Jamaica violence investigation must be thorough

Amnesty International has called for a thorough investigation into the deaths of dozens of people in the Jamaican capital Kingston during a security operation to arrest an alleged drug dealer. The violence started in the capital city of Kingston on Sunday 23 May, as armed supporters of alleged drug dealer Christopher “Dudus” Coke protested against his potential extradition to the US.Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared a state of emergency on Sunday, giving the security forces broad new powers to restrict freedom of movement, search premises and detain persons suspected of involvement in unlawful activities without a warrant.”While the Jamaican police have a duty to maintain law and order, the attribution of extraordinary powers to the security forces may lead to human rights violations,” said Kerrie Howard, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s America’s programmeAccording to reports, estimates of the death toll vary from 44 to 60. At least three members of the security forces have also been killed.Security forces have so far accounted for four firearms seized, quite a low number compared with the number of people killed.”The human rights record of the police force in Jamaica is dire. Every year the police are responsible for a high number of killings. Evidence indicates that many of these killings are unlawful,” said Kerrie Howard.”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 marginalized 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, including extrajudicial executions.”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,” said Kerrie Howard Amnesty International said it is also concerned at reports that more than 500 people have been detained since the state of emergency was introduced.  “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,” said Kerrie Howard.