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Statements by Minister of National Security could encourage unjustified use of lethal force

Minister Knight was quoted as stating: 'The police must be able, if challenged [by gunmen] to respond swiftly, efficiently and effectively...I know I am going to be criticised for this, but gunmen who challenge the police...their place belongs in the morgue...'

'We acknowledge that police officers have the right to protect themselves and members of the public when under attack from armed criminals,' Amnesty International said. 'But the organisation is concerned that his statements may appear to endorse the use of lethal force when it is not justified.'

'Minister Knight's comments contrast sharply with last week's launching of the new 'Citizens Charter' for the JCF, when the Minister called for a partnership between citizens and the police. Only a week later, he appears to be advocating police officers to be judge, jury and executioner,' Amnesty International added.

Amnesty International also believes the Minister's comments should be of concern to the United Kingdom (UK) authorities, who last week agreed to allow the supply of 500 guns to the JCF, having previously withheld the sale of the pistols citing human rights concerns. The UK authorities cited that the human rights training - provided for officers receiving the guns - would be sufficient enough to ensure that the firearms would not be used to commit human rights violations.

'The value of any human rights training program for police officers may be considerably diminished if top government officials tell them they should kill all armed criminals, regardless of whether lethal force is necessary to ensure police and civilian safety,' Amnesty International stated.

'We hope the UK authorities will continue to monitor the situation and do everything within their power to ensure that the supply of these firearms does not lead to more unjustifiable deaths at the hands of Jamaica's security personnel.'

Amnesty International did not oppose the supply of guns to the JCF, but believes it is incumbent upon those governments involved in the supply of firearms to ensure that they are not employed in the abuse of human rights.

Background Amnesty International has long-term concerns regarding the use of lethal force by the JCF in unjustifiable circumstances. In recent years, police and army officers have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people in Jamaica - 140 fatalities in 2000. Many of the fatalities could not be justified as self-defence. For example, in 1999, both Michael Gayle and Leroy Bailey were killed by security officers even though they were unarmed and posed no danger to anyone. Gayle was beaten to death by police and army officers after he approached a road block; to date no army or police officer has been charged in connection with his death. Bailey was shot in his taxi because police mistakenly believed his vehicle contained armed criminals.

Although the mechanisms to hold security officers accountable for their actions exist in Jamaica, it remains extremely rare for officers to be convicted for human rights violations.

International standards governing the use of firearms by security forces are clear that only the minimum amount of force shall be employed to ensure safety. For example, Article 3 of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (adopted by the UN in 1979) states: 'Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.'

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