerrie Howard said:
"While the Jamaican police have a duty to maintain law and order, giving extraordinary powers to security forces may lead to human rights violations.”
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared a state of emergency on Sunday 24 May after armed supporters of alleged drug dealer Christopher "Dudus" Coke began their protest against his potential extradition to the US on Saturday 23 May.
The state of emergency has given security forces broad new powers to restrict freedom of movement, search premises and detain people suspected of involvement in unlawful activities without a warrant.
Since the fighting began, approximately 44 civilians and three members of the security forces have been killed.  So far, security forces have seized only four firearms, a relatively low number in comparison to the number of people killed.
Amnesty is also concerned that more than 500 people have been detained in recent days.
Kerrie Howard continued:
"The human rights record of the Jamaican police force is dire. Every year the police are responsible for a high number of killings. Evidence indicates that many of these killings are unlawful.
"In this context, residents of the affected areas, including those not involved in the armed confrontation, may become victims of abuses by the security forces. Only an impartial and thorough investigation of every death or injury caused by the use of force will enable the facts to be established regarding possible unlawful killings or extra-judiciary executions.”
Police in Jamaica killed 253 people in 2009, a figure consistent with previous years.
In most cases, the police justify these killings as the result of shoot-outs with gunmen, especially in the context of gang violence in marginalised inner-city communities.
The high number of killings, the virtual absence of injuries or fatalities of police officers, combined with eyewitness testimonies and other evidence, indicate that many of the killings involved excessive or arbitrary use of force by the police and that, in many cases they amounted to unlawful killings.
Kerrie Howard added:
"Collection of evidence and access to independent ballistic and forensic expertise will be crucial in order to ensure that those responsible of human rights violations are identified and brought to justice.
"Even during officially declared states of emergency, Jamaica is required under international law to guarantee the rights of everyone detained, including having their detention reviewed by an independent tribunal."

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