Jamaica - Amnesty International Report 2008

Human Rights in JAMAICA

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Head of State : Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Kenneth Hall
Head of government : Bruce Golding (replaced Portia Simpson Miller in September)
Death penalty : retentionist
Population : 2.7 million
Life expectancy : 72.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) : 21/18 per 1,000
Adult literacy : 79.9 per cent

Murder rates and police killings in socially excluded inner-city communities remained at a high level. Police officers were largely unaccountable and rarely brought to justice for human rights violations. Discrimination and violence against women and gay men were widespread.


In September the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, Bruce Golding, was elected Prime Minister after

18 years of People’s National Party government. He pledged to tackle crime and corruption, draft a new charter of fundamental rights and create an independent commission into human rights violations by members of the security forces. At least nine people were killed and many others injured in confrontations between supporters of opposing parties in the run-up to the September elections.

Homicide rates in Jamaica reached another record high; more than 1,500 people were murdered during the year. Firearms were widely available. Victims were mainly young men from marginalized inner-city communities. Perpetrators were usually gang members. At least 20 police officers were killed, many while on duty.

In May, the Jamaican Justice System Reform Task Force launched its preliminary report, with comprehensive reform recommendations. However, no clear plan for their implementation had been devised by the end of the year.

The review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, initiated by the previous administration, continued. However, there was concern about the lack of consultation with human rights organizations.

Police and security forces

Reports of police brutality increased. According to the Bureau of Special Investigations, 203 people were killed by police between January and September, a significant increase compared with 2006. Victims were mainly from socially excluded inner-city communities. Although the police routinely claimed that these killings occurred during shoot-outs with criminal gangs, eyewitness accounts often alleged that police had extrajudicially executed victims. Corruption and distrust of the police remained the norm.

The pattern of impunity for police abuses and lack of accountability in the security and justice systems continued.

  • Eighteen-year-old Ravin Thomas was wounded by police while visiting his aunt in an inner-city neighbourhood in Kingston in July. Eight soldiers and two police officers chasing a suspect passed next to him and opened fire. Ravin Thomas’ injuries when he was put in the police jeep to be taken to hospital were confined to his shoulder and his arm. When his aunt arrived at the hospital, Ravin Thomas was dead. According to the autopsy, he had four gunshot wounds, one in his face and another in his chin. The police recorded the incident as a shoot-out. The case was being investigated by the Police Public Complaints Authority and the Bureau of Special Investigations at the end of the year.
  • Eighteen- year-old André Thomas was shot by police in the arm and leg in Grants Pen in September. He was still conscious when he was put into the police car to be taken to hospital. When his father arrived at the hospital, André Thomas was dead. He had gunshot wounds all over his body, including a fatal shot in the stomach. The father of the victim reported being threatened by local police officers days after the incident. The officers did not reappear or return their vehicle until four days after the shooting. They were charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and with murder in December. Their trial was scheduled for 2008.

Violence against women and girls

Sexual violence against women and girls was prevalent throughout the country, but the authorities failed to bring those responsible to justice. Rates of HIV infection among women and girls continued to rise and people living with HIV faced discrimination.

A draft bill which would offer greater legal protection to women and children, including making marital rape a criminal offence and increasing punishments for perpetrators of sexual violence, was pending final approval by parliament at the end of the year.


There were several episodes of violence, including mob violence, against people perceived to be gay.

  • On 8 April, a crowd surrounded a church in Mandeville and hurled objects through a window at the back of the church. The attacks were directed at those attending a funeral whom the crowd believed were gay.

Death penalty

No one was executed in 2007; the last execution in Jamaica took place in 1988.

The new government announced there would be a free vote, allowing representatives to vote according to personal conscience, in parliament on the resumption of hangings.

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