JAMAICA: Illegal police tactics fuel scores of murders and sow culture of fear

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4 Dec 2016
[International Secretariat]

Jamaican authorities and local police are promoting a culture of fear amongst women and their families in marginalized communities to cover up thousands of alleged unlawful police killings amid systematic injustice, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

Our new report Waiting in vain: Unlawful police killings and relatives’ long struggle for justice ) explores the catalogue of illegal tactics used by police across Jamaica to ensure relatives of victims of unlawful killings by the police do not pursue justice, truth and reparation for their loved ones. This includes systematic intimidation, harassment and threats against relatives at home, work, hospitals, and even during funerals.

“Unlawful killings of young men and terrorizing their relatives into silence seems to be the alternative to proper investigations into crimes. Over the last two decades, Jamaica’s ‘fight violence with violence’ approach to crime is not only short-sighted but has proven utterly ineffective in tackling the root causes of violence.”

Jamaica has long had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2015 alone, there were 43 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Eight percent of these were at the hands of law enforcement officials.

Since 2000, law enforcement officials in Jamaica have allegedly killed more than 3,000 people – mostly young men living in marginalized communities. Despite overwhelming evidence of police involvement in the crimes, to Amnesty International´s knowledge, only a handful of officers have been convicted of murder since then.

Illegal police tactics

The Jamaican police continue to use illegal practices following fatal shootings. These include altering crime scenes, planting weapons on victims, and threatening victims’ relatives to dissuade them from reporting abuses to the authorities.

Families said male relatives of victims had been unlawfully detained and beaten in detention. In several cases relatives alleged that police officers had killed witnesses in suspected extrajudicial executions. Others spoke of women relatives who had left their communities and even the country to escape intense police intimidation and harassment. Low-income families had little option but to remain in their communities, in extreme fear of reprisals.

Missing justice

Efforts by authorities in Jamaica have gone some way to reduce the number of unlawful killings by police – which have halved between 2014 and 2015.

However, these efforts have so far failed to tackle the structural problems that allow security forces to continue to murder people in large numbers and avoid justice.

Many of those interviewed by Amnesty International believe the reduction in killings could be a temporary lull provoked by the initial deterring effect of investigation and prosecution by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), a police oversight mechanism established in 2010, rather than structural reform of the internal operation of the police.

Amnesty International acknowledges that Jamaica’s security forces work under difficult conditions. According to senior police, long hours, low pay, limited respect for work-life balance and dangerous working environments make it very difficult to retain officers. In 2015, 415 police officers resigned. Between 2005 and 2015, 27 on-duty police officers were killed in security operations.

“If authorities in Jamaica are serious about tackling the country’s shocking levels of police killings and violence they must urgently promote a deep police and justice reform to address not only the number of police murders but the root causes of the problem,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

23 November 2016

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