US State Department report highlights concern about human rights abuses, by members of the security forces in Jamaica

by April 1st, 2021

The US State Department has noted concern with human rights abuses by members of the security forces in Jamaica, as well as that alleged abusers were not made to account for their actions.

The issues were outlined in the department’s 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, published on Tuesday (March 30).

The report pointed to significant human rights issues to include numerous reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious corruption by officials; lack of accountability for violence against women; as well as sex and labour trafficking.

It noted that Jamaican law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, but the government did not enforce the law during the year.

It added that the Jamaican government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, there were credible reports that some officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses were not subject to full and swift accountability.

The US report stated that there were numerous reports during the year that Jamaican security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, and there were hundreds of abuse and wrongful harm complaints.

It said the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was cited in the majority of the reports, both independently and as part of joint military-police activity, although there were several reported incidents involving the Jamaica Defence Force.

Overall, the total number of fatalities involving security forces, justifiable or otherwise, increased, with 83 reports as of September 29, compared with 67 by the same date in 2019.

Charges against members of the security forces took years to process, primarily due to backlogs, trial delays, and appellate measures.

For example, although first brought before the court in 2014, Constables Garrett Davis and Christobel Smith of the disbanded J-C-F mobile reserve unit were not convicted until late 2019 and not sentenced until January.

Constable Davis was sentenced to life in prison, while constable smith was sentenced to more than six years’ imprisonment for the fatal shooting of Omar Marshall in 2009.

The court concluded that Davis and Smith planted firearms and prepared statements to deceive the public as part of a process to target persons accused of being criminals.

Numerous other cases, particularly the Clarendon “Death Squad” trial, await prosecution.