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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Jamaica

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Jamaica, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 13 October 2015]
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. An appointed Governor General represents the Queen as Head of State. The elected Prime Minister is the Head of Government. An elected lower house and an appointed upper house comprise Parliament. Two political parties have alternated in power since the first elections under universal adult suffrage in 1944. The last general election, held in March 1993, 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 Defence Force (JDF--army, air wing, and coast guard). The JCF continued to be responsible for serious human rights abuses and political partisanship. The JDF has been responsible for some abuses, albeit fewer than the JCF.

The economy is based on primary products (bauxite and alumina, sugar, bananas), services (tourism, finance), 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. As a result of concentrating economic policy on maintaining a stable rate of exchange with the U.S. dollar, interest rates were high and economic growth suffered.

Among Jamaica's principal human rights abuses, there are allegations that police and prison guards commit summary executions and other extrajudicial killings and beatings, often with impunity. Other abuses included violence against women, including attacks by police; warrantless searches; indefinite detention; brutality against detainees; and vigilantism. Conditions in Jamaican jails and prisons remain poor, 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

There continued to be credible reports that the JCF engaged in the summary execution of suspects under the guise of "shootouts." Local media accounts disputing JCF claims of shootouts continued to appear in 1994, albeit with less frequency than in previous years. JCF statistics have shown a continuous pattern in recent years wherein persons shot and killed by the JCF outnumbered those shot but only wounded.

The authorities charged a JCF officer with capital murder in the July 1993 killings of Alfredo Bell and Leroy Chin at Nuttal private hospital, but he has yet to be tried. Authorities also brought charges against a JDF lieutenant and a corporal for killing a policeman guarding a candidate for Parliament in 1993. The lieutenant has since died of natural causes. The trial of the corporal was postponed until 1995. The JCF Office of Internal Affairs continues to take disciplinary action against other abusive officers.

The Jamaica Council for Human Rights (JCHR) received fewer complaints about police abuses in 1994 than in 1993. However, police officers continued to enjoy apparent impunity for extrajudicial killings. For example, the courts freed in 1994 five police officers charged with the October 1992 deaths of three men in Constant Spring jail when the judge found them not guilty of manslaughter. (The deaths were the result of confining 19 men--arrested in a police sweep but never charged-- in a nearly airless cell for 2 days.) The Supreme Court subsequently awarded damages to 1 of the 16 survivors in a lawsuit which the Attorney General did not contest. The other 15 also have lawsuits pending.

Vigilantism, involving spontaneous mob executions, occurred with some frequency in 1994. In rural areas, the response to crimes such as animal theft was often the rapid formation of a local mob which beat, stoned, or "chopped" to death (with machetes) the alleged criminals. Police rarely brought charges against vigilantes, and acquittals have been common in the few cases that do go to court.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically related abduction or disappearances perpetrated by the security forces or others.

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

The law prohibits torture and other abuse of prisoners and detainees. Nonetheless, detainees and prisoners made numerous credible complaints that guards and security personnel beat them in local jails and prisons to obtain confessions. The JCHR continued to document cases where prison personnel beat inmates in order to obtain confessions.

The Police Public Complaints Authority (PPCA), a nonpartisan civilian body which began operation in 1993, received hundreds of complaints in its first year of operation. Most complaints charged excessive use of force or abuse of authority by police. At year's end, however, the authorities had not brought any charges against JCF personnel for matters arising from complaints to the PPCA.

In the case of a police instructor who allegedly raped a young female recruit in 1993, the woman subsequently refused to testify against him. The judge directed a verdict of not guilty but recommended that the instructor resign from the JCF.

Conditions in maximum security prisons and police jails remained abysmal. Sanitary conditions were dangerously inadequate, food insufficent, and overcrowding the rule. Prisoners often have to resort to buying their own food or medicine, or having relatives bring it to them. At the general penitentiary in Kingston, authorities imprison up to six men in the 7- by 10-foot cells in the remand section, in near-total darkness, for 16 to 20 hours a day. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that while some of Jamaica's prisons appear to meet international standards, others do not. A Human Rights Watch/Americas report was highly critical of the treatment of children in the prison system.

At his discretion, a judge may impose both whipping (with a tamarind switch) and flogging (with a cat o'nine tails) as punishment in criminal cases. A judge sentenced a Kingston man who paralyzed a woman with an ice pick to be whipped and jailed. This aroused considerable public debate on corporal punishment. Following the first flogging sentence, other judges sentenced several more criminals to be flogged.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Parliament repealed the Suppression of Crimes Act (SOCA) of 1974, which permitted warrantless searches and the arrest of persons "reasonably suspected" of having committed a crime. The Jamaica Constabulary Force Act, however, now contains several of these provisions.

The authorities regularly detained suspects without a warrant, particularly in poor neighborhoods. The law requires a court appearance within 48 hours of detention, but the authorities often held detainees for several weeks without bringing them before a judge or magistrate. However, the JCHR tallied fewer complaints of illegal detention in 1994 than in previous years. There is a functioning bail system for Jamaicans; foreign detainees, however, are regularly denied bail. The Constitution provides immunity from expulsion from the country, or exile.

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, gun offenses) to qualify for court-appointed counsel. However, the law does not consider many offenses, including wounding with intent to cause great bodily harm, as "serious," and courts thus convict many defendants without benefit of counsel.

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 were dismissed because case files could not be located.

The court of appeal and the Parliament may refer cases to the judicial committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. In September Prime Minister Patterson called for abolition of appeals to the Privy Council and creation of a Caribbean Court of Appeals. Opposition leader Seaga and some human rights organizations immediately opposed this proposal.

There were no political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary intrusion by the State into the private life of the individual. The revised Jamaica Constabulary Force Act, however, continues to give security personnel the sort of broad powers of search and seizure which were consistently abused under the Suppression of Crimes Act. 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, politicians, trade union officials, and local journalists have charged that the authorities were tapping their telephones in recent years. The accused authorities did not respond to these charges.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the Government respects these rights in practice, within the broad limits of libel laws and the Official Secrets Act. The Jamaica Broadcasting Company, largely deregulated in 1988, operates two radio stations and one of the island's two television stations. The Government's broadcasting commission has the right to regulate programming during emergencies. Foreign television transmissions are unregulated and available to tens of thousands of Jamaicans through satellite antennas. The four largest newspapers, all privately owned, regularly report on human rights abuses, particularly those involving the JCF. Foreign publications are widely available. There were no reports of censorship or interference in academic institutions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. The police routinely grant without favoritism the permits required for political parties to stage public rallies. Large numbers and varieties of professional, business, service, social, and cultural associations function freely.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is well established in law and practice.

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

The Constitution provides Jamaican citizens freedom of movement and the authorities respect these provisions.

The authorities adjudicate applications for refugee status on a case-by-case basis. In coordination with the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Government has processed more than 80 Haitian boat people. The Government was considering applications from approximately 60 Cuban asylum seekers, also in coordination with the UNHCR. The Government had not made a decision on the refugee status of either the Haitians or the Cubans at year's end.

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. Two 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), last in power from 1980 to 1989, holds the remaining 8 seats. The JLP boycotted both by-elections in 1994, charging that needed electoral reform was not in place. Two small-party candidates contested the April election which the PNP candidate won overwhelmingly. One small-party candidate contested the August election, which was marked by very low voter turnout, and the PNP candidate again won. The newly appointed head of the electoral office dismissed allegations of fraud in the August election as unfounded.

There are no legal limits on the participation of women in politics; in practice, women constitute a small minority of national parliamentarians and an only slightly higher proportion of local representatives. In May Senator Maxine Henry-Wilson became the first woman in either party to hold the post of general secretary when she was elected to the post by the leadership of the ruling PNP. The Minister of Labor and Welfare is a woman, as is the mayor of Kingston.

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

There are no restrictions on human rights organizations. The JCHR, the country's only formal human rights organization, has vigorously protested abuses by the police. Its work has been 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 left the organization in a perilous financial position.

The Government of Jamaica has not attempted to hinder investigations by foreign and international human rights groups into alleged violations of human rights. The Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project noted in a report on children in police lockups that the Commissioner of Correctional Services and the Commissioner of Police were "especially cooperative" during the investigation.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, place of origin, political opinion, color, or creed.


The Constitution and the 1975 Employment Act theoretically accord women full equality. In practice, however, they suffer from economic discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, and cultural and social traditions that promote violence against women. According to statistics from the police sexual offenses unit, there has been an increase in reported cases of rape and other sexual assaults from 1,308 in 1992 to 1,520 in 1993, and reported rapes for the first 3 months of 1994 were 19 percent above the figures for the same period in 1993. Women remain reluctant to press charges against their partners in cases of domestic violence when jail sentences are mandatory. The Government, which promised legislation to introduce noncustodial sentencing, had not done so by the end of 1994.


The Juvenile Act of 1951 covers a number of aspects related to the protection of children, including prevention of cruelty, prohibition on causing or allowing juvenile begging, the power to bring juveniles in need of care or protection before a juvenile court, the treatment of juvenile offenders, the regulation and supervision of children's homes, and restrictions on employment of juveniles. However, the Human Rights Watch report contends that the Government has not committed an adequate level of resources to enforce the Act.

People with Disabilities

There are no laws mandating accessibility for people with disabilities. Several government agencies and nongovernmental organizations provide services and employment to various groups of disabled Jamaicans.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides for the right to form or join a trade union, and unions function freely and independently of the Government. The Labor Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA) defines worker rights. There is a spectrum of national unions, some of which are affiliated with political parties. Approximately 15 percent of the work force is organized.

The LRIDA neither authorizes nor prohibits the right to strike, but strikes do occur. 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 the International Labor Organization (ILO) has repeatedly condemned as overly inclusive. No strikes were declared illegal in 1994.

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

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Government rarely interferes with union organizing efforts. Judicial and police authorities effectively enforce the LRIDA and other labor regulations. All parties in Jamaica are firmly committed to collective bargaining in contract negotiations, even in some nonunion settings. An independent Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) hears cases where management and labor fail to reach agreement. Any cases not resolved by the IDT pass to the civil courts. In 1994, however, the IDT was not able to resolve the large number of disputes before it. The LRIDA prohibits antiunion discrimination: for example, employees may not be fired solely for union membership. The authorities enforced this law effectively.

Domestic labor laws apply equally to the "free zones" (export processing zones). However, there are no unionized companies in any of the three zones, established in 1972, 1985, and 1988, which employ approximately 18,000 workers. Organizers attribute this to resistance by foreign owners in the zones to organizing efforts. Attempts to organize plants within the zones continue. Company-controlled "workers' councils" handle grievance resolution at most free zone companies, but do not negotiate wages and conditions with management. Management determines wages and benefits within the free zones; they are generally as good as or better than those in similar industries outside the zones. The Ministry of Labor has not performed factory inspections in the free zones since 1992.

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 were no reports that this practice exists.

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 only be in domestic, agricultural, or horticultural work. However, enforcement is erratic. Children under 12 can be seen peddling goods or services on city streets, but 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. Under current economic circumstances, however, thousands of children are kept home to help with housework and avoid school fees.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage, raised from $9.00 (J$ 300) to $15.00 (J$ 500) per week in 1994, is widely considered inadequate. Most salaried workers are paid more than the legal minimum. Work over 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day must be compensated at overtime rates, a provision that is widely observed.

The Labor Ministry's Industrial Safety Division is charged with setting and enforcing industrial health and safely standards, which are considered adequate. Industrial accident rates, particularly in the bauxite/alumina industry, were once again low in 1994. Public service staff reductions in the Ministries of Labor, Finance, National Security, and the Public Service have contributed to the difficulties in enforcing workplace regulations. The law provides workers 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. The law does not specifically protect other categories of workers in those circumstances.

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