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US slams Jamaica’s record on police killings, detentions

Published:Thursday | November 12, 2020 | 12:16 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica's foreign minister.
Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica's foreign minister.

The United States administration says it is deeply concerned about the high rates of killings in Jamaica, highlighting the murder of women, even as it bemoans the “insufficient response” by the Government to end the violence and hold the perpetrators responsible.

Latest crime statistics released by the police show that as at November 7 this year, 1,097 Jamaicans had been killed. This represents a 2.9 per cent decline over the 1,130 people murdered for the similar period in 2019.

Washington is also urging the Andrew Holness administration to curtail abuses by the security forces and government agents involved in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and what it describes as life-threatening prison conditions.

“While we commend the efforts taken thus far to remedy the life-threatening conditions of Jamaica’s prisons and detention centres, the Government must continue to improve conditions and protect the human rights of those detained,” a US official told a United Nations body yesterday.

At the same time, the Canadian government has recommended that its Jamaican counterpart amend the INDECOM Act in line with recommendations of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament in 2015 to give the oversight body the legislative capacity to arrest, charge, and prosecute members of the security forces with unlawful killings and abuses of power.

These issues were among a litany of recommendations and comments made yesterday as Jamaica’s human-rights record was extensively examined by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group during a webcast on Wednesday.

“End abuses by security forces and other government agents involved in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and life-threatening prison conditions and ensure swift accountability for those who commit abuses by implementing existing mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses, and clearing administrative backlogs,” the US stated.

In July, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck signalled that he had changed its previous position of granting INDECOM powers to prosecute the police autonomously.

Chuck said that he based his decision on the “belief that the increase in staffing at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will allow for the sufficient and timely decision on the files sent by INDECOM”.

During yesterday’s United Nations Human Rights Council’s UPR discussion, a representative from the UK also expressed concern about the “high rate of fatal shooting incidents involving the security forces”.

TOP PRIORITIES

Addressing members of the UN body, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith said that the protection of human rights and the rule of law remain priorities for the Jamaican Government as evidenced by initiatives undertaken by the administration.

She told the group that Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security was developing the Law Enforcement Protection of Integrity Act, which will define the standards of operation for all individuals engaged in law-enforcement activities to include considerations for human rights.

Johnson Smith said that the Government is also promulgating a less-lethal-weapons policy, which will provide a regime that will regulate access to less lethal devices such as pepper sprays for personal protection.

“The policy will also facilitate options for graduated use of force by the security forces in the application of less lethal weapons such as electro shock weapons, thereby reducing the potential for excessive use of force against the public,” she explained.

The foreign affairs minister also highlighted that policy for the use of body-worn cameras in police operations was drafted in 2016. According to Johnson Smith, body-worn cameras were required to enhance the provisions for human rights and human dignity and form part of the Government’s thrust to ensure that citizens’ human rights are not violated when police personnel are dealing with civilians.

The Gleaner reported in early May that the police force had no body cameras deployed at the time. National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang had attributed the non-deployment to the procurement of faulty equipment and said that the Government intended to purchase a large inventory of cameras.