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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Jamaica

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Jamaica, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 19 June 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Governor General, appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, represents the Queen as Head of State. The elected Prime Minister, the leader of the majority party in Parliament, is the head of government. The Parliament is composed of an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. Two major political parties have alternated in power since the first elections under universal adult suffrage in 1944. The People's National Party (PNP) holds 52 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The opposition Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), which formed the Government from 1980 to 1989, holds the remaining 8 seats. The last general election, held in March, was marred by political violence and fraud.

The security forces consist of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF – police), the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF – auxiliary police), and the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF – army, air wing, and coast guard). The JCF and ISCF report to the Ministry of National Security. The JDF is responsible to the Prime Minister in his capacity as Defense Minister. The JCF has repeatedly and accurately been cited for human rights abuses and political partisanship; the JDF has been responsible for some, albeit fewer, abuses.

Jamaica's economy is based on primary products (bauxite/alumina, sugar, bananas), services (tourism), and light manufacturing (garment assembly). The Government has promoted private investment to stimulate economic growth and modernization, pursuing in the process a sometimes painful program of structural adjustment. Side effects of this program have included inflation, currency devaluation, and large-scale layoffs in the public sector.

Jamaica's principal human rights abuses are extrajudicial killings and beatings by police and prison guards and, to a lesser extent, members of the army. Such killings are often carried out with impunity. While a few police and army personnel were prosecuted for manslaughter or murder, the local media and human rights groups attributed new execution-style killings to members of the security forces. Other abuses include violence against women, including attacks by police; searches without warrants; indefinite detention; brutal treatment of detainees; and vigilantism. Conditions in Jamaican jails and prisons remain appalling, with serious overcrowding, awful sanitary conditions, and inadequate diet the norm. An inefficient and overburdened judiciary was responsible for lengthy delays in trials, sentencing, and appeals.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The March 30 general election was preceded by a brief but violent campaign during which between 14 and 22 persons were killed by political partisans and/or members of the security forces in February and March. In the only pre-election killing with political overtones allegedly committed by security forces, a JDF lieutenant and a lance corporal were charged with the March 27 killing of JCF constable Rupert Sinclair, who was acting as a bodyguard for JLP candidate for Parliament Ernest Smith. Eyewitnesses reported that Sinclair, who identified himself as a policeman, was shot in the stomach while being questioned by the soldiers. A trial was set to begin on October 11, but had not begun by year's end.

On March 26, election official Dennis Brooks was shot and killed in Old Harbour, St. Catherine. The suspected killer, a PNP supporter, was later found dead of multiple gunshot wounds one day after his arrest, and subsequent unexplained release, for the killing of a JLP supporter.

There continue to be credible reports that the JCF engages in the summary execution of suspects under the guise of "shoot-outs." Local media accounts disputing JCF claims of shoot-outs (often quoting eyewitness accounts in direct contradiction) appeared with increasing frequency in 1993. One case which drew particular media attention concerned the July 16 shooting death of two robbery suspects at Nuttall private hospital in Kingston. While initial JCF reports indicated the two men, Alfredo Bell and Leroy Chin, were killed in a shoot-out, eyewitness accounts from health professionals and other credible witnesses maintained that Bell was chased into the hospital, taken outside by JCF personnel, forced to lie prone and shot in the back of the head. One of six JCF officers involved was charged with capital murder and suspended while the investigation and prosecution proceeded.

Statistics collected over several years from the JCF show that the number of people shot and killed by the police routinely exceeds the number shot but only wounded. In 1993 the JCF listed 67 people shot and wounded by police officers, while 91 were shot and killed. For 1992 the figures were 69 shot and wounded, 107 shot and killed. Prosecutions of security officials for extrajudicial killings appeared to increase. Overall, seven JCF members were charged, suspended, or prosecuted for murder or manslaughter in 1993, compared with four in 1992.

The new Commissioner of Police, Army Colonel (ret) Trevor MacMillan, the first chosen from outside the ranks of the JCF since 1966, was appointed with a mandate to reform the police. In October he ordered the disbanding of the Special Operations Unit and the restructuring of the Protective Service Unit, both of which had been responsible for much political partisanship.

Extrajudicial killings of persons in official custody continued. Four JCF inspectors and a superintendent were charged on April 2 with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of three detainees in the Constant Spring police jail in October 1992. The trial of the five had not begun by the end of 1993. In another incident, the death of detainee John Headley in the Ramble jail in November 1992, a detective constable and another JCF officer were charged with manslaughter in late May. According to eyewitness accounts from fellow detainees, Headley died under interrogation from repeated beatings as the accused officers sought a confession in the case of a stolen cow. The accused had not been tried by year's end.

Vigilantism, involving spontaneous mob executions, occurred with some frequency in Jamaica in 1993. Residents often complained that help from the police, particularly in rural areas, was tardy or nonexistent; in many such cases, the response to crimes from agricultural larceny to armed robbery was the rapid formation of a local mob which beat, stoned, or "chopped" (with machetes) the alleged criminals to death. Police rarely brought charges against vigilantes, and acquittals were common in the few cases that did go to court.

b. Disappearance

There was no evidence of politically related abduction or disappearances perpetrated by the security forces or others in 1993.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Torture and other abuse of prisoners and detainees are prohibited by law. Nonetheless, there were numerous credible complaints of beatings, in many cases to obtain confessions, by guards and security personnel of inmates held in jails and prisons. The Jamaica Council on Human Rights (JCHR) reported that the beating of detainees on the soles of the feet in order to obtain confessions was a common practice; in one incident, it said, police forced one detainee to beat the soles of a friend and fellow detainee. In recent years, the Government has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil damages to settle suits brought against security personnel for brutal treatment; the most recent available figure, for 1991, was $333,000.

The Police Public Complaints Authority (PPCA), a nonpartisan civilian body which began operations in April, received over 150 complaints in its initial months of operation. Most complaints charged excessive use of force or abuse of power. The PPCA's chairman told local media in August that the authority's work was being hampered by a lack of reliable witnesses. The PPCA may refer cases to the Commissioner of Police; if not satisfied with the Commissioner's actions, the Authority may report on the matter to the Governor General. At year's end, however, no JCF personnel had been charged or prosecuted for matters arising from PPCA complaints.

There were no significant changes in conditions in maximum security prisons and police jails, which remain abysmal. Sanitary conditions are appalling and dangerous, food inadequate at best, and overcrowding the rule rather than the exception. Several police jails were temporarily closed during the year in an effort to cope with raw sewage running through the grounds; others, including Central jail in Kingston and Barnett Street jail in Montego Bay, remained open under substantially the same conditions. At the general penitentiary in Kingston, up to six men are held in the 7- by 10-foot cells in the remand section, in near total darkness, for 16 to 20 hours a day.

The failure to provide adequate and timely medical attention is a further problem, especially given the degrading sanitary conditions. Prisoners and detainees who can afford to pay find access to medical treatment, supplemental food, and other amenities. Prisoners without access to money from family members and friends must subsist on the $0.60 a day per inmate budgeted for food.

A 1992 amendment to Jamaica's Offenses Against the Person Act, which separated murder into capital and noncapital categories, elicited a great deal of comment on the revised Act and on the death penalty in general during 1993. A number of commentators, including the JCHR, questioned the propriety of allowing 10- to 15-year delays in executions for a large number of convicted murderers. They charged that, the question of the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty aside, such lengthy delays themselves constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. In November the Privy Council commuted the death sentences of two convicted murderers, saying their 14 years on death row amounted to inhuman treatment. There have been no executions in Jamaica since 1988 and no ex post facto applications of the death penalty.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Suppression of Crimes Act (SOCA), adopted in 1974 and still in force in Kingston, St. Andrew, and St. Catherine parishes, allows police to make arrests and conduct warrantless searches of the homes and property of persons "reasonably" suspected of having committed a crime. It has also been used as justification for curfews in urban areas. The Government promised on several occasions during 1993 to repeal the SOCA; by the end of the year, however, the law was still on the books.

Detention of suspects without a warrant occurs regularly, particularly in poor neighborhoods. Many detainees are held for several weeks without being brought before a judge or magistrate, in contravention of the law, which sets a maximum of 48 hours for detention without a hearing. For Jamaican suspects charged with a crime, there is a functioning bail system. Foreign detainees, however, are regularly denied bail. Persons unable to post bail while waiting for a judicial hearing are often detained for long periods. Detainees constitute 15 percent of the maximum security prison population; the average length of detention before trial has not been determined but ranges from 6 to 52 weeks.

Some 80-100 persons are currently awaiting trial "at the pleasure of the Governor General," usually for capital offenses committed as minors. They are subject to indefinite detention; many have been held for more than 10 years. Others in the group, mostly mentally ill, have been judged unfit to plead. A man held for 24 years without trial was released in September to the care of his family after a public outcry stemming from media reports of his plight. Other such cases were under review by the Governor General at year's end.

Under a 1992 joint police-military campaign called "Operation Ardent," the Government established rapid response units in three locations to combat increasingly violent crime. By mid-1993, however, the Anti-Crime Investigation Detachment (ACID) replaced Operation Ardent as the latest anticrime initiative. ACID members were almost immediately linked to reports of summary executions (see Section 1.a., the Nuttall hospital incident). The three military detention centers which were to be used to house Operation Ardent detainees, meanwhile, were constructed but never used.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There is a well-established right to counsel for persons charged with criminal offenses; indigents, however, must have been accused of a "serious offense" (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, firearms offenses) to qualify for court-appointed counsel. Many offenses, including wounding with intent (to cause great bodily harm), are not considered "serious," and many defendants are thus convicted without benefit of counsel. The Court of Appeal and the Parliament may refer cases to the judicial committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom (see Section 1.c.).

A special gun court, established in 1974, considers all cases involving the illegal use or possession of firearms and ammunition. Public attendance is restricted, and cases are heard by a panel of three judges, with less rigorous rules of evidence than in regular court proceedings. In capital cases, hearings before the gun court serve as preliminaries to jury trials under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

The judicial system, although independent, is overburdened and operates with inadequate resources. Budgetary shortfalls have resulted in a steady attrition of trained personnel, causing further delays. Many cases take years to come to trial, and others have had to be dismissed because case files could not be located. One case required 50 visits to court by the parties before a decision was reached; another has been on the books of the May Pen district court since 1972. The Government in recent years took some steps to reverse the deterioration of the legal system, which included raising judicial salaries, increasing training for judicial personnel, upgrading court house facilities, and providing technical assistance to institutionalize an improved court administration system. The effects on caseloads and average length of proceedings have so far been minimal, however.

There are no political prisoners in Jamaica.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary intrusion by the State into the private life of the individual. Under the SOCA, however, homes or businesses believed to be occupied by persons "reasonably" suspected by the police of having committed a crime may be searched without a warrant. This authority is frequently abused.

Although the use of telephone taps without a court order is officially limited to cases involving the drug trade, terrorism, and subversion of the Government, charges have been raised in recent years by political and trade union officials that their telephones were being tapped. These charges have not been addressed by the authorities.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and press are provided for in the Constitution and are observed in practice within the broad limits of libel laws and the Official Secrets Act.

The Jamaica Broadcasting Company (JBC), largely freed from government ownership in 1988, operates two radio stations and one of the island's two television channels. A private television station went on the air in May, while two other privately owned FM radio stations also began operation during the year. The Government's broadcast commission has the right to regulate programming during emergencies. Foreign television transmissions are unregulated and available to a sizable number of Jamaicans through satellite antennas.

Jamaica's four largest newspapers, all privately owned, regularly report on alleged human rights abuses, particularly those involving the JCF. Foreign publications are widely available. There is no censorship or interference in academic institutions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. Public rallies are staged by all political parties. Such events require a police permit, which is normally granted. Large numbers and varieties of professional, business, service, social, and cultural associations function freely.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is provided for by the Constitution and is well established. More than 80 percent of the population belongs to various Christian denominations, and religious groups of all kinds operate freely. Evangelical Christian movements have gained a significant following, and foreign evangelists visit regularly.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides Jamaican citizens freedom of movement and immunity from expulsion from the country. Apart from persons under criminal investigation, there are no restrictions on foreign travel or emigration. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.

Those who apply for refugee status are handled on a case-by-case basis. In coordination with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1991, the Jamaican Government established a facility which processed more than 100 Haitian boat people, who were housed, clothed, and fed throughout 1992. By the end of 1993, some 30-35 remained in Jamaica, the rest having been voluntarily repatriated to Haiti. There were occasions when the Jamaican Government refused the disembarcation of Cuban asylum seekers.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Jamaicans have, and freely exercise, the right to change their government. All citizens aged 18 and over have the right to vote by secret ballot. The March 30 general election was marred, however, by fraud which occurred on a large scale within the urban constituencies of Kingston, and to a lesser but still significant extent in nearby parishes. In an April 2 statement, Professor Gladstone Mills, chairman of the electoral advisory committee, called the theft and stuffing of ballot boxes and repeat voting by hundreds of people "a terrible and sad travesty of the democratic process." Observers found particularly troubling the involvement of elements of the security forces: in addition to the murder of Rupert Sinclair (Section 1.a.), members of the JCF were observed by the local and international media assisting in the takeover of polling stations by one party or the other. Indeed, the results from some stations depended on which party was able to bring the greater threat of force to bear.

According to Professor Mills, the murder 3 days before the election of electoral official Dennis Brooks also had a substantial effect on the willingness of electoral officials to do their jobs on election day, contributing to delays in opening and the premature closing of some polling stations. Such action effectively disenfranchised thousands of voters,

either by shortened polling hours or by threats of violence from armed political gangs. Nevertheless, observers, including the opposition JLP, conceded that the overall result of the election was not altered by the fraud which took place, even though individual seats may have been decided as a result of fraud.

The JLP boycotted a by-election in late November, charging that appropriate electoral reforms were not in place. The election, won overwhelmingly by the PNP candidate, was contested by one independent and two small-party candidates, who charged that voter turnout figures were inflated, and that some of their votes were lost owing to electoral irregularities. The security forces appeared to have performed their duties professionally on election day; no charges of violence or malfeasance were raised against members of the army or police.

There are no de jure limitations to the participation of women in politics at any level. In practice, women constitute a small minority of national parliamentarians and an only slightly higher proportion of local council members. Women in politics, as in Jamaican business, hold few leadership positions; they tend, on the other hand, to dominate in administrative areas.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no restrictions on human rights organizations in Jamaica. The JCHR, the country's only formal human rights organization, has vigorously protested abuses by the police and has called for corrective reforms. Its work was hampered, however, by a lack of adequate resources. There was no official followup on the August 1992 break-in and fire at the JCHR headquarters, which effectively shut the organization down for 3 months. The JCHR's coordinator, chairman, and vice-chairman continued to receive death threats in 1993.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


While Jamaican women are theoretically accorded full equality under the Constitution and under the 1975 Employment Act, in practice they suffer from economic discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, and cultural and social traditions which do little to discourage violence against women.

Sexual assault reports increased from 1,091 in 1991 to 1,155 in 1992. According to the authorities, reports of violence against women increased again in 1993, although figures were unavailable at year's end. Complaints filed with the JCHR alleging police attacks on women have increased dramatically in the last few years, leading the organization to focus formally on women's issues for the first time since its creation in 1968. A police instructor allegedly raped a young woman recruit at the police academy on August 16; he was arrested the same day. By year's end, his trial had not begun.

The Women's Crisis Center and Sistren (a women's resource collective) both reported increases in the number of, and level of violence involved in, attacks against women. Women remain reluctant to bring assault charges against their domestic partners when jail is seen as the likely result. The Government, which promised legislation to introduce noncustodial sentencing for nonweapon offenses, had not done so by the end of 1993.


The Government has gone on record several times over the past decade as supporting the rights and welfare of children. Limited resources, however, make it difficult for the Government to monitor the status of children at school, in the workplace, or at home. The only legislation which specifically addresses the rights of children is the Juvenile Act (see Section 6.d.).

The treatment of children in Jamaican society received increased public attention in 1993. Sexual abuse and child labor practices were particular areas of concern. A University of the West Indies study released in April showed that 13 percent of eighth-grade girls questioned had faced attempted rape, while 4 percent had actually been raped, often by a family member. Additionally, 22 percent had witnessed acts of violence involving weapons at home, while 40 percent had witnessed similar acts at school.

Indigenous People

While there are no indigenous peoples remaining in Jamaica, several community groups descended from freed and escaped slaves, called Maroons, live in separate communities in the interior of the island. Since British colonial times, the Maroons have enjoyed a degree of autonomy granted by treaty. There were no charges of political or other discrimination made by Maroon leaders in 1993. However, they continue to press claims for land rights which they say the Government has not honored.

Religious minorities

The Rastafarians, a sect dedicated to black repatriation to Africa, have repeatedly charged the Government with religious persecution over the years; often, however, the charges stem from criminal prosecutions brought for possession and use of marijuana, the smoking of which the Rastafarians regard as a sacrament.

People with Disabilities

There have been no organized campaigns to make structures and facilities accessible to disabled persons, and there are no laws mandating provision of accessibility for people with disabilities. A government-sponsored "disabilities week," held in September, helped raise public awareness of the problems which confront disabled Jamaicans.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution specifically provides for the right to form or join a trade union. There are no categories of workers who do not have the right to form unions. Labor unions function freely and independently of the Government. The Labor Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA) codifies worker rights. There is a spectrum of national unions, some of which are associated with political parties. Approximately 15 percent of the labor force is organized.

Jamaican law neither authorizes nor prohibits the right to strike, but unions and workers do strike. Striking workers can interrupt work without criminal liability but cannot be assured of keeping their jobs. Workers in 10 broad categories of "essential services" are prohibited from striking, a provision of the LRIDA which the International Labor Organization (ILO) has repeatedly condemned as overly inclusive. There was a major increase in workdays lost to industrial action in 1993, as workers attempted to regain buying power lost to inflation over the preceding 3 years. No strikes were declared illegal in 1993.

Jamaican unions maintain a wide variety of regional and international affiliations.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right to organize and belong to labor unions, and LRIDA provisions include guidelines for labor, management, and government on issues such as organizing work sites, negotiating agreements, and conflict resolution. The Government rarely interferes with union organization efforts, and judicial and police authorities effectively enforce the LRIDA and other labor regulations.

Labor, management, and the Government remain firmly committed by law and in practice to collective bargaining in contract negotiations and conflict resolution, even in some nonunion settings. When labor and management fail to reach an agreement, cases may be referred to an independent Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), which forms the first appeal level above the Ministry of Labor. Any cases not resolved by the IDT pass to the civil courts.

The LRIDA prohibits antiunion discrimination: for example, employees may not be fired solely for union membership. Employees unlawfully fired for union activities may choose to be reinstated or receive appropriate compensation, under the direction of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal. This law has been effectively enforced. On the other hand, union affiliation may not be a prerequisite for employment.

Domestic labor laws apply in the "free zones" (export processing zones); however, there are no unionized companies in any of them. Union organizers attribute this to resistance by foreign owners in the zones to organizing efforts and government reluctance to allow union access. Nonetheless, the free zones were hit by labor unrest in July and attempts to organize plants within the zones continue. Company-controlled "workers' councils" handle grievance resolution at most free zone companies. Wages and conditions within the free zones, set by management, are generally as good as or better than those in similar industries outside the zones. The Labor Ministry, however, discontinued inspections of the zones in mid-1992 due to budget cutbacks.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution does not specifically address the matter of forced or compulsory labor. However, Jamaica is a party to both ILO conventions that prohibit compulsory labor, and there have been no allegations that this practice exists in Jamaica.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Juvenile Act provides that children under the age of 12 shall not be employed except by parents or guardians, and that such employment may be only in domestic, agricultural, or horticultural work. However, enforcement is erratic. Children under 12 years of age can be seen peddling goods or services on city streets. There is no evidence of widespread illegal employment of children in other sectors of the economy. The Educational Act stipulates that all children aged 6 to 11 must attend elementary school. Industrial safety, police, and truant officers are charged with enforcement. Given the difficult economic circumstances of the past few years, however, thousands of children were kept home for varying periods to help with housework and to keep expenses down.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage, $10 (J$300) per week, is widely considered inadequate. Most salaried workers are paid more than the legal minimum wage. Work over 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day must be compensated at overtime rates, a provision which is widely observed. The law provides for a 24-hour rest day per week, during which workers may choose to work in exchange for double pay. The Labor Ministry's Industrial Safety Division is charged with setting and enforcing industrial health and safety standards, which outside experts consider adequate. Industrial accident rates were once again low in 1993. The Ministries of Labor, Finance, the Public Service and National Security are charged with enforcing labor laws and regulations; again, however, the reduction of the public service in 1992 had a grave impact on the ability of those ministries to enforce the law. Workers are guaranteed the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment if they are trade union members or covered by the Factories Act; other categories of workers are not specifically protected by law in those circumstances.

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